It was the summer that I was seventeen years old, that my husband’s father came to my house to arrange our wedding. Unlike some of my friends, I was lucky enough to know him before we got married. My father consented to the match, and all of the plans were set. As I got to know my husband more, I was glad to learn that he appreciated the natural beauty of the island. He understood my frustration with living with my parents, and most of all my love of the written word. Because we were so young it did not seem like anything would ever come from our appreciation of Cape Verdean poetry—but it would come to change our lives.
Less than a year after we were married, my husband heard about this new literary and cultural review called Claridade that published many great poems and stories in our own language—our own creole from Cape Verde (Hamilton 260-261). While there were other publications that came before it, we knew that this one would be different. We prayed that it would last longer than some of the other. For us, the poetry provided a link to our unique history, one both separate from and deeply connected to Portugal and its influence throughout the world. However, this time the review focused on Cape Verdeans writing about life in Cape Verde. But Claridade also taught us about Brazilian literature and the modernist movement that was sweeping through their culture. The interest in Cape Verdean literature that arose because of Claridade helped to spark my husband’s imagination and he began to focus much of his time on his writing.
It was around this time that I got pregnant with our first child. I never had to try wearing my husband’s shoes or jacket in order to conceive, but getting pregnant was something I wanted, something I had desired since I was a little girl (Parsons 6). I was told by the women in my family and those I talk to at the market that I was supposed to follow all of my cravings, no matter how ridiculous. I craved fresh fruit, something we luckily had an abundance of. However, my other craving was poetry. I could not stop reading it, I wrote lines down on any little scrap of paper I could find. I knew I would never be published, that my words would never grace the pages of Claridade, but they poured out of me. There was nothing I would do to stop them.
I resisted stopping my poetry because that is what Cape Verdeans do- we resist. We know that there is a lack of opportunity where we live. We are aware of the barrenness of our land. And yet, we stay. In fact, we resist being pulled under by these negatives by our celebrations. As some suggest, we “create wild music, dance until dawn, and write touching poetry,” all as acts of resistance to the hardships we face on the island (Carter 20). I believe this is true. Our culture seems to be stronger because we choose to live here, to remain where there is little, except the ocean. I agree with those who say that our food, music, and poetry are intimately tied to the ocean. The ocean represents our “isolation from the rest of the world, as well as a deep sad, longing—sodade—for family and friends” who have left the islands (Carter 32). But to me, the ocean represents more than an absence. It is a blanket that keeps us safe and sheltered. Because of the ocean we are able to resist some of the negatives from the outside world, to resist some change but to always remain Cape Verdean at heart.
Before our son was born, my husband’s poem was published in Claridade. I could not have been more proud of him. His poem was about brining new life to the island, just as I was about to with our child. My husband grew frustrated when his friends would leave Cape Verde for whatever reason—adventure, money, opportunity, a dream. We believed that we were placed on the island for a reason, and that the islands were where we belonged. Of course life was not always easy, and small droughts were frustrating, but for us, those were not reasons to leave our home. My husband and I knew that there were more important things in life than money or adventure. We have had fun and been successful, all while staying on in Cape Verde. We might live on an island, but our isolation is not a bad thing. It protects us and keeps life pure.
Our music, our holidays and festivals for Easter, Christmas and New Years, our religion, our traditions, and our beliefs are just a few of the reasons why I love this island. Life here has not been easy over the past seventy years, but my husband, our children and their children, are all lucky to live in Cape Verde. Thanks to men like Manuel Lopes, who worked to keep Claridade in print, we were inspired by the words of our islands (Parsons). Our poetry offers us hope, brings us healing, and expresses our joys. Like our mornas, poetry is able to capture one emotion that we know so well—sodade, or longing (Carter 140). While I was never published, my poetry lives on in my children, and the appreciation of Cape Verdean literature will live on in my grandchildren and their children for as long as there are people in Cape Verde. The poetry of the islands still expresses my full range of emotions, more than fifty years since it came into my life. The islands, the words, and my family are my loves.
Carter, Katherine, and Judy Aulette. Cape Verdean Women and Globalization: the Politics of Gender, Culture, and Resistance. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
Hamilton, Russell G. Voices from an Empire: a History of Afro-Portuguese Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1975.
Parsons, Elsie Clews. “Folk-Lore of the Cape Verde Islanders.” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 34, No. 131 (Jan. - Mar., 1921), pp. 89-109. American Folklore Society. http://www.jstor.org/stable/534936