“He was born with politics in his head. He was the son of a politician. Juvenal used to talk to him about everything.” These words are pronounced in 1976, a year before Amílcar’s death, by his mother, Mrs. Iva Pinhel Évora, wife of Juvenal Lopes Cabral.
Memórias e Reflexões (Memories and Reflections), published in 1947 by Amílcar’s father, is a singular book in which the author recollects his life, discusses the problems of his times and the environment in which he lived, describes facts and events that clarify historical developments and shed light on the social origins of the future leader of the PAIGC.
Juvenal is born in Cape Verde in 1889. One of his grandparents is an important landowner. But his fortune doesn’t last long in view of the natural disasters that afflict the islands. His paternal grandfather is a cultured man, also of some means, who names the child Juvenal, after the Latin poet of the same name. Juvenal doesn’t get to know his father, who meets a tragic death when the boy is a mere two months old. At first, the child remains under the care of his grandfather, but later goes to live with his godmother, Simoa Borges, who will pay for his education. First, he studies at the Viseu Seminary, in Portugal. Juvenal is destined for the priesthood. But a prolonged drought at the turn of the century makes it financially impossible to keep him studying there. So, he returns to Cape Verde and, in 1906, we find him studying at the St. Nicolau Seminary. But at the age of 18 he abandons his studies and leaves for Guinea in search of a job. First, he manages to become a civil servant in Bolama and, later, begins his activities as a teacher, even though he has no diploma.
The family is living in Bafatá when Amílcar Cabral is born on September 12, 1924. The birth certificate, however, states that the newborn’s name is Hamílcar, his father’s way of paying homage to the famous Carthaginian Hamílcar Barca.
Simoa, the godmother, dies in 1932 and leaves Juvenal a few tracts of land in Cape Verde. He, his wife Iva and Amílcar return to the islands, where they remain throughout the difficult years of World War II. Under Salazar’s regime, the cost of living soars and goods and supplies become scarce. In 1940, a particularly severe drought causes widespread starvation, resulting in the death of more than 20,000 Cape Verdeans. Then, between 1942 and 1948, a new calamity ravages the islands, killing 30,000 more.
In the meantime, the Portuguese military contingent on the islands has grown considerably, giving rise to innumerable conflicts with the local population and bringing into greater focus the underlying feelings of racism and colonialism. There are practically no public assistance services to relieve the effects of drought and famine. The islands become under populated as the result of emigration to S. Tomé and Angola and, later, to America.
Juvenal never remained silent. In 1940, he sends a memorandum to the governor in which, based on historical data, he predicts that there would be a drought in the years to follow. His predictions come true. Later, he will write a document to the minister in charge of colonial affairs. (This terrible period of successive calamities in Cape Verde is masterly described by Manuel Ferreira in his novel Hora di Bai).
This is the atmosphere in which Amílcar Cabral spends his early childhood and adolescent years. If, on one hand, his father gives the example of public conscience and civic engagement, within the limits permitted by Salazar’s fascism, his mother, Iva Évora, on the other, is for young Amílcar an example of love and affection, of family protection and of dedication to her work. Iva labors all day on a sewing machine to help the family overcome, as well as possible, the many crises they have to face. Later in addition to her activities as a seamstress, she gets a job a in a fish-packing factory. Amílcar’s mother and her capacity for self-sacrifice will serve as an example which he will pass to the young militants of the PAIGC.
At age 20, Amílcar is thoroughly familiar with the degrading living conditions of the Cape Verdean people. He is immersed in political idealism, absolutely convinced that there will be better tomorrows, that there will be inevitable changes in the world through a new order arising out of the post-war chaos.
In high school, Amílcar is a brilliant student and graduates with outstanding grades, 17 out of a possible 18 point total. He leaves for the capital, Praia, where he gets a job as an apprentice at the National Printing Office, while he awaits the result of his application for a scholarship so he can continue his studies. At long last, he leaves for Lisbon in 1945.
The choice of his major studies at college, obviously, reflects his father’s influence: he will become an agricultural engineer.