Exploring the history and experiences of mixed heritage persons and inter-racial relationships across the world

Cape Verde

Cape Verde MapPart of the Sahelian arid belt, Cape Verde does not live up it to its verde (means green in Portuguese) name and is officially semi-desert. It does rain irregularly between August and October and is prone to long periods of drought. However, this may not have been the case when Portuguese explorers discovered the "uninhabited" islands in 1456 and followed that with the creation of a settlement called Ribeira Grande in 1462. It is believed that Arab traders may have visited the islands for years prior to settlement to extract salt from naturally occurring salinas and the islands may have been referred to in earlier European literature. Ribeira Grande is regarded as the first permanent European settlement in the tropics. Apart from the ethnic Portuguese settlers, thousands of Jews, regarded branded “undesirables” were exiled to São Tomé and Príncipe, and Cape Verde in and around 1496. Other undesirables such as with vagrants and prostitutes were exiled to the island right up to independence with a camp built for them in Tarrafal in 1949.

Cabo Verde Sal Pedra Lume The islands do not appear to have had a major agricultural economy though its position in the Atlantic served as a natural stopping and re-stocking point for shipping despite the limited natural resources. This position helped the economic rise of the islands during the trans-Atlantic slave trade and served them well afterwards until about the 1st World War. As well as being a transit point, many slaves were kept on the islands to provide labour for the sugar and cotton plantations, rum and meat production for ship supplies and as servants to the settlers. In 1580, there were already 14,000 slaves compared to some 2,000 ‘free’ people. The European men, as well as some of the exiled Jews, inter-married or had relationships with slave women creating a mixed race population that continued to grow over the following years. Today, Cape Verde has a population of about 567,000 and just over 70 percent of the population is mixed African and European descent. The remainder of the population is mostly black Africans, with a small number of Europeans.

It is uncertain whether it was because of the length of time Cape Verde was a colony or the growing acknowledged mixed race population, but Cape Verde was the first Portuguese African colony to have a school for higher education. In vivid contrast to Portugal’s other African colonies, by independence about a quarter of the islands’ population could read and write. This independence movement was, similarly to Angola, led by the educated ‘assimilados’.

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