Praia is the new capital of Cape Verde. The capital is located in Santiago, the biggest of the 10 islands of Cape Verde. Santiago Island is where the history is most ignited with the suffering diaspora of slavery. Portuguese colonists captured West Africans to be served as slaves and brought them mainly to the inhabited island of Santiago. Although Cape Verde is situated in the Atlantic Ocean off the West Coast of Africa, one can argue that the distance and the Cape Verdean “creolization” have set itself apart from the rest of the continent. However, this argument can be dismissed in the island of Santiago. The culture of the island has deep West African influence. The creole dialect “badiu” spoken by Santiago natives has many reflections of West African languages. In the streets you will find people dressed with colorful and rich textile patterns. The strong rays of the sun are penetrated into the skin of the people. One would forget that Santiago is an island but instead a city in one of the West African countries.
During my vacation to Cape Verde in 2012, I visited for the first time the old city of Santiago, “Cidade Velha”. In the middle of the old city plaza, venders were selling their goods to tourist next to the oldest monument that symbolizes the slavery era in Cape Verde.
My family decided to dine at a very urban restaurant where each piece of food on the plate could be tasted individually.
While I waited for my plate to be served, I decided to browse around the area. I soon stumped upon a group of boys playing soccer in the black sand, contrasting with the clear water of the ocean. There were other boys playing around fishing boats that as soon as they saw a light skin girl with a fancy camera immediately captured my attention by showing their best smiles and heroic-like poses. Their smiles ignited more light than the sun and their eyes were more beautiful than a majestic sunset.
After eating we ventured around the “old city” and climbed our way up to an old Portuguese church.
We also visited a war site surround by brick walls and cannons that the Portuguese would fight the pirates off the island.
Santiago is not just where the capital of Cape Verde is situated, it is also the soul our culture and traditions. Although each island offers uniqueness and originality to the country; it is in Santiago that our history began. The suffering of the slaves have influenced our language, food, music, dance and even our flamboyant personality. The Portuguese colonist also played apart of our language and culture but they also brought life and innovation to the island. Creolization began with the thirst of the Portuguese pursue for a prosper world and the suffering and tears of the slaves. The fusion between both of the habitats ignited the spirit of Cape Verde. Eventually the natives of the island that had the fusion between the Portuguese charisma to conquer the world and the African ambition for freedom began to be identified as “Creolos” and with this new identification came the beginning of Cape Verdean Independence.
Every time I travel to my home land Cape Verde on vacation, I am overwhelmed with emotions about reflecting on the purpose of this life. In February of 2012 when I embarked to my home country was no different than the many other times I have traveled there. However, this time I had decided to travel and see my culture through the lenses of my camera.
I never actually grew up in Cape Verde. I have always been a Cape Verdean migrant consequently shaping my definition of what it is to be Cape Verdean. I could never have an understanding of being a true indigenous of the country as I cannot strip the biases that are deeply implement within me due to my experiences living outside of my birth land. On the other hand my culture, traditions, language and most importantly my heritage is cemented within my veins. I have always interpreted my situation of being Cape Verdean immigrant as a disadvantage but on this vacation during the coldest time in Cape Verde I began to think differently.
Upon my arrival at the airport I was warmly greeted by the members of my family that had the most impact in my life. My grandmother with teary eyes and a wide smile was there to greet her three grandchildren that had just arrived. Her grandchildren call her Didi as we were not allowed to call her by grandmother “avo” in Portuguese. She thought she was too young to be a grandmother and we have been calling her that ever since. I soon came to realize that most Cape Verdean women take upon the same approach when my own mother commanded that her soon to be granddaughter call her by her nickname “Ani”. My father was there and immediately gave me a warm hug. Still embraced in my father’s arms my cousin and I locked glares, we could not wait until we had the chance to hug one another and as soon as my dad let me go that is exactly what we did.
For the first time my grandmother Didi had all of her grandchildren reunited in Cape Verde. My aunt and my cousin by pure coincidence had travelled with me on the same day. It was a very sentimental vacation as it seemed that every family member was united under the same roof and country. The culture of Cape Verde has been highly affected and shaped by immigration. Songs from many generations have been written about the grief of leaving the mother land behind. The folklore of leaving the mother country has been given the name of “nha kre cheu” my everything in Cape Verdean creole. Parents patiently wait for their children’s arrival in the summer and the empty streets of Cape Verde soon are filled with vibration and excitement. This vacation was no different than the others, it was Carnaval season and Cape Verde was not only filled with tourist wanting to experience culture movement like no other but it was also filled with the children that have returned to the mother land.
I was very tired from the long trip but I was anxious to go out and feel the sun. The streets were filled with excitement. It seemed that everyone was putting their efforts and energy to help manifest the colorful Carnival. You could feel and smell everyone’s enthusiasms and festivity. I could not control the urge of capturing with my camera the excitement on the people’s faces. Two old man sitting outside of a cafe enjoying their coffee of the evening while discussing the latest news of the Carnival. The street dogs were extra happy because the people were feeling more generous and feeding them with their left over foods. Young children were dressed with their favorite customs while their faces were decorated with color and joy.
The Carnival is divided into two days. The actual day of the event, every school participating will compete to win the title as the “Carnival finalist” by representing the best custom design theme. However, the night before the competition is where the Carnival comes to live, the event is called “samba tropical”. During this event the schools again design their best lavish and outlandish customs not to compete for a prize and title but to celebrate life to the fullest. This night allows everyone to try to be someone new, perhaps their ultra-ego without being judged. In fact, the more bizarre you look the better you fit into the Carnival spirit. Music during the samba tropical was echoing through the short streets of the island, while people shouted to the lyrics. Everyone was out to celebrate the festivity; from the elderly to the babies in the womb enjoying the mother’s dancing rhythm of the music.
As I mentioned earlier, I had always felt that my migration status was a disadvantage as I could not fit entirely into the culture I was born. However, this trip or maybe my camera allowed me to view Cape Verdean from a different perspective. Since I was not merged and fused to the culture I was able to see the aspects and attributes of my culture. Instead of just merging in the joy of the Carnival, I was able to observe the significance of this event to our society. However, since I am not an absolute outsider I was able to view my culture through both spectrums. I can proudly say that I see through the inner and outer view of the glass window. The Carnaval is able to demonstrate through exaggeration the fruitful and warmth of the country. The country in itself is beautiful but the landmarks lay on the people’s sincere smile and happiness.