The Cape Verde islands – A brief history lesson
From its beginnings as a Portuguese colony and hub for the slave trade, all the way through to its independence, Cape Verde has a very interesting history that you may not be aware of. Today, locals enjoy a wide menu of food and cultural traditions that stem from Portuguese and West African roots. But just how did these two cultures intertwine?
Previously uninhabited, Cape Verde was the first European colony founded in 1462 when Portuguese explorers landed on Santiago island. However, records go back as far as 2000 years ago, with evidence of the Phoenicians, Moors, and Africans visiting the archipelago.
Incentives were handed out by the Portuguese government for Portuguese citizens to move to the islands. At the same time, the strategic location of the islands had not gone unnoticed.
With the Atlantic slave trade business at an all time high, the Cape Verde archipelago quickly became a hub for slave ships traveling from the coast of West Africa to the Americas. During the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, up to 12 million African slaves were thought to have been transported from the west coast of Africa across the Atlantic Ocean.
The slave trade in the Cabo Verde islands was abolished in 1878, and with it Cape Verde’s status as a slave trading hub. With Portuguese and African inhabitants on the islands, the two cultures had found a balance, from the food to the local dress – not least with the language.
Cape Verde’s mother tongue vs its official language
In 1975, Cape Verde peacefully organised its independence with Portugal, officially establishing it as an independent country that maintains close ties with Portugal and Europe.
While ‘ European Portuguese’ remained Cape Verde’s official language primarily used by the government and for instructive purposes, the most popular language spoken by locals was, and remains, Cape Verdean Creole (Kriolu). This is the mother tongue of almost all Cape Verdeans and will most likely be the language you hear when visiting the islands.
The different creole languages throughout the world
Firstly, we must clarify that there are various types of creole languages, which have emerged, over the course of history, from the crossing between European languages and those natives to other continents – not only African, but also Asian, American and Oceanic languages – which were once colonized by European countries. The vast majority of creoles come from the English, French, Portuguese or Spanish languages.
Having lost contact with their respective mother tongues, as a result of their diaspora, multiculturalism and the exposure to the language of the colonizers, the diverse groups started to develop unifying communication systems named pidgin. These were simplified forms of language that allowed for group interaction.
Many pidgin languages have evolved into full-fledged creoles (a later linguistic stage) – stable natural languages, employed by communities and learned as mother tongues since early childhood.
The origins of the Cape Verde Language
The richness of the Cape Verdean Creole
The language of the Cape Verdean people is immensely rich and its creole language, the Cape Verdean Kriolu or Kauberdianu (possible phonetic representation of Santiago’s Creole) , arose many centuries ago – originating in the Fogo and Santiago islands, the first to be occupied.
This mother tongue presents several variants, with the Barvalento (St. Nicolau variant) and the Sotavento (Santiago Variant) as the most prominent ones. Although several differences in grammar, spelling and pronunciation prevail, as in all languages, if you learn a good bit of these variants you will find it easier to talk to Cape Verdean people.
Where did the Cape Verdean language originate?
The Cape Verdean Creole is rooted in Portuguese and integrates the High Guinea Creoles, Creole languages originated in West Africa – Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, the Casamansa region of Senegal and, last but not least, Gambia – which were influenced by Portuguese from a grammatical and mostly lexical standpoint.
Where Cabo Verde’s mother tongue, the Cape Verdean Creole, upholds a proximity to Portuguese, in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau the European languages, namely Portuguese and French, coexist alongside countless influential African languages.
Thereby, the Creole languages, more specifically the languages of the African continent, mirror an indefinable multiculturalism and richness of language.
Your Cape Verde language phrasebook
Part 1: Using Portuguese
If you already know a bit of Portuguese, then you’re in luck. You’ll find that the majority of locals will already be able to understand you (especially useful if you want to ask for directions).
Here are a few Portuguese phrases that you can use either on your trip to Cape Verde or for your next visit to sunny and beautiful Portugal:
- Hello Olá
- Goodbye Adeus
- How are you? Tudo bem?
- Good morning Bom dia
- Good afternoon Boa tarde
Do people in Cape Verde speak Spanish?
- Good night Boa noite
- Yes Sim
- No Não
- Please Por favor
- Thank you Obrigado (male) Obrigada (female)
- Excuse me Com licença
- How much does it cost? Quanto custa isso?
- Water Água
- I would like… Eu gostaria…
Part 2: The Creole language (Kriolu)
If you’re looking to go the extra mile to fit in like a local in Cape Verde, you’ll want to pick up a few phrases of the local Creole language. Not only are you bound to get a smile along the way, but its a great icebreaker when meeting local people for the first time:
- Hello Olá / Oi
- How are you? Modi bu sta?
- I am fine Muitu ben
- Good morning Bon dia
- Good afternoon Boa tardi
- Good evening Bo noiti
- Goodbye Te logu / tchau
- Yes Sin
- No Nau
- How much is this? È kantu?
- Please Pur favor
- Thank you Obrigadu
- You’re welcome Di nada
With Cape Verde being a popular tourist destination for travellers from around the world, English is also spoken in areas popular with tourists. The islands of Sal and Boa Vista are two examples of popular islands where English is understood to a degree. Most tours and excursions are available in English as well.
If you’re planning to visit some of the more remote islands, it’s likely you’ll rely on your Portuguese or Creole a bit more in order to get your point across. Even if you’re not planning to head further afield, it’s always a good idea to learn a little bit of the local language.