1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cape Verde Islands

CAPE VERDE ISLANDS (Ilhas do Cabo Verde), an archipelago belonging to Portugal; off the West African coast, between 17° 13′ and 14° 47′ N. and 22° 40′ and 25° 22′ W. Pop. (1905) about 138,620; area, 1475 sq. m. The archipelago consists of ten islands:—Santo Antão (commonly miswritten St Antonio), São Vicente, Santa Luzia, São Nicolao, Sal, Boa Vista, Maio, São Thiago (the St Jago of the English), Fogo, and Brava, besides four uninhabited islets. It forms a sort of broken crescent, with the concavity towards the west. The last four islands constitute the leeward (Sotavento) group and the other six the windward (Barlavento). The distance between the coast of Africa and the nearest island (Boa Vista) is about 300 m. The islands derive their name, frequently but erroneously written “Cape Verd,” or “Cape de Verd” Islands, from the African promontory off which they lie, known as Cape Verde, or the Green Cape. The entire archipelago is of volcanic origin, and on the island of Fogo there is an active volcano. No serious eruption has taken place since 1680, and the craters from which the streams of basalt issued have lost their outline.

Climate.—The atmosphere of the islands is generally hazy, especially in the direction of Africa. With occasional exceptions during summer and autumn, the north-east trade is the prevailing wind, blowing most strongly from November to May. The rainy season is during August, September and October, when there is thunder and a light variable wind from south-east or south-west. The Harmattan, a very dry east wind from the African continent, occasionally makes itself felt. The heat of summer is high, the thermometer ranging from 80° to 90° Fahr. near the sea. The unhealthy season is the period during and following the rains, when vegetation springs up with surprising rapidity, and there is much stagnant water, poisoning the air on the lower grounds. Remittent fevers are then common. The people of all the islands are also subject in May to an endemic of a bilious nature called locally levadias, but the cases rarely assume a dangerous form, and recovery is usually attained in three or four days without medical aid. On some of the islands rain has occasionally not fallen for three years. The immediate consequence is a failure of the crops, and this is followed by the death of great numbers from starvation, or the epidemics which usually break out afterwards.

Flora.—Owing largely to the widespread destruction of timber for fuel, and to the frequency of drought, the flora of the islands is poor when compared with that of the Canaries, the Azores or Madeira. It is markedly tropical in character; and although some seventy wild-flowers, grasses, ferns, &c., are peculiar to the archipelago, the majority of plants are those found on the neighbouring African littoral. Systematic afforestation has not been attempted, but the Portuguese have introduced a few trees, such as the baobab, eucalyptus and dragon-tree, besides many plants of economic value. Coffee-growing, an industry dating from 1790, is the chief resource of the people of Santo Antão, Fogo and São Thiago; maize, millet, sugar-cane, manioc, excellent oranges, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and, to a less extent, tobacco and cotton are produced. On most of the islands coco-nut and date palms, tamarinds and bananas may be seen; orchil is gathered; and indigo and castor-oil are produced. Of considerable importance is the physic-nut (Jatropha curcas), which is exported.

Fauna.—Quails are found in all the islands; rabbits in Boa Vista, São Thiago and Fogo; wild boars in São Thiago. Both black and grey rats are common. Goats, horses and asses are reared, and goatskins are exported. The neighbouring sea abounds with fish, and coral fisheries are carried on by a colony of Neapolitans in São Thiago. Turtles come from the African coast to lay their eggs on the sandy shores. The Ilheu Branco, or White Islet, between São Nicolao and Santa Luzia, is remarkable as containing a variety of puffin unknown elsewhere, and a species of large lizard (Macroscinctus coctei) which feeds on plants.

Inhabitants.—The first settlers on the islands imported negro slaves from the African coast. Slavery continued in full force until 1854, when the Portuguese government freed the public slaves, and ameliorated the conditions of private ownership. In 1857 arrangements were made for the gradual abolition of slavery, and by 1876 the last slave had been liberated. The transportation of convicts from Portugal, a much-dreaded punishment, was continued until the closing years of the 19th century. It was the coexistence of these two forms of servitude, even more than the climate, which prevented any large influx of Portuguese colonists. Hence the blacks and mulattoes far outnumber the white inhabitants. They are, as a rule, taller than the Portuguese, and are of fine physique, with regular features but woolly hair. Slavery and the enervating climate have left their mark on the habits of the people, whose indolence and fatalism are perhaps their most obvious qualities. Their language is a bastard Portuguese, known as the lingua creoula. Their religion is Roman Catholicism, combined with a number of pagan beliefs and rites, which are fostered by the curandeiros or medicine men. These superstitions tend to disappear gradually before the advance of education, which has progressed considerably since 1867, when the first school, a lyceum, was opened in Ribeira Brava, the capital of São Nicolao. On all the inhabited islands, except Santa Luzia, there are churches and primary schools, conducted by the government or the priests. The children of the wealthier classes are sent to Lisbon for their education.

Government.—The archipelago forms one of the foreign provinces of Portugal, and is under the command of a governor-in-chief appointed by the crown. There are two principal judges, one for the windward and another for the leeward group, the former with his residence at São Nicolao, and the latter at Praia; and each island has a military commandant, a few soldiers, and a number of salaried officials, such as police, magistrates and custom-house directors. There is also an ecclesiastical establishment, with a bishop, dean and canons.

Industries.—The principal industries, apart from agriculture, are the manufacture of sugar, spirits, salt, cottons and straw hats and fish-curing. The average yearly value of the exports is about £60,000; that of the imports (including £200,000 for coal), about £350,000. The most important of the exports are coffee, physic-nuts, millet, sugar, spirits, salt, live animals, skins and fish. This trade is principally carried on with Lisbon and the Portuguese possessions on the west coast of Africa, and with passing vessels. The imports consist principally of coal, textiles, food-stuffs, wine, metals, tobacco, machinery, pottery and vegetables. Over 3000 vessels, with a total tonnage exceeding 3,500,000, annually enter the ports of the archipelago; the majority call at Mindello, on São Vicente, for coal, and do not receive or discharge any large quantities of cargo.

Santo Antão (pop. 25,000), at the extreme north-west of the archipelago, has an area of 265 sq. m. Its surface is very rugged and mountainous, abounding in volcanic craters, of which the chief is the Topoda Coroa (7300 ft.), also known as the Sugar-loaf. Mineral springs exist in many places. The island is the most picturesque, the healthiest, and, on its north-western slope, the best watered and most fertile of the archipelago. The south-eastern slope, shut out by lofty mountains from the fertilizing moisture of the trade-winds, has an entirely different appearance, black rocks, white pumice and red clay being its most characteristic features. Santo Antão produces large quantities of excellent coffee, besides sugar and fruit. It has several small ports, of which the chief are the sheltered and spacious Tarrafal Bay, on the south-west coast, and the more frequented Ponta do Sol, on the north-east, 8 m. from the capital, Ribeira Grande, a town of 4500 inhabitants. Cinchona is cultivated in the neighbourhood. In 1780 the slaves on Santo Antão were declared free, but this decree was not carried out. About the same time many white settlers, chiefly from the Canaries, entered the island, and introduced the cultivation of wheat.

São Vicente, or St Vincent (8000), lies near Santo Antão, on the south-east, and has an area of 75 sq. m. Its highest point is Monte Verde (2400 ft.). The whole island is as arid and sterile as the south-eastern half of Santo Antão, and for the same reason. It was practically uninhabited until 1795; in 1829 its population numbered about 100. Its harbour, an extinct crater on the north coast, with an entrance eroded by the sea, affords complete shelter from every wind. An English speculator founded a coaling station here in 1851, and the town of Mindello, also known as Porto Grande or St Vincent, grew up rapidly, and became the commercial centre of the archipelago. Most of the business is in English hands, and nine-tenths of the inhabitants understand English. Foodstuffs, wood and water are imported from Santo Antão, and the water is stored in a large reservoir at Mindello. São Vicente has a station for the submarine cable from Lisbon to Pernambuco in Brazil.

Santa Luzia, about 5 m. south-east, has an area of 18 sq. m., and forms a single estate, occupied only by the servants or the family of the proprietor. Its highest point is 885 ft. above sea-level. On the south-west it has a good harbour, visited by whaling and fishing boats. Much orchil was formerly gathered, and there is good pasturage for the numerous herds of cattle. A little to the south are the uninhabited islets of Branco and Razo.

São Nicolao, or Nicolau (12,000), a long, narrow, crescent-shaped island with an area of 126 sq. m., lies farther east, near the middle of the archipelago. Its climate is not very healthy. Maize, kidney-beans, manioc, sugar-cane and vines are cultivated; and in ordinary years grain is exported to the other islands. The interior is mountainous, and culminates in two peaks which can be seen for many leagues; one has the shape of a sugar-loaf, and is near the middle of the island; the other, Monte Gordo, is near the west end, and has a height of 4280 ft. All the other islands of the group can be seen from São Nicolao in clear weather. Vessels frequently enter Preguiça, or Freshwater Bay, near the south-east extremity of the island, for water and fresh provisions; and the custom-house is here. The island was one of the first colonized; in 1774 its inhabitants numbered 13,500, but famine subsequently caused a great decrease. The first capital, Lapa, at the end of a promontory on the south, was abandoned during the period of Spanish ascendancy over Portugal (1580–1640) in favour of Ribeira Brava (4000), on the north coast, a town which now has a considerable trade.

Sal (750), in the north-east of the archipelago, has an area of 75 sq. m. It was originally named Lana, or Lhana (“plain”), from the flatness of the greater part of its surface. It derives its modern name from a natural salt-spring, but most of the salt produced here is now obtained from artificial salt-pans. Towards the close of the 17th century it was inhabited only by a few shepherds, and by slaves employed in the salt-works. In 1705 it was entirely abandoned, owing to drought and consequent famine; and only in 1808 was the manufacture of salt resumed. A railway, the first built in Portuguese territory, was opened in 1835. The hostile Brazilian tariffs of 1889 for a time nearly destroyed the salt trade. Whales, turtles and fish are abundant, and dairy-farming is a prosperous industry. There are many small harbours, which render every part of the island easily accessible.

Boa Vista (2600), the most easterly island of the archipelago, has an area of 235 sq. m. It was named São Christovão by its discoverers in the 15th century. Its modern name, meaning “fair view,” is singularly inappropriate, for with the exception of a few coco-nut trees there is no wood, and in the dry season the island seems nothing but an arid waste. The little vegetation that then exists is in the bottom of ravines, where corn, beans and cotton are cultivated. The springs of good water are few. The coast is indented by numerous shallow bays, the largest of which is the harbour of the capital, Porto Sal-Rei, on the western side (pop. about 1000). A chain of heights, flanked by inferior ranges, traverses the middle of Boa Vista, culminating in Monte Gallego (1250 ft.), towards the east. In the north-western angle of the island there is a low tract of loose sand, which is inundated with water during the rainy season; and here are some extensive salt-pans, where the sea-water is evaporated by the heat of the sun. Salt and orchil are exported. A good deal of fish is taken on the coast and supplies the impoverished islanders with much of their food.

Maio (1000) has an area of 70 sq. m., and resembles Sal and Boa Vista in climate and configuration, although it belongs to the Sotavento group. Its best harbour is that of Nossa Senhora da Luz, on the south-west coast, and is commonly known as Porto Inglez or English Road, from the fact that it was occupied until the end of the 18th century by the British, who based their claim on the marriage-treaty between Charles II. and Catherine of Braganza (1662). The island is a barren, treeless waste, surrounded by rocks. Its inhabitants, who live chiefly by the manufacture of salt, by cattle-farming and by fishing, are compelled to import most of their provisions from São Thiago, with which, for purposes of local administration, Maio is included.

São Thiago (63,000) is the most populous and the largest of the Cape Verde Islands, having an area of 350 sq. m. It is also one of the most unhealthy, except among the mountains over 2000 ft. high. The interior is a mass of volcanic heights, formed of basalt covered with chalk and clay, and culminating in the central Pico da Antonia (4500 ft.), a sharply pointed cone. There are numerous ravines, furrowed by perennial streams, and in these ravines are grown large quantities of coffee, oranges, sugar-cane and physic-nuts, besides a variety of tropical fruits and cereals. Spirits are distilled from sugar-cane, and coarse sugar is manufactured. The first capital of the islands was Ribeira Grande, to-day called Cidade Velha or the Old City, a picturesque town with a cathedral and ruined fort. It was built in the 15th century on the south coast, was made an episcopal see in 1532, and became capital of the archipelago in 1592. In 1712 it was sacked by a French force, but despite its poverty and unhealthy situation it continued to be the capital until 1770, when its place was taken by Praia on the south-east. Praia (often written Praya) has a fine harbour, a population of 21,000 and a considerable trade. It contains the palace of the governor-general, a small natural history museum, a meteorological observatory and an important station for the cables between South America, Europe and West Africa. It occupies a basalt plateau, overlooking the bay (Porto da Praia), and has an attractive appearance, with its numerous coco-nut trees and the peak of Antonia rising in the background above successive steps of tableland. Its unhealthiness has been mitigated by the partial drainage of a marsh lying to the east.

Fogo (17,600) is a mass of volcanic rock, almost circular in shape and measuring about 190 sq. m. In the centre a still active volcano, the Pico do Cano, rises to a height of about 10,000 ft. Its crater, which stands within an older crater, measures 3 m. in circumference and is visible at sea for nearly 100 m. It emits smoke and ashes at intervals; and in 1680, 1785, 1799, 1816, 1846, 1852 and 1857 it was in eruption. After the first and most serious of these outbreaks, the island, which had previously been called São Felippe, was renamed Fogo, i.e. “Fire.” The ascent of the mountain was first made in 1819 by two British naval officers, named Vidal and Mudge. The island is divided, like Santo Antão, into a fertile and a sterile zone. Its northern half produces fine coffee, beans, maize and sugar-cane; the southern half is little better than a desert, with oases of cultivated land near its few springs. São Felippe or Nossa Senhora da Luz (3000), on the west coast, is the capital. The islanders claim to be the aristocracy of the archipelago, and trace their descent from the original Portuguese settlers. The majority, however, are negroes or mulattoes. Drought and famine, followed by severe epidemics, have been especially frequent here, notably in the years 1887–1889.

Brava (9013), the most southerly of the islands, has an area of 23 sq. m. Though mountainous, and in some parts sterile, it is very closely cultivated, and, unlike the other islands, is divided into a multitude of small holdings. The desire to own land is almost universal, and as the population numbers upwards of 380 per sq. m., and the system of tenure gives rise to many disputes, the peasantry are almost incessantly engaged in litigation. The women, who are locally celebrated for their beauty, far outnumber the men, who emigrate at an early age to America. These emigrants usually return richer and better educated than the peasantry of the neighbouring islands. To the north of Brava lie a group of reefs among which two islets (Ilheus Seccos or Ilheus do Rombo) are conspicuous. These are usually known as the Ilheu de Dentro (Inner Islet) and the Ilheu de Fóra (Outer Islet). The first is used as a shelter for whaling and fishing vessels, and as pasturage for cattle; the second has supplied much guano for export.

History.—The earliest known discovery of the islands was made in 1456 by the Venetian captain Alvise Cadamosto (q.v.), who had entered the service of Prince Henry the Navigator. The archipelago was granted by King Alphonso V. of Portugal to his brother, Prince Ferdinand, whose agents completed the work of discovery. Ferdinand was an absolute monarch, exercising a commercial monopoly. In 1461 he sent an expedition to recruit slaves on the coast of Guinea and thus to people the islands, which were almost certainly uninhabited at the time. On his death in 1470 his privileges reverted to the crown, and were bestowed by John II. on Prince Emanuel, by whose accession to the throne in 1495 the archipelago finally became part of the royal dominions. Its population and importance rapidly increased; its first bishop was consecrated in 1532, its first governor-general appointed about the end of the century. It was enriched by the frequent visits of Portuguese fleets, on their return to Europe laden with treasure from the East, and by the presence of immigrants from Madeira, who introduced better agricultural methods and several new industries, such as dyeing and distillation of spirits. The failure to maintain an equal rate of progress in the 18th and 19th centuries was due partly to drought, famine and disease—in particular, to the famines of 1730–1733 and 1831–1833—and partly to gross misgovernment by the Portuguese officials.

The best general account of the islands is given in vols. xxiii. and xxvii. of the Boletim of the Lisbon Geographical Society (1905 and 1908), and in Madeira, Cabo Verde, e Guiné, by J. A. Martins (Lisbon, 1891). Official statistics are published in Lisbon at irregular intervals. See also Über die Capverden (Leipzig, 1884) and Die Vulcane der Capverden (Graz, 1882), both by C. Dölter. A useful map, entitled Ocean Atlantico Norte, Archipelago do Cabo Verde, was issued in 1900 by the Commissão de Cartographia, Lisbon.