From discovery in the 1400s to winning its independence in 1975, Cape Verde has had a unique and interesting history. This article gives a glimpse into Cape Verde’s history and how it is intertwined with that of Portugal.
Discovery of the Islands
Ten volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean off of West Africa comprise the country of Cape Verde. According to J.F. Freitas in “Portuguese Hawaiian Memories”, Diogo Gomes and Antonio de Nalo discovered the Cape Verde Islands in 1460. They sighted only Sao Tiago, Boa Vista, Fogo, and Maio. The other islands were unknown until a few years later.
Most other sources say that the Cape Verde islands were discovered by Luigi de Cadamosto, a navigator for Portugal, in 1456. Although the islands were uninhabited at the time, it is speculated that others such as the Moors used Cape Verde as a stopover on their voyages.
Portuguese Colonization of Cape Verde
It’s more likely that Gomes and de Nalo were sent to the islands in 1460 to stake claims and scout for suitable areas for settlements. Colonists from Portugal began settling the islands in 1462. The first settlement was in Ribeira Grande, now known as Cidade Velha, on Sao Tiago Island.
The Portuguese brought slaves from West Africa to the islands within years of settlement. The slaves labored on plantations like many other places.
They set up a penal colony. Those who completed their prison time often became residents. Portugal also sent “undesirables” from Portugal to Cape Verde. These included political foes, adversaries, and criminals.
In 1495, Cape Verde became part of the Portuguese empire. Several attempts were made to wrest control of the islands from the Portuguese. In 1585, Sir Francis Drake sacked Ribeira Grande, Sao Tiago Island. The Portuguese retained control throughout.
In the 16th century, Cape Verde became prosperous and notorious for its involvement in the slave trade. It’s position in the Atlantic Ocean was ideal for a shipping port. Many slave ships heading for Brasil and America stopped here.
Environmental Hardship, Natural Disasters, and Emigration
In 1742, Cape Verde suffered the first of many droughts. Though many pleas were made, the Portuguese government refused to help. The government ignored the suffering from their colonists. No aid was forthcoming and hundreds of thousands died as droughts and starvation plagued the islands well into the modern era.
Environmental changes added to Cape Verde’s woes. Overgrazing and deforestation took their toll by 1800. When Charles Darwin passed through in 1832, parts of the islands were barren. They were no longer the lush lands first sighted in 1456.
Because of these problems, Capoverdeans began to emigrate as early as the 1830s. Many found places on whaling ships heading for New Bedford, MA and the Hawaiian Islands. Cape Verdeans were some of the first Portuguese in the Hawaiian Islands. They opened businesses and were among the founders of the Portuguese aid society, the Santo Antonio Society. Most would never return to their native country.
An End to Slavery and a New Era
In 1876, slavery was abolished in Cape Verde. As 1900 approached, the islands became a shipping port. These were not the only changes as the colonial era drew to a close.
In 1951, Portugal changed Cape Verde’s status from colony to province. Ten years later, the people were granted full citizenship.
In the 1960s, the Cape Verdeans joined the people of Guinea Bissau in their struggle for independence. Armed resistance against the colonial army and demonstrations occurred. The struggle was waged into the 1970s.
In 1973, Aristides Pereira became the first President of Cape Verde and Pedro Pires became the first Prime Minister. The fall of the Caetano regime in Portugal soon after paved the way for Cape Verde’s independence.
In July 1975, the people of Cape Verde won independence from Portugal.
The first multiparty elections were held in 1991. The first freely elected President was Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro.
After independence, Cape Verde experience economic problems. A drought in 1997 wiped out 80% of the grain crops. Unemployment and poverty plagued the nation. Aid from the EU and World Bank helped Cape Verde stay afloat, but also dependent on foreign money. These problems lead to the defeat of the sitting government in 2001.
The country now called the Republic of Cabo Verde joined the WTO in 2008.
Cape Verde has given the world singer Cesaria Evora, soccer player Nani, basketball player Walter Tavares, New York Times writer, David Barboza, Massachusetts Congressman, Evandro Carvalho, and many others.
Copyright © 2003-2019 Melody Lassalle
1. Embassy of Cape Verde. “Republic of Cape Verde”. (Republic of Cape Verde”)
2. Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 2001. “Cape Verde”. (Cape Verde)
3. World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1993. Pharos Books, 1992.
4. New American Desk Encyclopedia, Signet, 1989. “Cape Verde” (page 222).
5. Infoplease.com. “Cape Verde”. Family Education Network Inc : 2000-2003. (Cape Verde)
6. Lonely Planet World Guide. “Destination Cape Verde”. (Cabo Verde Travel)