1924 (September 12): Amílcar Cabral is born in Bafatá, Guinea. – His father is Juvenal Cabral, a Cape Verdean elementary school teacher. Juvenal is a crusader who works to improve the conditions of farmers and civil servants. “He was born with politics in his head. He was the son of a politician. Juvenal used to talk to him about averything.” These words are pronounced in 1976, a year before Amílcar’s death, by his mother, Mrs. Iva Pinhel Évora, wife of Juvenal Lopes Cabral. Memórias e Reflexões (Memories and Reflections), published in 1947 by Amílcar’s father, is a singular book in which the author recollects his life, discusses the problems of his times and the environment in which he lived, describes facts and events that clarify historical developments and shed light on the social origins of the future leader of the PAIGC. Juvenal is born in Cape Verde in 1889. One of his grandparents is an important landowner. But his fortune doesn’t last long in view of the natural disasters that afflict the islands. His paternal grandfather is a cultured man, also of some means, who names the child Juvenal, after the Latin poet of the same name. Juvenal doesn’t get to know his father, who meets a tragic death when the boy is a mere two months old. At first, the child remains under the care of his grandfather, but later goes to live with his godmother, Simoa Borges, who will pay for his education.
First, he studies at the Viseu Seminary, in Portugal. Juvenal is destined for the priesthood. But a prolonged drought at the turn of the century makes it financially impossible to keep him studying there. So, he returns to Cape Verde and, in 1906, we find him studying at the St. Nicolau Seminary. But at the age of 18 he abandons his studies and leaves for Guinea in search of a job. First, he manages to become a civil servant in Bolama and, later, begins his activities as a teacher, even though he has no diploma. The family is living in Bafatá when Amílcar Cabral is born on September 12, 1924. The birth certificate, however, states that the newborn’s name is Hamílcar, his father’s way of paying homage to the famous Carthaginian Hamílcar Barca. 1932: Moves to Cabo Verde. – Simoa, the godmother, dies in 1932 and leaves Juvenal a few tracts of land in Cape Verde. He, his wife Iva and Amílcar return to the islands, where they remain throughout the difficult years of World War II. Under Salazar’s regime, the cost of living soars and goods and supplies become scarce. In 1940, a particularly severe drought causes widespread starvation, resulting in the death of more than 20,000 Cape Verdeans. Then, between 1942 and 1948, a new calamity ravages the islands, killing 30,000 more. (This terrible period of successive calamities in Cape Verde is masterly described by Manuel Ferreira in his novel Hora di Bai). This is the atmosphere in which Amílcar Cabral spends his early childhood and adolescent years.
If, on one hand, his father gives the example of public conscience and civic engagement, within the limits permitted by Salazar’s fascism, his mother, Iva Évora, on the other, is for young Amílcar an example of love and affection, of family protection and of dedication to her work. Iva labors all day on a sewing machine to help the family overcome, as well as possible, the many crises they have to face. Later in addition to her activities as a seamstress, she gets a job a in a fish-packing factory. Amílcar’s mother and her capacity for self-sacrifice will serve as an example which he will pass to the young militants of the PAIGC. Amilcar in 1941 attended high school in Mendelo. In high school, Amílcar is a brilliant student and graduates with outstanding grades, 17 out of a possible 18 point total. 1943: Finishes secondary schooling in Mindelo, on the island of São Vicente. – By now, Amílcar has an assumed name. He is Larbac (Larbac is Cabral spelled backwards). That’s how he signs his love poems: Quando Cupido acerta no alvo (When Cupid Hits the Bull’s-eye), Devaneios (Daydreams), Arte de Minerva (Minerva’s Art), among others. The themes indicate classical influences.
|His inspiration comes from the poets he studies in school: Gonçalves Crespo, Guerra Junqueiro, Casimiro de Abreu.Amílcar’s lyricism reveals a romantic sensitivity which can be seen in his prose writings, his short stories, annotations and commentaries. In these writings we can already detect a strong awareness of what is happening and a desire to participate in the life of his island world.
A while later, in Lisbon, these feelings will become even stronger. 1944: Obtains a job at the National Printing Office, in Praia, the capital of Cape Verde, on São Tiago Island. – 1945: Is awarded a scholarship and begins his studies at the Agronomy Institute, in Lisbon.
– Cabral’s first wife, Maria Helena de Athayde Vilhena Rodrigues, was his classmate at the Agronomy Institute.
This is how she describes her first meeting with her future husband, with whom she would have two children, Iva Maria and Ana Luísa. The description was written by Mário de Andrade: “I met Amílcar during our freshman year at the Agronomy Institute, in 1945. School had begun in November and he arrived in December. . . . I didn’t belong to his group but I remember very well seeing him among the other students. He stood out, since he was the only negro in the group. . . . Amílcar had not taken the college entrance examination. . . . Everybody talked about him . . . they praised his intelligence and, on top of that, he was very pleasant and easygoing. As far as his political activities were concerned, I remember that my fellow students were gathering signatures in support of democratic movements. Amílcar was actively engaged in these antifascist student organizations. Whenever there was a general meeting, he acted as moderator because he expressed himself so well. . . . In the beginning of our third year, in October, 1948, we were in the same group, which was composed of the last twenty-five students who had passed the examinations.”
Amílcar is remembered by his classmates and friends as a person of contagious energy, a great sense of humor, and an enormous capacity for making friends. He is charming and women are easily attracted to him. “He was the best dressed and groomed of all of us,” recalls his friend, the journalist Carlos Veiga Pereira. “My brother could make friends anywhere,” says Luís Cabral, Guinea-Bissau’s first president. In an interview to the newspaper Diário Popular, he revealed that “…It was because of Amílcar’s charm that the Soviets gave us the missiles to control the Portuguese Air Force. The Italian tycoon Perelli was his friend and gave us the officer uniforms we used. It was all because of friendship and affection.” Even having to attend to his studies, his political activities and his romantic affairs, he still found time to practice his favorite sport: soccer. And, according to the sports columnists, he could have made a career of it, if he had wanted to. His performance with the institute’s football team was so impressive that he was invited to play for Benfica, one of the top teams in Portugal. But Amílcar didn’t accept the offer and preferred to stick with the informal games at school. He felt an irresistible calling during his college years, a feeling that affected other Negro students as well: it was necessary to return to Africa. Not only because of his family, which he loved so deeply, but because “millions of people need my contribution in the hard struggle against nature and against man, himself. . . . There, in Africa, in spite of the beautiful and modern cities on the coast, there are still thousands of human beings who live in the utmost darkness.” In 1949, he wrote: “I live life intensely and from life I have extracted experiences that have given me a direction, a road that I must follow, whatever the personal losses that I might come to suffer.
That is my reason for living.” He was in in Lisbon, at the Agronomy Institute, in the Casa dos Estudantes do Império and the books opened up horizons for the understanding of the world of his times: Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie négre et malgache (Anthology of the New Black and Malagasy Poetry), edited by Léopold Sédar Senghor. This book convinced him that “the Negro is awakening everywhere in the world.” Cabral theorized on the condition of the Cape Verdean man, the result of the miscegenation of the archipelago’s first inhabitants, black and white. He knows that the number of mestiços (people of mixed races) was already six times that of the whites and three times that of the Negroes. From a psychological point of view there is a “Cape Verdean spirit,” a cape-verdeanness. This profession of faith must be brought into harmony with his militancy. During his fifth year at school, Amílcar returns to the archipelago for a summer vacation. He wanted to teach and pass along to his fellow Cape Verdeans all the knowledge at his disposal, whether it be in his special field of studies, soil erosion, or in general culture. He delivered several lectures on the Radio Clube de Cabo Verde, in the city of Praia, covering the soil characteristics of the islands. He recognized that, despite the difficulties, the economy of Cape Verde was based on agriculture. As such, it was essential that the man in the street be elucidated, be well-informed, be made aware. Amílcar discussed the problems of the elite in Cape Verdean society. There was a need for the creation of an intellectual vanguard that will give the anonymous Cape Verdean citizen all the
information about his traditional problems.
As he said: “The members of the organization must bring light to those who live in ignorance.” Such information must travel beyond the borders of Cape Verde and become global in nature so as to be available anywhere in the world. This was Amílcar’s task as a militant: to make Cape Verdeans aware. But the Portuguese authorities were quick to forbid his access to the radio waves. In the same fashion, they forbade him to give a night course at the Central School, in Praia. “Make Cape Verdeans aware of Cape Verde,” was a slogan that also reflected what was happening in Angola, where a group of young intellectuals had gathered around the poet Viriato da Cruz and has adopted the motto: “Let’s discover Angola.” Back in Lisbon, Amílcar made connections that put him in close contact with other students from the Portuguese colonies. This was a group of young people, members of the urban African lower middle-class, who were conscious of the rebellious feelings against colonialism and who had the advantage of being well-educated and cultured. They were active in the Portuguese democratic youth movement known as MUD Juvenil, the Movement for Peace. As Amílcar Cabral put it, they have an ideal that distinguishes them from the Europeans – it’s the reafricanization of the spirits. This search for an identity brought about the creation of the Center for African Studies at the home of the Espírito Santo family (whose most important member was Alda Espírito Santo, a native of S. Tomé). In spite of the frequent interference of the secret police (PIDE), some of the most important questions affecting Africa were discussed there. Amílcar’s participation in these debates had a decisive influence. 1950: Graduates from the institute and starts working at the Agronomy Center, in Santarém. – After graduating from the institute in 1950, Amílcar goes through a period of apprenticeship at the Agronomy Center, in Santarém. Shortly thereafter, Juvenal Cabral dies. 1952: Returns to Bissau under contract with the Agricultural and Forestry Services of Portuguese Guinea. – After graduating from agronomy school he used his training to great effect by getting to know every inch of his beloved Guinea-Bissau, making intensive and detailed reconnaisances of all of the places, peoples and customs of the nation. A 28-year-old agricultural engineer, Cabral’s most important goal however was to raise the awareness of the Guinean common masses. As he said is a memorandum to the members of the organization, during the struggle for liberation, in 1969: “I didn’t come to Guinea by mere chance. My return to my native land was not occasioned by any material need. Everything was carefully planned, step by step. I had great possibilities of working in other Portuguese colonies and even in Portugal itself. I left a good job as a researcher at the Agronomy Center to take a job as a second class engineer in Guinea. . . . This was done following a plan, an objective, based on the idea of doing something, of contributing to the betterment of the people, to fight against the Portuguese. That’s what I have done since the day I arrived in Guinea.” 1955: The Governor demands that he leave the colony; Cabral goes to work in Angola; he joins the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). – In the beginning, Amílcar tried to act in strict observance of the law. He drafted the by-laws of a club dedicated to sports and cultural activities open to all Guineans. The Portuguese authorities do not permit it to function because the signers of the document do not have a government issued identity card. In 1955, Governor Melo e Alvim forces Cabral to leave Guinea, although he permits him to return once a year for family reasons.
That very same year, a group of Asian and African countries hold a conference at Bandung, Indonesia, the Bandung Conference, which gives birth to the movement of nonaligned countries in world politics. That year also marks the end of the first Vietnamese war of independence and the beginning of open warfare by the National Liberation Front (FLN) of Algeria. Amílcar Cabral has been transferred to Angola and is working in Cassequel, as an engineer…and coming into direct contact with the founders of the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), of which he becomes a member. 1956-1959: The African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde and Guinea (PAIGC) is founded in Bissau. – In November, 1957, he attends a meeting in Paris called to discuss and plan the struggle against Portuguese colonialism; he makes contact with anticolonialists in Lisbon; goes to Accra, capital of Ghana, for a Pan-African meeting and then heads for Luanda when the Pidjiguiti massacre occurs. During one of his visits to Bissau, on September 19, 1959, a new party comes into existence founded by Amílcar Cabral, Aristides Pereira, Luís Cabral, Júlio de Almeira, Fernando Fortes and Elisée Turpin. Its name: African Party for the Independence and Union of Guinea and Cape Verde (known by its Portuguese acronym PAIGC). It is, obviously, an underground organization that will acquire legal status only four years later when it establishes a foreign delegation in Conakry.
1960: The PAIGC establishes a delegation in Conakry, capital of the Republic of Guinea; China gives support to the training of members of the PAIGC. – In January of 1960, he attends the Second Conference of African Peoples, in Tunis, and goes to Conakry in May. That same year, he goes to an international conference in London where, for the first time, he denounces Portuguese colonialism. But here he leaves it quite clear, as he did throughout the years of struggle, that he is not against the Portuguese people. His battle is exclusively against the colonial system. 1961: Morocco welcomes members of the PAIGC. – Between 1960 and 1962, the PAIGC operates out of the Republic of Guinea. Its activities are developed along three courses of action: to prepare militants and party workers to spread the party line in the interior of Guinea; to obtain the support of neighboring countries (a very complicated affair because the Republic of Guinea intended to use Amílcar Cabral’s Guinean supporters to carry out its own political agenda and because Senegal showed its hostility for six years) and, finally, to marshal international support. 1963: Open warfare breaks out on January 23, with an attack on the military installations at Tite, in southern Guinea-Bissau; the PAIGC sets up a northern battlefront in July. – Seventeen years after Juvenal Cabral’s son arrived in Lisbon to attend college war breaks out against the Portuguese Establishment. Cabral continued his botanical and agricultural studies that force him to travel frequently between Portugal, Angola and Guinea. The PAIGC’s leader always made himself available for negotiations with the Portuguese government, but such openness was never accepted by the dictatorship regime. 1970: Pope Paul VI grants an audience on July 1 to Amílcar Cabral, Agostinho Neto and Marcelino dos Santos. On November 22, the Governor of Guinea-Bissau decides to establish a “commando” operation to which he gives the name of “Mar Verde” (Green Sea), whose goal is to capture or eliminate the leaders of the PAIGC located in Conakry: It fails! – 1973: Amílcar Cabral is assassinated in Conakry on January 20. He was assassinated at the hands of Portuguese agents. The setting was a one-story house, painted white, standing alone at the center of a wide courtyard; a huge mango tree grows in front of the house. There is a shed used as a garage. The scene is in Conakry, capital of the Republic of Guinea, whose president is Séku Turé. It was 3 o’clock in the morning, January 20, 1973.
A car, a VW, was parked under the shed. Two spotlights focus on the car occupants – Amílcar Cabral and his second wife, Ana Maria. Out of the darkness a stern voice ordered Amílcar tied up. He struggled and refused to be subdued. The leader of the raid pressed the trigger and hit Amílcar in the region of the liver. Amílcar, crouching on the ground, asked that they talk. The reply was a burst of machine gun fire aimed at the head of the founder of the PAIGC. Death was immediate. The assassins were Inocêncio Kani, the first to shoot, a guerrilla war veteran and former PAIGC navy commander; the others were members of the party, all Guineans. In other points of the city where the some 500 PAIGC militants were living, the remaining leaders of the party stationed in Conakry were arrested by groups who participated in the uprising. Among those arrested were Aristides Pereira, Vasco Cabral, José Araújo. They were all taken to a scouting boat that headed for Bissau. On January 21, Séku Turé received the leaders of the party uprising at the presidential palace. Everything indicated that he supported Cabral’s assassins. But, surprisingly, the President of Guinea-Conakry gave them no protection. He ordered that the conspirators be arrested, instructed the Army to temporarily hold all members of the PAIGC and intercepted the boat that was taking the imprisoned leaders to Bissau. Séku Turé then set up an international commission to investigate all of the events. Gradually, the old leaders of the PAIGC weree granted their freedom. The party’s Superior Council for Liberation decided to go further in the investigation.
Cabral’s assassination brought about no benefits for the Portuguese Army; the guerrillas intensified their activities. March 1973, the rebels had a new weapon at their disposal – the ground-to-air missile Stella – which effectively cancelled out the air supremacy of the Portuguese armed forces. In May of that year, the Governor of Guinea-Bissau, General António Spínola, advised Joaquim da Silva Cunha, Minister of National Defense, that “we are getting closer and closer to the possibility of a military collapse.” Then, on September 24, in the forests of Madina do Boé, the PAIGC unilaterally declared the independence of Guinea-Bissau. In May, 1974, Leopold Senghor, President of Senegal, did not hesitate in declaring to Colonel Carlos Fabião and to Ambassador Nunes Barata that Séku Turé had been the instigator of Amílcar Cabral’s murder.) Reports at the time indicate that Amílcar Cabral was conscious of the fact that he might be betrayed by his comrades in the liberation effort. He had commented several times before that: “…If anybody is going to hurt me, it will be someone who is among us. Nobody else can destroy the PAIGC, except ourselves”.