Cape Verde History
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In the 1400s Portuguese sailors explored down the western coast of Africa. They reached the offshore islands of Cape Verde in 1455. The islands offered a healthier and more strategically secure base for trade along the African coast than any location on the mainland. From 1455-1975 it served Portuguese strategic and commercial interests. Such famous navigators as Da Gama, Dias, and Columbus passed through Cape Verde on their way to someplace else.
Cape Verde was uninhabited prior to being colonized by the Portuguese. From the early days of settlement, West African slaves were brought to the islands to labor on plantations producing cotton, sugar, and subsistence crops as well as in domestic service. It also served as a way station in the slave trade between the Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bisseau, on the mainland, and the rest of the Portuguese empire. In the 17th century the Portuguese portion of the slave trade declined.
The sparse Portuguese population intermingled with the slaves to produce the distinctive majority culture of the Cape Verdean people known as Crioulo (Creole).
Cape Verde was subjected to raids by foreign powers. British, French, and Dutch forces pillaged various locales on the islands during the 16th and 17th centuries. The population has struggled for physical survival. The islands have a semi-arid climate and suffer from chronic shortages of rainfall that, combined with high temperatures, cause periodic droughts and famine. Even in the 1990s up to 90 percent of Cape Verde’s foodstuffs were imported. An active volcano on the island of Fogo has erupted 28 times since 1564.
Long an impoverished colony of Portugal, locals established an independence party known as the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC) in 1956. The most prominent leader of the movement was Amílcar Cabral. In August 1959, their demands were countered by a police massacre of fifty striking nationalist workers. A guerilla war began in 1961. In 1963 Portugal declared Cape Verde an “overseas province,” asserting that it was an integral part of the country rather than a colony. The war was one of numerous concurrent anti-colonial struggles in Africa. In 1973 Cabral was assassinated. After the Portuguese autocratic government was toppled in 1974, the islands achieved independence.
At the time of independence the country was poor and undeveloped in comparison to Western standards but at a higher level than other West African countries. A small wealthy class prospers on export and import monopolies and large-scale plantation production, while few others can live comfortably because of recurrent droughts, limited arable land, and widespread erosion. The economy is sustained by remittances from a large emigré community.
The population of 444,000 is of diverse origins, but especially they are from the adjacent African coast, Portugal, and its other Atlantic possessions. Ethnically, it is 71% Crioulo, 28% African, and 1% European. The population is 98% Roman Catholic. The inhospitable climate has forced many Cape Verdeans to emigrate, principally to the US, Netherlands, Italy, and Portugal so that the emigré population is greater than that in the islands. An estimated 700,000 Cape Verdeans live outside the country.
- History of Cape Verde
- Chronological References: Cabo Verde/Cape Verdean American
- "The Cape Verde Islands," a Google eBook, published in 1874
- The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Cape Verde,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1992-1999.