- Other Atlantics: Cape Verde, Chiquinho, and the Black Atlantic World
In the early pages of Chiquinho (1947), Baltasar Lopes’s seminal novel of Cape Verdean life, we read of the importance of slavery and its culture to the islands’ past, of the droughts that mark and mar their present, and of the vast array of relations that those who live there have had to cultivate at various points around the Atlantic in order to make their way in the world. Taken together, these influences are said to form Chiquinho’s “alma de crioulo,” a creolized Cape Verdean soul in which it is hard not to discern the image of what Paul Gilroy has famously called “the black Atlantic.”1 Indeed, the set of transnational cultural and economic relations the term is used to name seem to be at issue everywhere in the novel and in the broader history of which it is a part. Perhaps more than anywhere else in the Atlantic world, the tiny archipelago Lopes memorializes in Chiquinho owes its culture to the processes for which Gilroy’s highly influential heuristic tries to account—and yet the idea has had almost no significant impact on the relevant scholarship in the field.
There are, to be sure, passing mentions of it in some recent accounts of the islands’ politics, history and culture. Fernando Arenas, for example, makes reference to the black Atlantic at various points in Lusophone Africa: Beyond Independence, though the term is never brought into direct dialogue with the book’s interest in Cape Verde itself.2 Rui Cidra, writing in another book, explains that the “cultural reality” formed by the remarkable mobility of Cape Verde’s citizenry “alludes to the transnational space that Paul Gilroy called ‘the Black Atlantic.’”3 And Elizabeth Pilar Challinor, writing in Bargaining in the Development Marketplace: Insights from Cape Verde, makes brief mention of the black Atlantic as a helpful paradigm for [End Page 246] thinking through the local-global relations that have defined much of the islands’ history.4 But we remain as yet without any extended examination of the relationship between the two. The best that has emerged at present is Kesha Fikes’s informative but rather narrowly focused work on Cape Verdean migration and racial identity formation.5 As she shows, race in the Cape Verdean social imaginary becomes visible not in relation to island of origin, as is often assumed to be the case, but instead in relation to differing practices of labor migration throughout the islands’ history.6 The difference between “blackness” and the racial hybridity often associated with Cape Verdean identity is thus always a function of where and why one moves, with “black” tending to name those who moved, or were forced to move, as laborers elsewhere in Portuguese Africa. Fikes’s chapter thus makes a series of compelling claims about space and the production of racial difference in Cape Verdean society, but many of the consequences that might be drawn for thinking more broadly about Cape Verde together with the black Atlantic world go unexplored.
In searching through the literature on the black Atlantic, one finds, moreover, that the approaches developed by scholars working to revise the conceptual foundations of Gilroy’s original work often overlook the islands and their history and culture as well. Methodologies that seek to overcome Gilroy’s prioritization of black diasporic communities through an emphasis on the role of African agency in erecting the black Atlantic world tend not to treat Cape Verde as part of the Africa they have in mind.7 The approach that emphasizes the rich history of south-south Atlantic movements in contrast to Gilroy’s original emphasis on north-south trajectories has a similarly difficult time bringing Cape Verde into the picture.8 And even those scholars that have actively sought to overcome the overtly Anglocentric bias of most black Atlantic studies through an emphasis on the Lusophone cultures of the region have tended to deemphasize Cape Verde and to focus instead on Angola, Brazil, and Guinea-Bissau.
The problem is not merely that Cape Verde has been by and large forgotten in the flurry of writing on the cultures...