African Studies Cape Verde
Isabel Rodrigues
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0155


Independent from Portugal since 5 July 1975, the Republic of Cape Verde, or simply Cabo Verde as the country is generally known, is an archipelago nation located about 500 km from continental West Africa with a population of around 500,000 in 2013. The islands were deserted at the time of Portuguese contact in the 15th century, and over the years developed one of the earliest Afro-Atlantic Creole cultures and languages. The archipelago is geographically divided into two island groups, the Windward Islands (Barlavento)—São Vicente, Santo Antão, São Nicolau, Sal, Boavista, and the uninhabited Santa Luzia—and, to the south, the Leeward Islands (Sotavento): Santiago, Maio, Fogo, and Brava. The colonization of the islands was not continuous, undergoing periods of virtual abandonment and food vulnerability. The island of Santiago was the first to be colonized, becoming a principal port for the exchange of goods and enslaved West Africans, many of whom were destined for the Americas. The town of Ribeira Grande (today known as Cidade Velha) in Santiago Island became the first European colonial town and bishopric in the tropics (1533), prospering primarily from trade and becoming a key port for the inhuman traffic of enslaved persons. In 2009 the UNESCO inscribed Ribeira Grande in the list of World Heritage sites for its pivotal role at the crossroads of the transatlantic trade enabling the colonization of Africa and the Americas. Cape Verde developed a unique Creole culture and language that over the centuries became hegemonic. The epitome of this vibrant world is Cape Verdean music, which continues to captivate world audiences through its distinctive melodic style and lyrics in Cape Verdean Creole. Recognizing the historical importance of maintaining close ties with the Guinea coast, the PAIGC—Party for the Independence of Guiné-Bissau and Cape Verde (formed in 1956), and led by Amilcar Cabral (b. 1924–d. 1973)—fought for and won the independence of both countries. Since 1991 the country, Cape Verde, has had a multiparty parliamentary system and remains one of the most stable democracies in Africa. It has also one of the highest social indicators in the region. Its reputation for political stability has attracted donors and international aid, and has also enabled a booming tourist industry and the growth of the service sector. At the interstices of Afro-Atlantic exchanges, Cape Verdean history was vulnerable to competing European imperial interests that rarely prioritized the island’s own development, and so Cape Verdeans became prime agents of their own material and cultural survival. More than half of its population has emigrated to the United States and Europe. In many ways, its history and identity continue to be simultaneously invigorated by and vulnerable to the forces of globalization.

General Overviews

Several general works such as Lobban 1995, Andrade 1996, and Lesourd 1995 provide historical overviews on Cape Verde, particularly on the political and economic dimensions of Cape Verdean history from its independence movement led by the PAIGC to the recent democratic transition. The works by António Carreira (Carreira 1972, Carreira 1982) remain key to understanding the singularities of economic survival and enslavement and their lingering effects in the present. Meintel 1983, based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, is indispensable for deconstructing race relations and debunking ideologies of racial democracy during late colonialism.

  • Andrade, Elisa. The Cape Verde Islands: From Slavery to Modern Times. Dakar, Senegal: United Nations African Institute for Economic Development and Planning, 1973.

    This is a succinct history of Cape Verde that focuses on the country’s history of poverty, exploitation, and enslavement. It articulates the history of the main issues of development inherited in the 1970’s. The primary concerns are economic conditions and the challenges of socioecomic development.

  • Andrade, Elisa. Les iles du Cap-Vert de la “découvert” à l’independence nationale (1460–1975). Paris: L’Harmattan, 1996.

    This is a much more detailed history than the one contained in the author’s previous United Nations publication. Covering the socioeconomic history of Cape Verde from the early colonial period to its independence in 1975, it follows the different mechanisms of colonial domination and exploitation through different economic cycles.

  • Carreira, António. Cabo Verde: Formação e extinção de uma sociedade escravocrata (1460–1878). Lisbon, Portugal: Centro de Estudos da Guiné Portuguesa, 1972.

    This work remains an important source of information about the formation of Cape Verde as a slaveholding society. Carreira’s work references and transcribes Portuguese primary sources from the 15th to the 19th centuries and uses them to show the rise and decline of trade of goods and persons with the Guinea coast.

  • Carreira, António. The People of the Cape Verde Islands: Exploitation and Emigration. Translated and edited by Cristopher Fyfe. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1982.

    This translation of Carreira’s work on migration and stratification was published right after Cape Verdean independence. The work provides historical detail on migration, poverty, and periodic famines, also revealing how during famines Cape Verdeans were forced to migrate to other Portuguese colonies, such as the plantations of São Tomé.

  • Lesourd, Michel. État et société aux îles du Cap-Vert: Alternatives pour un petit état insulaire. Paris: Karthala, 1995.

    This history of Cape Verde focuses on the material challenges—geographic fragmentation, drought vulnerability, migration, and international aid—that faced this small island nation-state from the immediate post-independence period until the Second Republic multiparty democracy in the 1990s. It also engages comparative sources on small island states and government studies on economic development.

  • Lobban, Richard A., Jr. Cape Verde: Crioulo Colony to Independent Nation. San Francisco: Westview, 1995.

    This is a general history of Cape Verde from the colonial period until the Second Republic. The work is highly accessible to English audiences and is particularly useful in its coverage of political dynamics within PAIGC and the Partido Africano da Independência de Cabo Verde (PAICV). It also provides a good overall synthesis of the history of the liberation movement and war for independence in Guiné-Bissau.

  • Lobban, Richard A., Jr., and Paul Khalil Saucier. Historic Dictionary of the Republic of Cape Verde. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2007.

    This is a reference book providing a general history of Cape Verde and bibliography of key sources in English and Portuguese.

  • Meintel, Deirdre. Race Culture and Portuguese Colonialism in Cabo Verde. Syracuse, NY: Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 1983.

    Based on extended ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Cape Verde at the eve of independence, this work debunks the colonial ideology of racial democracy while documenting the effects of racism during late colonialism. Provides detailed accounts of elements of ritual and culture that subverted and circumvented colonial domination.

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