Cape Verde Islands

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Cape Verde Islands


(Ilhas do Cabo Verde), a country situated on the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic Ocean on the western shore of Africa. It occupies an archipelago that consists often islands and five islets divided into two groups: the northern group, the Windward Islands (Ilhas de Barlavento), and the southern group, the Leeward Islands (Ilhas de Sotavento). The largest islands are Santo Antão, Boa Vista, São Nicolau, Sal, and Sao Vicente (Windward group) and Sao Tiago, Fogo, and Maio (Leeward group). Area 4,033 sq km. Population, 250,000 (1970). Most of the islanders are mulattoes, descendants of African slaves who were brought to the islands (16th-19th centuries) and mixed with the Portuguese; about one-third are Africans from Guinea (Bissãu, or Bissao) of the Balante, Fulbe, and Mandja tribes; approximately 3 percent are Portuguese. Portuguese is the official language, but a Creole dialect is widely spoken. The majority of the population is Catholic. The administrative center is the city of Praia (population, 13,100 in 1960).

Natural features. The islands are young volcanic formations on an immersed Precambrian crystalline socle broken up by faults. The shores are mainly steep and rocky, with few good natural harbors; the most important one is the bay of Mindélo on Sao Vicente. The landscape is mountainous with many volcanic cones, craters, and calderas. The highest peak is the active volcano Fogo (2,829 m) on Fogo Island. The climate is tropical. It is affected by trade winds. Average monthly temperatures are 22°-27°C, and annual precipitation is 100–150 mm. The river network is poorly developed. Vegetation is of a desert and semidesert type; fauna is limited. The islands are characterized by the absence of mammals, except goats, rabbits, rats, and several other animals bred by Europeans. There are many aquatic birds, and the coastal waters are rich in fish.

History. The Cape Verde Islands were discovered by Portuguese expeditions between 1456 and 1460. The first Portuguese colonists arrived on the uninhabited islands in 1462 and declared them a Portuguese colony in 1495. In the late 15th century and in the 16th century the Cape Verde Islands be-came a center of slave trade in the region of the Guinea shore of Africa. With the decline of the slave trade, which was the main source of wealth of the Portuguese colonists and which was definitively outlawed in 1876, there was mass emigration from the Cape Verde Islands to the USA and other countries.

After World War II (1939–45), Portugal and its NATO allies modernized the ports and the airports on the Cape Verde Islands. The Portuguese colonialists used the islands as an intermediary base in the war against the national liberation forces on Guinea (Bissau), Angola, and Mozambique. The national liberation movement on the islands, which has been growing since the 1950’s, is closely linked with the independence struggle of the people of Guinea (Bissau), which is a Portuguese colony. This struggle is directed by the African Party of Independence of Guinea and the Cape Verde Islands, the PAIGC, which was founded in 1956. The PAIGC considers Guinea (Bissau) and the Cape Verde Islands a unit and has underground local party organizations on the islands.

Economy. In the colonial period most of the land belonged to Portuguese landowners, who rented tracts of it for cultivation to métayer tenants.

In 1960 agriculture employed 40.2 percent of the working population; 51.9 percent worked in service industries. Farming and fishing are traditional occupations of the population. Maize, sweet potatoes, beans, manioc, peas, red peppers, and tomatoes are grown for internal consumption. Coffee, bananas, and sugarcane are grown specifically for export on plantations; so are, to a lesser extent, peanuts, tobacco, castor beans (exported in the form of castor oil), and indigo. Animal husbandry is practiced widely on the islands; in 1969–70 livestock consisted of 16,000 head of cattle, 21,000 goats, 3,000 sheep, 14,000 pigs, and 7,000 donkeys. Industry is represented by fish processing (dried, salted, and canned fish is exported), alcohol production from sugarcane, and the production of soap, vegetable oil, and cement. Salt and pozzolana are mined and exported. Handicrafts, which are widely developed on the islands, include pottery and basket weaving. In 1968 there were 1,500 km of automobile roads and 1,700 automobiles on the islands. The main port is Mindélo on Sao Vicente Island, where ships going from Europe to South Africa and South America stop for refueling. The biggest airport is on Sal Island. About 55 percent of the foreign trade was with Portugal. The monetary unit is the escudo of the Cape Verde Islands.

Education. Over two-thirds of the population over 10 years old is illiterate. The educational system is similar to the Portuguese system; Portuguese is the language of instruction. The educational system consists of a four-year elementary school and a seven-year secondary school (two plus three plus two years of instruction). Over 30 percent of the schools are run by Catholic missions. The overwhelming majority of the students are children of Europeans and mulattoes; there are very few African children. In the 1968–69 school year there were 19,680 students in the elementary schools and over 2,000 students in the secondary schools. Vocational training is very poorly developed and is based on the elementary schools with an additional two to four years of instruction. In the 1968–69 school year there were 494 students in the single vocational school. There are no higher institutions of learning.

Literature. Literature is written in Portuguese and in Creole. The islands have a rich folklore in the local Creole language, which resulted from a fusion of Portuguese and the languages of Africans who came from the Guinea shore of Africa. The morna, a form of folk poetry and song, is the most popular genre on the islands. The mornas are short, almost invariably melancholy songs about love, separation, and a passionate desire to leave the islands—a theme that has become traditional in the Cape Verdean literature. E. Tavares (died 1936) and P. Cardoso are the most outstanding morna writers.

The themes of oral poetry have also become the main themes in the work of the first professional writers. Jorge Barbosa (born 1902) is a cofounder of the cultural, educational, and literary journals Claridade (1936–38 and 1947) and Certeza (1944–45 and 1947–49). The novels Chiquinho (1947) by O. Alcantara (pseudonym of Baltazar Lopes) and Scorched by the East Wind (1960) by M. Lopes take up social themes and are the first literary protests against social inequality. The poems of A. Fonseca (born 1922) expose the Portuguese “colonial paradise.” G. Mariano (born 1928), O. Martius (born 1928), Jorge Pedro Barbosa (Jorge Barbosa’s son; born 1933) and other poets, writing in Portuguese and in Creole, have shown that the customs and culture of the inhabitants of the Cape Verde Islands and of mainland Africa are the same. The poet Cabverdiano Dambara, who writes only in Creole, glorifies the people’s struggle for independence.



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Lannoy, C. de, and H. van der Linden. Histoire de I’expansion coloniale des peuples européens, vol. 1. Portugal et Espagne. Brussels, 1907.
Stikhi poetov Afriki. Moscow, 1958.
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[Stikhi.] Inostrannaia literatura, 1959, no. 5.
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Figueiredo, J. Modernos poetas cabo-verdianos: Antologia imprensa nacional. Cape Verde, Praia, 1961.
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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