Many of the Creole cultures spread across planet share a common historical component, namely the tragic repression of their peoples. There can be no doubting that Creole people around the world are fiercely proud of their heritage. However, within the roots of each Creole culture there is a common link to a past of social and political repression, slavery and denigration at the hands of a small ruling clique.
Time and time again the pride that is inherent in Creole culture has led to a person of immense stature rising up to lead the fight for freedom and equality. There are countless examples of historical figures from the Caribbean island nations fighting back against slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the civic leaders in the United States who fought for social equality in the 20th.
On the African continent the fight commonly pitted Creole and other native ethnic groups against the tyrannical and repressive rule of the colonial powers. For the people of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, Amilcar Cabral was the hero-in-waiting who would lead them to a life free of social and political repression.
A Creole Birth
Like every other child, Amilcar arrived into this world as a completely blank canvas. He was born in Bafata, Guinea-Bissau on 12 September 1924 to Juvenal Lopes da Costa Cabral and Iva Pinhel Evora, both natives of the Cape Verde Islands which lies in the Atlantic Ocean some 350 miles northwest of Guinea-Bissau.
When Amilcar was born, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau were colonial possessions of the Portuguese Empire. Both nations have a significant Creole population. Despite Portuguese being the official language of both nations, fewer than 14% of the population of either country speaks Portuguese at home. Practically every single Cape Verdean Islander speaks Cape Verdean Creole and 44% of Guinea-Bissau’s people speak Crioulo (another Portuguese-based Creole language).
On completing his secondary education in Cape Verde, Amilcar went to Lisbon, the capital of the colonial ruling power, for his higher education. Amilcar studied agronomy and became a social activist. While attending college he founded numerous student movements dedicated to securing the freedom of Portugal’s overseas colonies from the rule of the Estado Novo dictatorship.
This period spent in Lisbon, promoting the liberation of Portuguese colonies, was to prepare him well for his homecoming to Africa where he quickly became a focal point in the battle for freedom.
A Leader and Warrior
On returning to Africa in the early 1950s, Amilcar soon found himself in the vanguard of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde’s struggle for independence, which started in earnest in 1956. Amilcar founded the leading party in this fight for independence – the Partido Africano da Independencia da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC).
The rebellion began in 1956 not long after the founding of the PAIGC. However, the PAIGC was unlike any previous or subsequent African freedom fighting movement. Amilcar set up training camps in neighbouring Ghana to train his lieutenants in military and political matters, such as negotiating and persuading local tribes to support and even fight alongside the PAIGC’s forces.
He also put his degree in agronomics to good use during the struggle. He taught his soldiers the basics of agronomy and ordered them to pass this knowledge on to local tribal farmers so that they would be able to increase their productivity and support themselves better. In addition, when they weren’t fighting, the PAIGC soldiers worked alongside local farmers in the fields thus winning hearts and minds in the process.
Another social innovation made by the PAIGC was the institution during the war of a market system of trade and barter that made vital goods available throughout the countryside at affordable prices, effectively circumventing the need to use stores owned by the colonial powers. The PAIGC also set up mobile field hospitals that would not only serve wounded soldiers, but also provide basic care for various local tribes as well. In addition to all of the above Amilcar sought to provide every single member of the PAIGC with an education while they were serving under him.
Amilcar wanted to do more than just liberate the country from tyrannical colonial rule, he wanted to establish a country where equality would reign and freedoms would be guaranteed. He was more than a soldier and leader, he was a thinker and academic as well.
A Rebel with a Cause
Amilcar had a clear vision for Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde’s future. He had not organised and launched the struggle for independence only to replace the ruling white Portuguese overlords with equally repressive black ones drawn from the ranks of the local elite. This was an idea that he was to state clearly and unequivocally on many an occasion:
“We are fighting so that insults may no longer rule our countries, martyred and scorned for centuries, we are fighting so that our peoples may never more be exploited by imperialists but not only those with white skin, because we should not confuse exploitation or exploiters with the colour of a man’s skin; we do not want any exploitation in our countries, not even by black people.”
The goal to which Amilcar devoted his life was more than just a military campaign aimed at destabilising the region and removing the white colonial overseers from power, it was a vision aimed at leading his country to a brighter future.
Tragically, the cause to which he devoted his life would eventually claim it on 20 January 1973. In a last ditch effort to reverse their fortunes and quash the rebellion, Portuguese agents used a disgruntled former PAIGC rival to assassinate Amilcar. However, his assassination failed to derail the independence movement. Luis Cabral took over where his elder brother had left off, becoming head of the PAIGC and eventually Guinea-Bissau’s first president when the country officially gained independence on 25 April 1975.
Amilcar’s role in the PAIGC’s struggle for independence has cemented his legendary status, but he will also long be remembered as a brilliant thinker who understood the vital cultural and theoretical elements needed to build a successful independence movement both in Africa and throughout the world. In his own words, his struggle was one fought against imperialist forces that were “trying to dominate the working class in the advanced countries of the world while simultaneously smothering the national liberation movements in developing countries.”