Looking back at the "Cape Verdean Connection"

Peter Seitel, PhD

Senior Folklorist and Co-Curator
Festival of American Folkife
Smithsonian Institution

Co-sponsored by a host of Cape Verdean American community fundraising committees, the Gulbenkian Foundation of Portugal, the Smithsonian, and many other benefactors, the Cape Verdean Connection Program turned out to be a beautiful, complex, moving, and intensely interesting event. Its development has been complexly interesting as well: from planning and review meetings with the Cape Verdean American Research and Education Committee, to similar meetings with the local researchers in the Cape Verde Islands, to the event on the Mall and the concomitant activity at the Hotel where participants resided, to the day-after-the-Festival Cape Verde Independence Celebration on the Mall, to the collation and copying of documentary materials for deposit in American and Cape Verdean institutions.

The program was planned to mark the 20th anniversary of independence from Portugal by Cape Verdeans on both sides of the Atlantic, many of whom were inspired by the writings of Cape Verdean leader Amilcar Cabral. Known as the "Founder of Cape Verdean Nationality," he taught the importance of a people's culture and cultural identity to their struggle for political self-determination and social development. This orientation seemed to lend greater consequence and clarity to planning discussions.

The Festival program featured performances and demonstrations of crafts, cooking, music, dance, and occupational traditions. Discussions included Cape Verdean violin and guitar styles, social commentary in musical genres, out-migration for labor, the experience of working in cranberry bogs (a New England industry built by Cape Verdeans and Finns) and many other topics in which participants reflected upon the culture and historical experience of this transnational people. The exchanges were animated, informative, and often very moving - as one might imagine, given the history and economy of the Islands.

A significant part of the program was a large "Cachupa Connection" tent - named for the hominy stew that is the (trans)national dish of Cape Verdeans everywhere - and containing information about a dozen Cape Verdean American communities, presentations on seafarers and longshoremen, and a live (real-time) connection to the Cape Verde Home Page (Unofficial) on the Internet. There were also Cape Verdean games and impromptu performances and discussions. From social commentary in ox-driving songs to conversations across the Internet, the program presented varieties of exchange that Cape Verdeans engage in to maintain their local and transnational communities.

An exhibit of the work of Cape Verdean photographer Ron Barboza graced the International Center for a month's time that included the Festival. The exhibit featured portraits of Cape Verdeans from most of the Islands in the archipelago and from communities in Portugal and the U.S., varied and beautiful island landscapes, and the work Cape Verdeans do that contributes to their own and the many of the world's communities. Labels often included items of Cape Verdean folklore from the rich collection by Elsie Clews Parsons, which she gathered in New England. Comments in the visitor's book attested to the importance many Cape Verdean Americans attached to representation at the National Museum.

As might be expected, the program attracted many important people. There were too many to mention them all. The President of Cape Verde, Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro, spoke at Opening Ceremonies along with U.S. Representative Barney Frank. Chartered busloads of Cape Verdean Americans came from New England. And Bana, the most popular male vocalist in the Islands for decades, who lives and owns a nightclub in Lisbon and was prevented from participating in the Festival by health, did manage to perform at the July 5 Independence Day celebration on the day. Anna maria Cabral, lectured on culture and national development at the International Center during the Festival and delivered the principal address at the Independence Day celebration. I was happy to be there.

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