In Cape Verde the politics of managing the past, shaped by the agenda of constructing a national identity, has repeatedly used two important and complementary strategies: the remembering of certain historical events and the forgetting of others. The way that this agenda has been implemented reflects the power held by a body of actors who are collectively hailed as national heroes. These actors have also dictated the path of national memory and the onward pace of collective amnesia, by choosing and legitimising the events that deserve to be remembered.
Following the logic of patriarchal power, the unequivocal masculine voice has guided a rereading of the national past, establishing an official version of history and also determining which subjects are present and absent from our national history.
In 1956, under the leadership of Amílcar Cabral, the Partido Africano para a Independência de Cabo Verde e Guiné-Bissau [African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau] (PAIGC) was formed to resist the Portuguese project of continued oppression of these two territories, which finally ceased to be Portuguese colonies in 1974–5. The time had come to march towards the dream of national independence. In the forests of Guinea, underground in Cape Verde and in the outside world, and in diplomatic corridors, men and women fought on several fronts to raise the flag of independence.
If we consider how the fight for liberation as a landmark event in national history has been recorded, it is clear that women are the principal victims of a process of silencing and absence. They are relegated to collective amnesia and excluded from collective memory in a society contaminated by patriarchal logic.
The desire to help build a more democratic memory of the past led us, in 2015, to delve deep into this historic dream of liberty and independence, by both listening to and rendering audible the polyphony of voices of Cape Verdean women. This was done through the creation of a research and creative project entitled Projetar a Independência no Feminino [Projecting Independence in the Feminine]. It is a project which encourages a dialogue between questions of gender, national participation, history, and national identity. It engages with the building of new genealogies of knowledge which allow a voice to be given to the subaltern and for them to separate themselves critically from the hegemonic and patriarchal agenda.
Through the voice of Amélia Araújo, a hugely important figure in the struggle in the media and broadcasting industry, we can gain access to the history of her involvement. Known as Maria Turra to the colonial troops, Amélia, as editor and voice of Rádio Libertação [Radio Liberation], made a huge contribution to spreading the ideals of the cause, mobilising people for the struggle for independence, communicating with the territories of Guinea and Cape Verde, and for calling for the Portuguese soldiers to see reason. She gave her body and her voice to the struggle, ensuring that there was direct contact with the PAIGC [African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau] fighters, the Portuguese soldiers, and huge numbers of ordinary people, breaking the monopoly of information broadcast by the colonial radio. Rádio Libertação became one of the most powerful weapons of the war’s arsenal, and for this reason is known as canhão de boca [literally ‘mouth cannon’].
These are the concerns which shape our involvement in the research for the documentary Canhão de Boca [The Weapon of Voice]. More than four decades after independence, what are the different meanings that freedom has for us? Which other freedoms do we still need to achieve?
Taking radio as a mechanism of speech and a space which vocalises freedom of thought, Canhão de Boca recreates that space, fictionalising a programme which places two female voices from different historical and political moments in dialogue. Amélia Araújo and Rosário da Luz vocalise their opinions. Amélia, the voice of Rádio Libertação between 1967 and 1973, and Rosário, one of the voices that deconstructs the reporting of Cape Verdean current affairs on platforms such as television, newspapers, and social media.
In Canhão de Boca what resonates is how the distance which separates us from the struggle today creates divergences. The encounter is shaped by this distance, by the silenced voice of the period of the struggle for liberation, and by the dissenting voice of the current moment. Using political intervention, and drawing on a contemporary arsenal of voice and writing, Rosário da Luz reveals other worrying dimensions of our freedom, today, as a free country. During the documentary, in response to Amélia Araújo’s question: ‘Who is completely free?’, Rosário da Luz sketches a critical analysis of the current state of the independent nation, diagnosing and also setting out what still needs to be achieved in order to attain full liberation.
Forty-three years since achieving the possibility of governing its own destiny as a free nation, the Cape Verdean state remains on a strict look-out for dissent and polyphony as a way of protecting its official history. Under this scrutiny, any collective and personal project which attempts to plant the seed of freedom of speech and make it flourish in their daily life is condemned to being silenced, to failure.
In 1961, Amélia Aráujo agreed to join her husband José Araújo in the struggle for liberation, on condition that she would also be able to participate. This woman, guided by the collective dream of Pensarmos pela nossa própria cabeça [Thinking with our own minds], the slogan of the time for the struggle, created a lethal combination of writing, voice, and political action with Rádio Libertação. Her voice, hesitant due to her age, is permanently marked by that period of struggle which is now almost unknown to us. She is serene, but unwavering in her stance and in her contribution to Cape Verde which many considered impossible. In the official narrative she has been erased, in the archives she has been indexed under her husband’s name, she is on the margins of the photos of the struggle’s heroes, but she is a central figure in the remaining cassette recordings of Rádio Libertação.
Rosário da Luz inherited this multidimensional way of positioning herself, publishing articles, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, in the newspaper Expresso das Ilhas and analysing Cape Verdean current affairs on national television. As a result of being ‘uninvited’ from both, she has intensified her presence on social media. In Canhão de Boca she takes part in her favourite sport, that of deconstructing information, by going through the different meanings of freedom at three important historical moments: the struggle for liberation (from 1956, when the PAIGC was formed, until 1975, when Cape Verde became independent), the single-party regime (1981 to 1990), and the arrival of democracy from 1991.
Amelia felt free during the period of the struggle, even before political liberation. Exercising this freedom meant being a terrorist in the eyes of the colony. However, once independence had been achieved, the generation of the struggle accepted Cape Verde’s political destiny, neglecting the liberating project of Pensar pelas nossas próprias cabeças [Thinking with our own minds]. The PAICV (African Party of Independence of Cape Verde) established itself as the only governing political force. Following an exclusive script, it did not allow any dissenting voice in relation to its project. A multi-party system and democracy arrived with the 1991 elections, thanks above all to shifts in international politics and the end of the Cold War, when the Western and Eastern Blocs had divided the world. Ripples from these shifts in the world order were felt in Cape Verde and signalled the end of the PAICV’s script. The historic moment had arrived for a change of internal political regime which could envision the possibility of greater freedom of speech, something that had not been achieved post-independence.
Political openness and consequent economic liberalism did not lead to an end to the State economic monopoly. For Rosário da Luz, the key to understanding why full freedom of speech still does not exist lies in the need to maintain individual and collective dependence on this monopoly. Believing that economic liberalism will lead to freedom of speech, Rosário asserts that Cape Verdeans still need to fight for economic freedom. On the one hand, the State continues to have control over the economic governance of the country, juggling a clientelist over-dependency on international agencies with a strategic focus on welfare policies; on the other hand, civil society is prevented from more active and efficient participation.
The documentary Canhão de Boca, which is compelling in its atemporal questioning of freedom, conveys the different perspectives of two Cape Verdean women, in an ideological and generational confrontation which results from their times and struggles being separated by more than forty years. In addition to this encounter, Canhão de Boca is also a cinematic object which exposes other struggles that still need to be fought. We still live with the impossibility of democratic access to our archives, many of which are under the control and ownership of other countries. This foreign possession of archives reveals a logic of continued colonialism and limits the process of constructing our national history using this heritage. The consequences of this exclusive ownership of the archives continue to affect our generation. We are prevented from freely accessing this material, from knowing and constructing other versions of history, which in turn contributes to a generational apathy, orphaned from its own history.
Canhão de Boca is in itself a political object, which deconstructs the official history of Cape Verde by giving a voice to women’s participation in the struggle for liberation, showing the audience the failures of the Pensar pelas nossas próprias cabeças [Thinking with our own minds] post-independence project, and revealing the need to involve ourselves in the struggle for a freedom which is not fatally dependent on the binds of capitalism.
‘‘Who is completely free?’ Canhão de Boca [The Weapon of Voice] and how dissent and polyphony became part of the struggle in Cape Verde’ was first published in Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, 2018 (Nottingham Contemporary; De La Warr Pavilion).
Lopes, Ângelo, dir. Canhão de Boca. 2016; 52 min.