Amilcar Cabral

by Ana Maria Cabral

Commemorative Program of the 20th Anniversary of the Independence of Cabo Verde, July 5, 1995

[ Em Portugues ]


Cape Verdean Connection: Transnational Community was a featured program at the 1995 Festival of American Folklife at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. At this event, Ana Maria Cabral, widow of Amilcar Cabral, delivered an address about her late husband's understanding of culture and its implications for modern nationhood. We provide her speech as an opportunity for Cape Verdeans and others to reflect on this important topic. Amilcar Cabral, founder of the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde and Guinea (PAIGC) and a major figure in the struggle against Portuguese colonial rule in Africa, understood the pivotal role of culture in national liberation and nation building. His ideas seem especially apt today when culture looms as large as economic security and military might in shaping world and local events and the responses to them. Culture also holds Cape Verdeans together as a modern, transnational nation. Dual-citizenship and voting rights exercised by Cape Verdeans around the world and their on-going, informal, international economic relationships with one another are based on cultural values, customs, and traditions passed through generations. The interdependence of Cape Verdeans residing in the Islands and in diaspora communities is central to Cape Veredean cultural identity and is written into the country's Constitution.

After his assasination by agents of Portuguese colonial regime, Amilcar Cabral was honored as "Founder of the Nationality" for his leadership in the struggle to create the legal and political basis for Cape Verden independance. Cabral would be the first to point out that the goal of this struggle was to fully realize the nationhood already present in the cultural resistance of the Cape Verdean people.

- Ray Almeida, Senior Program Advisor, The Cape Verdean Connection
- James Early, Director of Cultural Studies and Communication, Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
- Peter Seitel, Folklorist, Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies


Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am honored by the invitation of the Smithsonian Institution to deliver this address at the Festival of American Folklife and begin by considering the delicate mission that brought me here: to present one of the most important aspects of Amilcar Cabral's thought and work, one that has justly left an indelible mark in the history of the popular struggle for freedom in Africa.

One cannot speak of Amilcar Cabral's understanding of culture without noting his social roots and his development, which allow us to better appreciate Cabral's personality and of the trajectory of his political engagement. Cabral was born in Bafata (1924) in the former Portuguese colony of Guine Bissau. In a period particularly marked by colonization, he spent his childhood in Santiago and studied at Sao Vicente's high school in Cape Verde, enjoying privileges to which few Africans could aspire. He attended primary and secondary school until 1944, when he left for Portugal, where he studied and received a degree in Agronomy (1945-1955).

Judging from his youthful poems - especially Ilha and Segue o teu rumo irmao - and other student writings, it seems that culture was the first perspective that Cabral used to think about his epoch, the contradictions of colonial domination, and the conditions of peoples' lives. As an agronomist, he observed the relationship between the dominant and the dominated; this informed his analyses of exploited farmers in Guinea and Angola and of the dramatic consequences of persistent droughts in Cape Verde.

These life experiences gave Cabral the cultural and political foundation that would allow him - rationally, successfully, and at the appropriate time - to mobilize a struggle for national liberation. These experiencees marked him as a model for the men who assumed leadership in the independence process of the Portuguese colonies.

For Cabral, any theory of national emancipation must be materially based in the country's own particular reality. This fundamental realism was well expressed in the words of a communique he issued during the struggle for liberation, "Learning through life, learning through books, and learning through other people's experiences. Learning always!"; and also, "Each time we must be more capable of thinking-through our many problems, so as to act on more of them and to act on them well, so as to be able to think even better.1" Of course, Amilcar Cabral was always loyal to that kind of approach to political realities.

On the topic of cultural resistance, Amilcar Cabral presented a thesis in Syracuse, New York, entitled, "National Liberation and Culture, " paying tribute to Eduardo Mondlane, who was assassinated in Dar es Salaam in February, 1969. In his thesis he asserts that "the great merit of the First President of Mozambique's Liberation Party (FRELIMO) was not merely his decision to fight for his people; rather it was his knowledge of how to integrate himself with the reality of his country, to identify himself with his people, and to enculturate himself through the struggle he waged with courage, intelligence, and determination." It is in the following sentence, however, that Cabral expresses the central idea of his political convictions:"History teaches us that certain circumstances make it very easy for foreign people to impose their dominion. But history also teaches us that no matter what the material aspects of that domination, it can only be preserved by a permanent and organized control of the dominated people's cultural life; otherwise it cannot be definitively implanted without killing a significant part of the population.2"

For him, the river of culture never stops flowing among the popular masses _ particularly the peasants _ even though, like a traveller, it may slow its pace and change its course for its own protection. This truth is particularly evident in Cape Verde, where colonial power privileged the development of morna and coladera but repressed other cultural manifestations such as batuque and funana, considering them "less dignified." During the colonial period in Cape Verde, who can recall hearing on radio or any other official means of dissemination the finacon of Nha Nacia Gomi or Nha Bibina Cabral?

By the time of independence, many youngsters did not know what funana was, even though this venerable tradition had survived in rural settings and in popular weddings, but did not otherwise have an opportunity to show its vitality. To everyone's surprise, these popular forms came from rural settings via radio stations, overcame social barriers and borders, and won the world.

One can cite another example, a subtle one, of cultural resistance -- or better, of typical Cape Verdean construction of identity in a creole society _ the traditional celebration that pays tribute to Sao Joao, a religious feast observed in several regions of the world, including here in America. A secular aspect of the festival is the cola Sao Joao, a dance which originated in the Cape Verdean islands of Sao Vicente, Santo Antao and Brava. In conjunction with the feast, celebrants dance in fields next to churches after believers' souls have been purified. While preserving church rituals, the people introduced new and profound clultural elements, surely so as to recognize their own distinct identity in an event that until then was alien. For this reason, I count the cultural practices associated with of Sao Joao to be a fortunate example of cultural resistance as Cabral understood it. The community's need to protect its symbols does not exclude the possibility of absorbing and integrating external elements. These may be considered alien for a certain time, but in the long run they may become part of a new cultural matrix that is open to the outside world, even while the community alertly preserves its own values for the survival of its identity.

Cape Verde has undergone a very interesting historical process. Originally a group of uninhabited islands, the archepelago's population resulted mostly from Portuguese exiles' intermarrying with black African slaves and their descendants. Cultural colonization progressively diluted itself in a biological and social mixing that, joined with factors less than favorable to the establishment of a strong metropolitan ruling class, soon imposed on Cape Verdean society a characteristic personality. These are evident everywhere: in linguistic re-creation, musical re-harmonization, ancestral traces in culunary customs, and the more common manifestations of of everyday life.

As I noted before, Cabral's thought bases itself in national and international reality and in a precise dialectical relationship one assumes oneself to be part of: one intervenes in that reality in a systematic way, aiming to change aspects of it considered negative, and learning through the analysis of that reality. Cabral was himself a living example of the cultural resistance he theorized, in the intimate relationship he maintained with his people's reality and in his deep knowledge of his enemy, the Portuguese colonial administration. He always distinguished the latter from the Portuguese people, with whom he maintained solidarity in a deep, humanistic way.

Amilcar Cabral was very secure among his people, the farmers who followed him. He confronted some aspects of Cape Verdean or Guinean tradition lucidly and without reservation: he fought superstitions, taboos, and other elements he regarded as consequences of unequal economic development, an inability to control nature, and a magical interpretation of reality.3

Mario de Andrade, an internationally-known Angolan intellectual with a deep knowledge of Cabral's work, has commented on this problematic and on its most remarkable characteristic, its ceaseless engagement of reality. Of the way Cabral seized reality and continually returned to it to adjust it and to give it new contours de Andrade said: "He understood the essence of the magical mentality with which the African spirit is impregnated and the ambivalence of beliefs. A teacher, he frequently encouraged a militant reflection on negative cultural influences arising from regressive features from the past (superstitions, taboos, rites and practices) and on the harmonious integration of traditional values as a function of modern progress.4"

In an interview with Manuel Alegre, Portuguese poet exiled at the time in Algeria, Cabral spoke about the history of Portugal, of navigation, discovery, and of Portuguese-ness (Luziadas) saying, "...that he could not understand how a society which had always fought for independence could allow a colonial administration to deny other people that same right. He emphasized that the Portuguese should not allow Salazar (the long-ruling dictator overthrown by Cabral's movemtne) to appropriate their history and deform it in order to justify a genocidal colonial war. He emphasized that with his policy, Salazar was jeopardizing the future and destroying the past. He concluded by affirming that as an African struggling against Portuguese colonialism to free his land, he was ready, if asked, to take up arms along side Portuguese people in Portugal.5" Manuel Allegre, emphasizing the effect of Cabral's words among young people, especially those who had been inducted into the colonial Army, affirmed years later that "several youngsters already enlisted made the decision that same night to desert." Cabral knew how to address the cultural and historical identity of the Portuguese people. He reminded the Portuguese that they had their own history and culture and that they must look to them for inspiration if they were to attain their own destiny and freedom. Ladies and gentlemen, I think that the careful collection of our national cultural reality - as apprehended and expressed overseas or in Cape Verde itself, and as defended by Cabral - would inform current choices of directions for progress. Cabral identified history and culture as essential elements in successful development planning. His thought and his living example provide a clear message to all of us Cape Verdeans, male and female, emigrated or not, who want to contribute to the evolution of a more fair humanity.

By providing Cape Verdeans living in America the possibility of becoming familiar with cultural expressions of Cape Verdeans living in Cape Verde, the Smithsonian Institution has encouraged us and given us the possibility once more to realize the illuminating power of Cabral's ideas. He is being remembered in the organization of this Festival, and it is in this way that men become immortal.

For Cape Verdeans subject to the hard conditions of their wasted native land, emigration was an existential drama that forced them to adjust to new realities. Emigration challenged their integrity as human beings who have an already established culture; it continually raised the question of their identity, sometimes in very unfriendly surroundings.

What would we see if we were to apply Cabral's thoughts to the analysis of the Cape Verdean universe as it exists today? At present, large communities live abroad - such as this one in America, which, in a very Cape Verdean way, has welcomed us to this immense country. From one perspective, Cape Verdean culture has encountered cultures here whose overwhelming expressive capacity unavoidably grafts its values onto our own. But from another perspective, it may also be possible that through immigration Cape Verdean culture has actively adapted itself to the general framework of American society, profiting from its humanism.

The second alternative is the kind that more frequently emerged from contact between Cape Verdean cultures and those of countries where the diaspora has placed them. Emigration, encounters with other cultures, long distances from the homeland, and prolonged absences from nation and family did not result in the loss of Capeverdian-ness. It has remained untouched, thanks to the cultural practices deeply rooted in the men and women who venture to explore other lands.

Cultural resistance, the intrinsic virtue of any people, as Cabral would say, confirms the second idea, which implies that elements of the cultural matrix Cape Verdeans have created exist in the different Cape Verdean communities spread throughout the world. In this regard it is interesting to note that there are aspects of the Cape Verdean national language preserved through cultural resistance in some diaspora communitiesthat are no longer commonly used in the islands.

Capeverdian-ness expresses itself in America as well as in Cape Verde. Cultural resistance has also occurred here. Its shape has been determined, no doubt, by elements completely different from those which shaped such resistance in the islands. And it has been strengthened by the processes of integration in a multicultural society - as is, par excellence, that of North America.

At this point I appeal to our experts in the social sciences - anthropologists, sociologists, writers and other intellectuals. I beg them to hulp us understand and appreciate what each of our communities has produced. With this help, we will be better able to work together in harmony, melting the differences and rejections always present in human projects. With this help, we will be able to make progress while steadfastly defending our values. Cabral would be proud to stand before this fountain of cultures; and he would certainly provide a living example, drawing closer to hear the pleading voice that issues from this chamber of the Nation's heart.

Much work lies before our social investigators. We must admit that an inventory has not been made of our patrimony and of everything the Cape Verdean Americans have done to enrich our culture. Which new elements have been introduced into the family and what is the importance of Cape Verdean integration in American society? What is the present situation of Cape Verdean American women? What are the influences of American society on the Cape Verdean family regarding children's education? To what degree is the community influenced by its milieu? What new values have been introduced into the matrix of Cape Verdean culture? What contribution have Cape Verdean American intellectuals made to science, economy, and politics? At what level are Cape Verdean artists integrated into their milieu? What do their works express? How do we classify the products of their artistic labor?

Finally, there are countless queries and data that would lead us to better understanding and enriching our world if we only had a communication system as adequate as this unparalleled cultural event, Smithsonian's Folklife Festival. In light of that knowledge, we would reencounter one another at the common nucleus of our culture and would create open relationships with other cultures. Ponder, if you will, the scope and importance of such a project, keeping in mind the contribution of our communities from Europe, Africa, Asia, South America - that is, from the seven sectors of the world : think how much this would mean for "Capeverdian-ness."

Cape Verde itself is part of a great continent, from which we are only physically distant: most reliable evidence shows us that Africa is a strong presence in our cultural patrimony. So at this juncture when, thanks to the Smithsonian Institution, we are facing that important part ourselves, we must express our particular respect to valorous Africa, for which Amilcar Cabral struggled and gave his life. How wonderful that the Smithsonian Institution has given us the opportunity to revive these most genuine expressions of our Capeverdeaness.

My hope is that Cabral's example will live on in the future generations who continue the struggle for liberation and human progress.

"We must always remember that people do not fight for ideals or for the things on other people's minds. People fight for practical things: for peace, for living better in peace, and for their children's future. Liberty, fraternity and equality continue to be empty words for people if they do not mean a real improvement in the conditions of their lives"(A. Cabral. Semin rio de quadros, Conakry, 1969).

Thank you very much.


  1. Aristides Pereira, "O perfil de Cabral e a actualidade do seu pensamento in Continuar Cabral." Amilcar Cabral National Symposium, Praia, January 17-20, 1983.

  2. Amilcar Cabral, "National Liberation and Culture." University of Syracuse, February 20, 1970. Document presented in tribute to Eduardo Mondlane.

  3. Amilcar Cabral "Analise de alguna tipos de resistencia" in Seminario de Quadros. Conakry, 1969.

  4. M. Andrade. "A dimensio cultural na estrategia da liberta=87ao nacional: identidade poder cultural e democracia." In Continuar Cabral.

  5. Manuel Alegre. O duplo sentido cultural de obra de Amilcar Cabral." In Continuar Cabral.

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