“Rostu Pa Mar, Kosta Pa Terra”: The Cape Verdean Diaspora In Portugal

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Cape Verdeans are roughly as numerous in Cape Verde as they are in the diaspora. About 200,000 of them live in the former colonial metropole, Portugal. In this text, Flávio Zenun Almada and Sónia Vaz Borges use a linguistic diasporic archive in order to describe this diaspora’s life conditions and aspirations (in particular returning to cultivating the land) through adages and music.

Salty waters, dry hot lands, no azáguas this year.

Spread across 4,033 square kilometers of land on the African Continent’s west coast, and lying between latitudes 14-18°N, and longitudes 22-26°W, is Cape Verde. Water and land are two of our focal points when analyzing the economy in this ten island archipelago. “Rostu pa mar,” (“Eyes on the sea”). During the rainy season (the azáguas) on a land that survives by farming, the farmer faces the sea. He sees the rain falling closer to land than to the horizon, yet without touching the ground that was just farmed. Farmers await the blessing from the sky for sprouts to start. They say “Hoji, tchuba ê na mar…” (“Today it rains on the sea…”), and if it continues like this, “…ês anu raboita ka di fiança” (“…this year the farming will not be guaranteed”).

The common expression, “Rostu pa mar, kosta pa terra” (“Eyes on the sea, backs turned to the land”), clearly describes the future of Cape Verdeans.

It reflects the idea of imagining a future beyond the mass of water that separates it from foreign lands: starting a new life abroad; living and fighting for a life elsewhere; sending remittances to the family who stayed behind, who are still waiting for the rain and working the land. From sailors to stevedores, from cooks in boats and houses, from domestic workers to construction workers, these sedentary island people migrate from the countryside to the city, and from the big city to cities across the world. Their eyes remain on the sea, but this time clinging to the hope of returning one day towards the end of their lives, to be farming again and waiting for the rain, but with the security of a retirement check from a life spent abroad.

There are other reasons that have enabled us to cross paths in Portugal. Sónia’s father escaped being sent to Angola to fight the Portuguese colonial war. For years, he lived in Lisbon semi-clandestinely, protected by his own dad, who was already a migrant construction worker in the city. Flávio’s mother came as a housekeeper, allowing him to join her and take up study at university.

Borges Almada Funambulist 1
Inhabitants of Bairro Casal de Santa Filomena in the late 1970s. / Photo kindly provided by Francisco Silva, inhabitant of the Bairro at Rua D, number. 35-B.

We are members of a diaspora, living in Portugal, in the peripheries of what was once a metropole. For us descendants in Portugal, we found connections to our land through music, family meetings, anecdotes such as the ones from Nhu Puchin (the well-known Cape Verdean comedian), our Cape Verdean language, alias creole, cosmology, and food. We have all dreamt one day of returning home, even though most of us have never been there. Some of us carry the Cape Verdean nationality, even though we were born and raised in Portugal.