Comparing Creole proto-nationalism and mutual-aid institutions in processes of integration and conflict in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde

This research proposal aims at comparing processes of integration and conflict in the Creole societies in Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau, societies which have been historically related since the arrival of the Portuguese. It takes a comparative perspective, focusing on two particular moments in the history of these countries: the emergence of proto-nationalist movements at the beginning of the twentieth century and the present situation of deep crisis in Guinea-Bissau and relative stability in Cape Verde.

Century-old flows of goods and people have connected these countries. The labor force employed by Portuguese landholders in Cape Verde was made up of slaves imported from the adjacent African coast. First in Santiago and later on in the other islands, these slaves, belonging to different groups and speaking different languages, mixed with the Portuguese masters and a Luso-African Creole society came into being, bearing both European and African traits. A Portuguese-based Creole language developed which was spoken by the offspring of female slaves and male Europeans. Gradually, this language was extended to the coast, where Creoles were engaged in trading with local African rulers.

In order to extend their trade relations, the Creoles of Cape Verdean ancestry founded fortified villages on the coastal river banks. They intensified their relations with the indigenous population through a series of mechanisms modelled on the African pattern of reciprocity – they married locally, were incorporated into the African trade networks as “strangers”, and adopted local forms of conduct. Through this process of reciprocal assimilation a Creole society with close ties to Cape Verde.emerged on the Guinean coast. Far away from Portugal – an increasingly weak empire with little interest in its African possessions – the Creole societies in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde were relatively autonomous until the European scramble for Africa in the second half of the nineteenth century. It was then that the European battle for African territory made the Portuguese exert more strict control over the African territories under their influence. This political move drastically changed the position of the Creole groups in both provinces. Their commercial activities were challenged by competition from metropolitan (Portuguese) and foreign companies, their political autonomy was lost and their social privileges challenged by the new colonial structures. In order to face this contestation they had to reinstate their former alliances with the indigenous population.

This is the context in which proto-nationalist movements emerged in both Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau. Whereas in Cape Verde it took the form of a nativist literary movement that emphasized the role of the Creole language as the distinctive feature of Cape Verdean culture, in Guinea-Bissau, Creole proto-nationalists organized themselves in mutual-aid associations aimed at improving their social conditions by promoting education and demanding the protection of “national” commerce from foreign companies.
In this research project I intend to analyze comparatively the emergence of these movements in both provinces. Why did similar Creole societies develop different ways of expressing their drives for autonomy? What were the contradictions inherent in these proto-nationalist movements? What were the differences concerning the Portuguese reactions to them and how can the latter be related to specific processes of integration and conflict – namely to different strategies of inclusion and exclusion practised by the two Creole societies in question?

A second objective of this research project is to examine comparatively two Creole institutions of sociality, which currently play a central role in social reproduction: Guinea-Bissauan manjuandadis and Cape Verdean tabancas. These are mutual-aid institutions that provide members with support during life-crisis situations, such as death and sickness in the family. They are above all institutions of conviviality that inculcate Creole values and symbols in their members’ practice, thereby helping them cope with the dilemmas brought about by political instability and economic uncertainty. They share some features of social organizations, but are profoundly different in regard to others. This project intends to explore these differences and similarities and how they are related to the current predicaments these societies are facing.

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