Monday, December 31, 2007

Peace Corps is Good and Fish is Yummy: Two Years of Talking like You’re Three

Sitting in my thesis advisor’s cramped office at Brown, the requisite stacks of papers and esoteric book titles lending authenticity to the moment, I receive a nugget of wisdom for the future of my Latin American Studies:
“Why take Portuguese? Its just Spanish with a bad Russian accent.”
He was mostly joking, but I would learn he wasn’t entirely wrong, when I traveled to Cape Verde as a Peace Corps transfer. On the Dakar-Praia leg, armed only with half-forgotten Spanish and my Guinean French, I felt palpable relief as I eyed the flotation device instructions on the seatback in front of me:
No caso de emergência use-se o seu assento como aparelho de flutuação.
Oh. Okay. We can do this.
I flipped through the in-flight magazine and experienced a similar, understated glee.
Sure, there were the pretentious tails-on-the-c, the swiggley flourishes-atop-the-a, and the Latinate “m’s” at the ends of words. But these only denoted a language of unsurpassed classiness. Mostly it just looked like methodical doodling around the misspelled Spanish that could show up on any seventh grade exam.
And it should be just so: I had been accepted to this country because local staff thought that with good Spanish, I could learn Portuguese without training. Doubt faded. I thought about all the Cesaria Evora songs I would translate and send with a note of gratitude to my wise thesis advisor.
“A senhora gostaria de beber alguma coisa?”
The stunningly handsome flight attendant tried again. “A senhora não fala Português?”
The nasal humming and the laborious “sh” flustered me. This was not Spanish. Putin didn’t sound like that either. The seat cushion in front of me had lied. Everyone had lied!
“Vous voudrais boire quelque chose? Would you like something to drink?” he ran by me in most of the major languages spoken at the U.N.
I muttered something in French, Spanish and Malinke.
“Ok, so you want a coke?” he said, in English.
“Yeah,” I said. I didn’t ask for a refill.
If Cape Verde was in fact a former Slavic colony, this was going to prove more challenging than I had thought.
So Portuguese was not going to be a piece of cake. But my deflated ego was not the worst of it: it was being compelled to speak with the eloquence of a precocious three-year-old that was going to be the rub. Gracious people who had never learned a second language would have a hard time believing you weren’t as dumb as you sounded. Conversations with thoroughly fascinating people--who would manage to sense your subterranean non-dumbness—would still be relegated to subjects like food, hobbies, and the weather; politics or culture were simply too painful to broach without the proper tools.
Dona Malucy, the sweet Peace Corps nurse, asked me a my check up that first day if I liked Cape Verde. I wanted to tell her that despite being a few miles away from West Africa, it felt surreally like Latin America. Instead, I said “yes”. I could have added “me no like shots”, but the needle would have been in before I remembered the word for shot.
Reverting to this infantile state was even more excruciating, because my Malinke was only now entering puberty after a year in Guinea. The grueling regimen of gestures and monosyllabic responses was finally giving way to humor, ideas, multi-clause sentences, and the occasional comprehensible third party conversation. People would ask me if I brought them a present. I could say it died on the road. They would ask me if I woke up with four legs. I could say, “no, just two, you know I don’t have a boyfriend.” I could even sing a song about the name of my hoe (its name, like everyones’, was “hunger is bad.”) Not top 40 material, but triumphant nonetheless.
As it turned out, I got off easy: Portuguese was, in structure and vocab, quite similar to Spanish, once you learned to pick it out of the Russian that got spoken to you. The only problem was that, barring formal events, no one speaks Portuguese. Cape Verdeans speak Creole, the hybrid African-Portuguese language adapted by the slaves of multi-lingual origins brought here by the Portuguese from the late 15th century on.
Admittedly, Creole would be much easier to learn than Malinke. Malinke, with its mysterious excess of prepositions and its wholly foreign structure, was spoken by people who mostly knew no French. Thus progress was snail-like. Creole, on the other hand, is based overwhelmingly on Portuguese. Its structure is simple, its grammar rules fluid, and most Cape Verdeans also understand Portuguese. That means you can get direct translations and advance quickly. The large number of Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants who have picked it up is testament to that fact.
And yet a serious malaise prevented me from really undertaking to learn it. Portuguese got me by at work, I spoke English with my roommate at home, and even in the market and on buses people understood Portuguese. One year and three languages into my Peace Corps service, did I really need to talk like a three-year-old in a new one?
I did. Language is not just about communication. It is about good will. The Peace Corps is founded on the assumption that before you can do development work, you have to integrate: to integrate, you must gain people’s trust, get to know them well, learn the profound and subtle bits of their culture. All this depends not just on communicating effectively—for which creole is helpful--but on demonstrating a willingness to learn, for which Creole is essential.
This is one of Peace Corps’ most unique and worthwhile philosophies. In a world of aid organizations that rely on translators and barely get to know the communities they serve, it is bordering on revolutionary. And in a country like Cape Verde where tourism is fast becoming a major industry, it is more important than ever for aid workers to distinguish themselves from vacationers. Learning Creole is the best way to do this.
The difference in my interactions, now that I speak it, is overwhelming. Talking to Dona Malucy is just one of the benefits. Of course, knowing the word for shot does not necessarily get you out of them.

Dorky Linguistic Addendum:

Malinke is an ancient language spoken throughout areas of West Africa that once made up their 13th century empire, including eastern Guinea. Free from outside influence, there is a remarkable harmony to it; that is, words for related concepts sound alike. If they don’t seem related, but sound the same, that sheds some light on the culture (what malinke culture sees as related):
o baara is work, and office is baaradiya, the work place.
o Fin is charcoal. It also means black. Farafin is black person or literally “skin of charcoal”
o Sanji is rain. San is year. Malinkes, mostly farmers, mark the year by when the rains come. Caro means both moon and month, just as teleh means both day and sun by similar logic.
o Human body parts account for a lot of other related words, especially location-prepositions. Kun is head. Kunti is the head of the village.
o Kono is belly. It also means inside. Mobili-kono means inside the car.
o Some words that relate to religion and writing are Arabic, since the Muslim conquerors brought both of these to the Malinke. Allah is God. Ka makaran means to learn and has the word “koran” in it. Karandiya is school, or the place of study, place of koran.
o The only other foreign words I know in Guinean Malinke are inventions the French brought: car (mobili), spoon (cuyeri), window, (fineteri), Saturday (simiti-lon) and Sunday (dimanshi-lon).

Creole on the other hand is so worldly, that despite being based mostly on Portuguese, it contains vocab that comes from many European languages. At the crossroads between Europe, Latin America and Africa, slave traders, pirates, merchants, colonists and sailors from all over passed through, leaving their mark on the language.
o Badja, Creole for dancing, comes from bailar, the Spanish word for dance.
o Boite, Creole for nightclub, comes from the French.
o Grogu, the word for Cape Verde’s national moonshine, comes from early contact with English Pirates (include Sir Drake).
o A lot of words relating to “cool” come from American English, because of large Cape Verdean immigrant communities there, especially in the Boston area. Tug Life (thug life) and tuggi (thug) are used among youth to refer to da glamourized gangsta life. “Fishi”, which allegedly comes from the English word “fish” means “cool.” I have no idea.
o A lot of imported goods take brand names: razors are “gileti” and minivans are called Hiaces and trucks Hiluxes after their Toyota model names. Oh yes, and “daipis”—diapers.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Before They Disappear: An Old Cape Verdean Farmer Talks Traditional Plants

“You used to be able to find all types of plants,” says Joao Sanches, a seventy-one year old farmer from Serra Malagueta. “Lingua-de-vaca, Tortolio, Eucalyptus…But the rains gave out…and people have gathered so much wood. Now the plants are gone.”

Born in Tarrafal but residing in Pedra Comprida most of his life, Sanches has witnessed first hand the degredation of Serra Malagueta's forested mountains. But even as the plants become scarcer, their unique, traditional uses come to life when he recounts them.

“When I was born”, he says, “I saw that my father lived without kerosene…He never had kerosene and he never had a match.” For fire, oil could be extracted from the Pulgeira (Jatropha curcas) seed and could be used like kerosene. But its usefulness did not stop here: “Pulgeira gives you oil, kerosene soap or milk….if you drank the milk when you were sick it would make you well.”

Indigo (Tinta indigofeira) could be pounded and soaked to create a dye. This dark dye was used to color the renowned pano de terra, the traditional cloth of Santiago. Cotton (Gossypium Barbadense), woven on looms to create the panos, also grew abundantly on the island when rain was more plentiful. “It was all made here,” he says.

Karapatus (Forcraea foetida), one of the park’s most aggressive invasive species today, was perhaps easier to control, when it was used for such a wide variety of purposes as Sanches describes: “You could cut it, pass is through a machine, and make thread. With the thread you could make bags.” Alternately, it could be dried and used for roofing, or woven into a bit to keep a young coat from nursing too often.The bits, Sanches joked, were not just for goats, though. “If you had a really annoying son you could use it on him, too.”

Hearing his stories breathes life into the landscape. The ingenuity with which Serra Malaguetans fulfilled most of their basic needs through plants they grew and harvested is awe-inspiring, especially given our own reliance on modern conveniences. But most of all, Sanchez’s stories remind us of the importance of preserving Serra’s endangered flora, which offers us beauty---as well as utility--if we protect them.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Reward Poor Governance or Save the Middle Class: The Development Dilemma

It was lunchtime and I was sitting in Minga’s unfinished cement house. She pulled a bottle of imitation orange juice out of her refrigerator and set it down next to the generous helping of fish, beans and rice on my plate. She had cooked it over a wood fire and reheated it on a gas stove. Photos of her daughter in Portugal stood on the tv, while her other daughter pounded corn outside.

“I hope you like the food,” she said. “You know we are very poor here, not like in America. “ I glanced at the gas stove, gulped as I always do, and said the food was very good.

“The economic progress Cape Verde has made…ironically may affect the country's eligibility for…development assistance. For example, Cape Verde is not eligible for the recent programs for debt relief decided by the G8 because we have always honored and serviced our national debts.”, said Jose Maria Neves, Cape Verde’s Prime Minister, in a guest column last year. “Because we honor our commitments, Cape Verde is now compelled to spend more on servicing past debts than it does on education or health.”

Neves brings up an interesting point, one that might be even more relevant now as the UN strips it of its status as a low income country this January. Although the specific reductions aren’t yet clear, WFP has said it will end support for its school lunch program , and in 2005, a UN rep promised to cut aid by 30% upon Cape Verde’s 2008 transition.

But if Minga’s country is less poor thanks to its own good governance, should it lose its aid money? If Cape Verde is still not wealthy, and if aid money is guaranteed to be well spent here, why should this arid island nation lose its aid?

Regardless, it must be acknowledged that Cape Verde is graduating to “medium income country” for a reason: it’s doing pretty well. According to the Millenium Challenge Index, per capita income is at $2,130, primary education is nearly universal, even among girls, and corruption is exceptionally low. While Cape Verde has achieved the UN’s standards for human development and income, the country remains economically vulnerable, relying heavily on remittances and international aid. But economic growth for 2007 is expected to have increased by 7% , mostly in the tourism sector. For a country with no natural resources, that is required to import around 85% of its food, this is all very impressive.

Moreover, Cape Verde is still slated to receive plenty of aid. Patricia de Mowbray, the UN representative here, recently promised that “in the next few weeks and months we will mobilize between US$2 and 4 million for the country’s development.” Meanwhile, the Millenium Challenge Corporation’s five year $110 million compact with Cape Verde does not expire until 2010. Portugal has promises 140 million in infrastructure development. This kind of money goes along way for a resident population of 506,807 .

Perhaps most importantly, though, prospects for private sector growth—the ideal basis for economic health—are excellent. On December 18th, Cape Verde became the 152nd member of the WTO . A new partnership with the EU, whose terms are still unspecified, will broaden and deepen economic ties. Trade with China is currently estimated at $10 million. Meanwhile, international property investment experts, such as Tom Foster of Conti Financial Services, foresee a boom in the Cape Verdean property market over the next year. The country’s “holistic” approach to growth, combined with the growing popularity of island destinations, has made Cape Verde “the name on everyone’s lips,” Foster says. Visitor numbers have already increased from 67,000 to 280,000 between 2000 and 2006, and are expected to reach 320,000 this year . Infrastructure improvements—such as a road, a port and airport projects to be financed through Portuguese loans—will further facilitate growth in tourism and property sales .

Such admirable success begs the opposite question: why give money to a country that doesn’t need it? With so many seriously impoverished countries 500 kilometers away in West Africa, where malnutrition is rampant, people perish from curable diseases, and capital cities lack running water and electricity, why are scarce resources being sent here?

Precisely because of Neves’ point: good behavior must be rewarded in order to encourage its replication. Merit-based incentives ensure that it is still in a country’s best interest to fix its problems, regardless of the legitimacy of their existence. Ultimately, of course, good behavior should reward itself, by spurring the kind of private sector growth Cape Verde is now seeing. But if we can sweeten the deal--without neglecting the critical pursuit of healthcare, education, and food security for the really poor --then maybe we are having our refrigerated beans and rice and eating it too.

I don’t blame Minga for thinking she is poor. Lord knows most Americans would balk at the idea of pounding corn with a mortar and pestle everyday. But on the strength private sector growth bolstered by rewards for good governance, maybe she will get that cuisinart after all.


Cape Verde: Is Good Governance Rewarded? Neves, 4-10-06

Cape Verde: UN guarantees that support for country will continue after graduation in January 4-12-07 Cape Verde Portal

Cape Verde First Year Accomplishments 4-10-06 Millenium Challenge Corp.

Cabo Verde beneficia de 140 milhões euros para infraestruturas 25-11-07 Panapress

MCC 2008 Country Score Card Millenium Challenge Corp

Cape Verde signs up to become 152nd WTO member 19-12-07 Business in Africa

Cape Verde: Where Investors Dare 29-11-07 Assetz Property News Service
Cape Verde’s Tourist Market Set to Grow 10-12-07 Property Showrooms

ONU garante continuação de apoio a Cabo Verde 12-4-07 Panapress

IMF Country Profiles

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Innovating with Water in Serra Malagueta: Domingos Monteiro

A lot of people think of alcohol as a social problem. For Monteiro--an innovative farmer who lives in Santiago’s Serra Malagueta Natural Park--it’s an environmental solution.
“Beer bottles are something we have a lot of,” he explains pointing to the wall of horizontal bottles that serves as terracing on his mountainous farm. But it does more than just prevent erosion: “During the rainy season, water seeps through the soil into the bottles and is trapped. Then, in the dry season, that water seeps out, humidifying soil.” It saves money on irrigation costs but also on building materials: Bricks, the standard construction material, “cost 80 cents a piece these days,” he explains. “Bottles are free.” And just in case you thought it might reflect a serious problem, it doesn’t: at least for Domingos, who swears he did not drink all the beers himself.
The plant beds above Domginos’s bottle terraces feature long black strips of tubing with pin-size holes. These are part of his drip irrigation system, which strategically directs water to the stem of each plant. Despite the big overhead cost, such precise watering saves lots of money in the long run. “If you need 1000 liters of water a day to water your field, with drip irrigation, you can use just 200 liters…You can make up your initial investment in no time.” It also cuts down on erosion, helps preserve soil nutrients, and minimizes labor costs.
And Domingo’s irrigation system doesn’t just economize water: it economizes fog. On the steep rocks above his home, a series of huge synthetic nets anchored to wood frames face the blustery wind that whips through the highlands. The wind is actually a dense fog that deposits moisture on the nets. Droplets of condensed fog fall into horizontal troughs below, before passing through a filter into a holding tank that can direct water home or to the garden. The two-by-three meter nets can produce between 600 and 1000 liters of water a day, depending on weather conditions and net quality. While Domingos did not discover the system, he became intrigued by it when he noticed condensation forming each morning on his chicken coop. “If Serra had another 10 of these, we would be completely self-sufficient in terms of water,” he said.
Even more impressive than the ingenuity behind these projects is the fact that Domingos is trying new approaches to old problems.“I think as people start to see these projects succeeding, they will start to try them, too,” he says.

Friday, December 07, 2007

15 Seconds of Rain: Cape Verde’s Water Problem

“According to local lore, when God was satisfied with Creation, and brushed his hands together, the crumbs that fell unnoticed from his fingers into the sea formed Cape Verde.” With this image begins The Bradt travel guide to the Cape Verde islands. And frankly, this desolate, island-extension of the Sahara, with its jagged brown peaks and windswept beaches, its tragic history of droughts and famines, seems aptly likened to crumbs.

Even today, despite being one of the most developed West African countries, water is arguably the number one problem. Most comes from underground sources, but salt water is flooding the aquifer. Fuel-dependant desalinization plants are ingenious, but expensive. A four million dollar dam has rendered 65 hectors of previously arid land productive, but springs downstream have all but dried up or become salty. Meanwhile, the scarcity of water, among other factors, makes Cape Verde reliant on imports for over 80% of its food, which arrives on boats at inflated prices from Portugal, Brazil, and beyond.

At the height of the dry season, when our own tank went dry, a truck brought an emergency 2.5 tons of water from a far off coastal down for 25 dollars. It lasted eight people only a week. Everyday, to the thousands of homes with no running water, women and children languidly walk, balancing large containers on their heads atop wadded-up handkerchiefs. Their bodies undulate to keep the water from sloshing when they pause or turn their heads.

“How thrilled everyone is going to be when it rains,” I thought. “How thrilling those two months, those 260 milliliters that are going to fall on all this dust.”

* * *

My first rains were in the beach town of Tarrafal.

Powerful streams of water--pouring out of roof-spouts destined for empty basins below--splashed instead off the sidewalks and flooded the cobbled streets. Tarrafal had recently gotten running water, I learned. Out of town, the corn, usually vivaciously green against the shaley brown earth, looked oddly withered and dry against all that wetness. The stalks stood in pools of swampy brown water, brittle and drowning. Further ahead, the cliffs that mark the climb to the highlands had sprayed rocks across the roads. A driver in a large station wagon paused, wondering whether he could sneak between the widest-set stones or if he was really going to have to get out and move them. Below the road, a waterfall of chocolate milk, as if cut from a Nesquick ad, spilled over the road’s edge into the cornfields. “Erosion” was the caption below every image.

Most people crouched under awnings, watching, impassive. As we reached the highlands, with no central running water, a few had placed basins below roof spouts, or stood, satisfied, beside full containers. Every now and then a woman stood glowering beside her ruined laundry. No smiles. Eventually a little girl, quite serious and rather dry, appeared in a wheelbarrow, her underwear hanging loosely from her scrawny legs. Her brother sat unsmiling on a stone wall nearby. “Frolic!” I ordered silently. “Children are supposed to frolic when it rains!” Especially, I thought, when they live on a crumb.

* * *

Frolicking not being that viable a solution to the water problem, some have turned to harnessing Cape Verde’s not immediately obvious assets--wind, fog, and salt water—to pursue small-scale, affordable, sustainable solutions.
Students at the technical school 100 yards from my house were a little less bored yesterday. Some eagerly shoved cement-laden trowels between the wood panels. Others turned pebbles, water and cement powder together with shovels on something like a giant plastic sandbox. “You’ve got to make sure the cement is really packed down around the wire so there’s no air bubbles,” Nick Hanson, a Peace Corps Voc Ed teacher told them.

They are building a solar still, which for roughly 40 dollars apiece, should clean about 4 liters of water a day using only solar energy. When it is a done, and a big glass sheet is placed across the top, it will look like the front of a minivan’s upper half, flush to the ground with a tube running into an imposing black barrel.

Why clean water when there isn’t any? Actually, one of the only raw materials that coastal fishing towns here have in spades is salt water. Just four liters of it cleaned could meet a family’s daily drinking needs. Make it more efficient, or build a few more, and you could plan year-round agriculture, using a super-efficient drip irrigation system (that directs water only to the root of the plant, through pin-size holes in plastic tubing). The initial investment could be recuperated in a few years while the still might last twenty, and a new generation of tech school grads will know how to install it.

First they have to get rid of the air bubbles.

* * *

So that might take care of the coasts. What about the highlands?
Several wood-framed vertical nets rise out of the mountains behind my office in Serra Malagueta. They look like a half-erected, uninspired outdoor art installation. They are, in fact, fog collection nets, that pluck water out of the thick, wet mist that whips through the highlands almost year round. First set up by the Portuguese before independence, they have been renovated and replicated by the Protected Areas Project.

The fog water runs down the synthetic green netting into a flimsy plastic trough that extends lengthwise along the bottom. It is tilted only slightly, so the water will trickle into a tube headed for the filter, the tank, and finally for the elementary school or the community spigot, from where a bucket will carry it home on somebody’s head. Collection rates vary with wind speed and moisture, and the wind still whips plenty from the trough before it can be channeled. But each net—six meters tall and two meters wide—collects up to 1000 liters of water each night.

“It’s very good,” says Domingos Monteiro, a local farmer who has erected his own nets. He first considered it when he saw condensation collecting on the walls of his chicken coop. “With another ten of these, each catching 1000 liters a day, Serra Malagueta could have plenty of water.” His own nets will be feeding a brand new drip irrigation system for his garden this dry season.

* * *

So weirdly enough, having been a crumb may yet prove to be one of Cape Verde’s biggest assets. While we are still struggling to reduce reliance on increasingly scarce, traditional sources of energy and natural resources, Cape Verde is being forced to figure some of it out now. In the not so distant future, Domingos and the tech school grads may be our most prized consultants, and some Peace Corps volunteers may be out of a job.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Pano de Terra: A little piece of cloth with a long history*

(See below for Portuguese)
The looms were “more irregular than you can imagine” João da Silva Feijó said in 1797. “They were created spontaneously, from pieces of stakes, sugar cane, tied with cords from banana trees, which--once the work was finished--would be used as firewood by the very same weavers.”
But these makeshift looms, operated by slaves captured from the Guinea coast, produced an excellent quality cloth. Pano de terra would become a centerpiece of Cape Verdean culture, transform its economy, and revolutionize the Guinea slave trade. Most of all, it is an astonishing example of cultural preservation: in a developing country where cellphone ring tones echo through cafes and boys sport 50 cent gear, women young and old still tie an elegant pano around their heads and waists. Panos still accentuate a dancer’s gyrating hips in the traditional batuk dance, and women’s jeans sometimes feature a little strip of pano.
But its survival was not always assured. “In the‘90’s...Cape Verdeans started watching television, listening to the radio, reading the journal and they started borrowing other cultures that aren’t ours,” explains Sabino Lopez, a pano artisan from Picos. “They stopped wearing pano de terra.”
To prevent its disappearance and to grease the local economy, Serra Malagueta Natural Park hired Sabino to train fourteen park residents in pano production. After three months, quality cloth--in bright colors as well as the traditional black and white--began to appear across the students’ looms, thanks to Sabino’s patience and skill. “[Pano de Terra] is a practice that comes from our land and we can’t forget it,” says Zilena Furtado, 26, one of the trainees. But success will be attained only when the new weavers establish profitable businesses. “[The training] is also for us to succeed in our lives and earn some money to make our lives better,“ she adds.
How did this unique tradition emerge from barren, uninhabited islands? Not long after Cape Verde’s discovery by the Portuguese in 1460, cotton cultivation was widespread throughout the southern islands. The slaves who worked the fields also wove the cotton according to the practices of their own peoples—the Jalofos, sereres, mouros, tucrores, mandingas, and fulas of West Africa, all renowned for their weaving. Thus the birth of pano de terra.
But the practices still had to be adapted to the new, harsh climate of erratic rains, and fragile ecology. To make dye, Women gathered the islands’ own local plants ---tinta or indigo (indigofera tinctoria), urzela, and urucu -- but it was risky business: “Gathering urzela was prohibited by the king because many people died,” Sabino explains. “[The plants] were located on steep slopes and only the young had the physical ability to collect them.”.
Indigo leaves, easier to gather and more commonly used, were still no walk in the park to process: first pounded into balls, they were soaked in hot water until larvae formed. The leaves were then strained through a bamboo and sand filter, and mixed with the ash of banana leaves, purgeira, or espinho branco. Now the mixture was ready to dye thread or completed panos, which were quickly becoming the focal point of local culture.
At funerals, women would “cover their heads with a large pano” and wipe their tears on the cloth, Sabino recalls. “When someone was going to ask for a girl as his fiancé, he had to bring her pano de terra…And when a girl was about to get married, her mother-in-law… would offer her the pano de terra so she could carry her babies on her back.”
Meanwhile, demand on the Guinea Coast was soaring. Lemos Coelho tells us in 1684 that along the Rio Nuno, “Good high quality clothing from the island of Santiago of Cape Verde…was necessary for all those people [the Bagas].” African slave traders all but refused to exchange the slaves they’d captured for anything but panos from European slavers. João Pereira Corte Real, a governor of Cape Verde, said in 1641: “He who might wish to take slaves from there [The Guinea Coast] must also be a lord of the Island of Santiago, because of the panos of cotton, which are a great part of the cloth used for ransom.”
But at home, pano de terra was not just a hot commodity, as on the Guinea Coast; pano was currency. By the end of the 1600’s, as the Crown imposed harsh trade laws and the slave trade changed hands, the islands fell on hard times. Hard currency all but deserted Cape Verde. Thus, Functionaries’ wages were paid with panos. “Those who paid the local government [in panos] were declared worthy. If sentenced by the courts…the defendants were condemned to pay fines accrued in [panos].”
These same trends that made pano a currency were simultaneously threatening to destroy it. Throughout the 1700’s and 1800’s, the pano industry and the Cape Verdean economy reeled under Portugal’s repressive trade laws. One in 1687 mandated the death penalty for anyone selling panos to foreigners . Harsh laws doubled the price of slaves—cotton’s labor source—virtually extinguishing cotton production. Several historic droughts and resulting famines did not help either.
But pano’s coffin was not sealed until 1850: industrialized America began exporting cheap paulin, “definitively [killing] cotton cultivation on the majority of the islands.”
So how did pano persist? “It was generation to generation,” Sabino says, recalling his own experience. “I produced pano de terra on a loom and then it was transferred to my sons and my cousins.” He learned from his father: “My father worked a lot…Everyday, he did nothing else. From eight to six in the evening, getting up maybe to eat breakfast and then sit back down again….I would take advantage of those opportunities to give it a try.” In this way, according to Carreira, through the 11980’s small-scale pano production continued, most notably on Santiago-- through Santa Catarina, Engenhos, and Tarrafal counties, mostly with imported thread.
But it was not enough. “There was a moment in which pano de terra was really declining. No girls were having panos made to wear….With this lack of orders, we had to do other things to survive.” Sabino found work as a guard, a gardener, and a manager.
But government and NGO sponsored trainings are helping to rejuvenate the industry. Sure it’s no substitute for father-to-son, but the trainees seem to appreciate the history: “I…think our training was important because it is something that generates income in a place where there is no work.” Ermelindo, 31 says, adding, “For me it was very important…it’s part of our tradition, it’s from our land, its something old that’s covered with so much history.”
Looking at the twelve female faces, many framed in multicolored panos, all intently studying the panos slowly forming across their looms, one of the most exciting aspects of the Protected areas training emerges: A women’s apparel industry always dominated by men is finally opening up to women. “Something that you see for so long you want to learn,” says Bia Sanchez Lopez of Serra Malagueta, age 27.

1) Feijo, Joao da Silva, Memoria sobre a urzela de Cabo Verde; II—Ensaio economico sobre as ilhas de Cabo Verde em 1797. Memorias da Real Academia de Sciencias de Lisboa 1815 (pp. 145-154 e 172-193)
2) Carreira, Antonio—Panaria Cabo Verdeano Guineense (aspectos Historicos e socio-economicos. Ciclo do algodao e a transicao para o ciclo da panaria 1983 (pp 23-72)
3) Coehlo, Francisco de Lemos Duas Descricoes Seiscentistas da Guine. Edicao da Academia Portuguesa de Historia. Anotacoes historicas por Damiao Peres. Lisboa, 1953 (1669 e 1684)
4) (João Pereira Corte Real, 1641) Arquivo Historico. Conselho ultramarine. Cod. N 30 fols. 107-109
5) Barcelos, Cristiano Jose de Senna—Subsidios para a historia de Cabo Verde e Guine. Tipografia da Academia real das Sciencias de Lisboa, 1899 a 1912
6) Arquivo Historico Ultramarino. Cod n 93 fl 427 v. Treslado do alvara em forma de lei, de 23 de Janeiro de 1687, por que S.M. ha por bem proibir que nam pssam vender aos Estrangeiros os panos e roupas que se fazem nesta ilha [de Santiago].

*Written as part of Serra Malagueta Natural Park´s Ecotourism Project

Pano de Terra: Uma faixa pequena com uma história longa
Os teares eram “mais irregulares que se podem imaginar” disse João da Silva Feijó em 1797. Foram “formados espontaneamente de pedaços de estacas e canas atadas com cordas de bananeiras, que concluído a obra, passam a servir de combustível aos mesmos tecelões.”
Mas estes teares improvisados, usados pelos escravos capturados na costa de Guine, produziram uma faixa de alta qualidade. Pano de terra tornaria a ser o ponto focal da cultura Cabo-verdiana, transformando a sua economia, e revolucionando o tráfico de escravos. Alem de isso, é um exemplo incrível da preservação cultural: num país muito cosmopolita em via de desenvolvimento, onde móveis tocam por cada lado e os rapazes vestem roupas de 50 cent, mulheres e raparigas ainda atam um pano elegante na cabeça e na cintura. Panos ainda realçam a anca vibradora da batukadeira, e os jeans as vezes mostram uma fitinha de pano.
Todavia, a sua sobrevivência não foi sempre assegurado. “Nos anos ’90…Os Cabo verdianos começaram a ver o televisão, a ouvir o rádio, a ler o jornal e começaram a arrendar outras culturas que não eram nossas.” Explica Sabino Lopez, um tecelão de Picos. “Deixaram de usar pano de terra.”
Para previr a sua decadência e para melhorar a economia local, O parque natural de Serra Malagueta contratou Sabino para formar 14 moradores no parque e arredores na produção de pano de terra. Depois de três meses, faixas bem feitas---tanto de cores brilhantes como do preto e branco tradicional— começaram a aparecer nos teares dos formandos, graças a paciência e habilidade de Sabino. “ [Pano de Terra] é uma prática que veio da nossa terra e que não podemos esquecer,” disse Zilena Furtado, 26, uma das formandas. Mas êxito só será constatável quando os novos tecelões estabelecerem negócios vantajosos. “ [A formação] é também para nos sobressairmos…e ganharmos algum dinheiro para melhorarmos as nossas vidas,” acrescentou.
Como emergiu esta tradição única de ilhas áridas e inabitadas? Pouco depois do descobrimento de Cabo Verde pelos Portugueses em 1460, o cultivo de algodão foi estendido pelas ilhas. Os escravos que trabalhavam na terra também teciam o algodão de acordo com as práticas dos seus povos— Os Jalofos, sereres, mouros, tucrores, mandingas e fulas da África do Oeste, renombrados pela sua tecelagem. Assim o nascimento de pano de terra.
Sem embargo, as práticas tinham que ser adaptadas ao novo clima duro de chuvas erráticas e ecologia frágil. Para produzir tinta, as mulheres recolheram as plantas locais da ilha— tinta (indigofera tinctoria) urzela, e urucu — mas foi um assunto difícil.” Apanhar urzela foi proibido pelo Rei porque muitas pessoas morriam.” Sabino explicou. “ [As plantas] ficavam em lugares difíceis e só os jovens tinham capacidade física para apanha-las.”
As folhas de tinta, mais fáceis de apanhar e mais usadas, ainda não eram fáceis de processar: primeiramente pilado até formar “pães”, foram metidas em água quente até que larva formou. Depois, as folhas foram passado por um filtro de bambo e areia, misturado com cinza de folhas de bananeira, purgueira, ou espinho branco. Agora a mistura estava pronto para tenir tinha os panos completos, que estavam a converter-se no ponto focal da cultura local.
Nos funerais, as mulheres “cobriam as suas cabeças com panos grandes” e limpavam as suas lágrimas nele, Sabino recorda.” Quando alguém ia pedir uma menina como esposa, tinha de traze-la pano de terra…E quando uma menina estava para casar-se, a sua sogra…ofereceria um pano de terra para carregar crianças na costa.”
Ao mesmo tempo, a demanda na costa de Guiné estava a crescer. Lemos Coelho nos diz em 1684 que ao longo do Río Nuno, era “necessário para toda esta gente [Bagas] boa roupa alta desta Ilha de Santiago de Cabo Verde.” Os comerciantes africanos apenas trocavam escravos por algo mais que panos dos negreiros europeus. João Pereira Corte Real, um governador de Cabo Verde, disse em 1641: “Quem quiser tirar dali [costa de Guiné] escravos há-de ser também senhor da ilha de Santiago em razão dos panos de algodão que é grão parte da fazenda para este resgate.”
Mas no contexto doméstico, pano de terra não era só de moda, como na Costa de Guiné; pano era a moeda. Ao fim dos 1600’s, enquanto a corona impunha leis e o comércio de escravos trocou de mãos, as ilhas decairiam. A Moeda quase desapareceu das ilhas. Portanto,”Pagavam-se vencimentos aos funcionários” em pano de terra. Declararam-se “beneméritos os indivíduos que subsidiaram o governo local com [pano de terra] …Nas sentenças dos tribunais…os réus são condenados a pagar multas avultadas em [pano de terra].”
Essas mesmas tendências que converteram o pano em moeda ameaçavam, simultaneamente, destruí-lo. Durante os 1700’s e os 1800’s, a produção de pano e a economia Cabo Verdiana sofreram sob as leis comercias repressivas de Portugal. Uma, promulgada em 1687, condenou a morte a qualquer indivíduo que vendia panos aos estrangeiros. As leis duras dobraram o preço dos escravos— a fonte de mão-de-obra de algodão— quase acabando com o cultivo de algodão. Alguns sequeiros e fomes resultantes não melhoraram a situação.
Mas o pão foi condenado em 1850: Os Estados Unidos, recém industrializados, começaram a exportar Paulino barato, matando “em definitivo o cultivo do algodoeiro na maioria das ilhas.”
Então como perdurou o pano? “Foi de geração em geração,” disse Sabino, recordando a sua própria experiência. “Eu confeccionei pano de terra num tear e então foi transferido aos meus filhos e primos.” Aprendeu do seu Pai: O meu Pai trabalhava bastante…Todos os dias, não fazia mais nada. De oito as seis da tarde, levantando-se talvez para tomar o pequeno-almoço, e sentar-se novamente.” Desta maneira, Segundo Carreira durante os’ 80’s, a confecção de pano de terra continuou, a pequena escala e notavelmente em Santiago – em Santa Catarina, Engenhos e Tarrafal, com linha importado.
Mas não era suficiente. “Houve um momento em que o pano de terra entrou em decadência. Nenhuma menina mandava fazer um pano de terra para atar... com essa falta de procura...já fomos fazer outras coisas para poder sobreviver.” Sabino trabalhou como guarda, jardineiro e gestor.

As formações promovidas pelo governo e os ONG’s estão a renovar a produção. “Eu acho que a nossa formação era importante porque é algo que dá dinheiro onde não há muito trabalho,” diz Ermelindo, 31. Acrescenta: “Para mim, foi algo muito importante... faz parte da nossa tradição, é da nossa terra, é antigo e coberto com tanta história.”
Olhando as 12 caras femininas, muitas encerradas em panos multi-cores, todas fixando nos panos formando devagar nos seus teares, salienta um dos aspectos mais emocionantes da formação de Áreas Protegidas: uma indústria de roupa feminina sempre dominado por homens está á abrir-se finalmente as mulheres. “Algo que olha-se por tanto tempo quer-se aprender,” disse Bia Sanchez Lopez de SerraMalagueta, 21.