This week, we welcome Cape Verdean author Dai Varela to the blog as he tells us about children’s writing from his archipelago off western Africa…
Life on a remote island such as Cape Verde entails many challenges and barriers. Cape Verdean writers, however, draw inspiration from these obstacles, using them creatively in their work for children. Characters often arrive from faraway places, fall in love with the island and stay, whilst others long to leave. The sea surprises the characters as they arrive and leave the island, and the stories they write pull back an invisible curtain onto the unknown for the trusting islanders.
With a rich oral tradition, children’s books are still trying to gain a strong foothold in the small Cape Verdean publishing world. Many children’s books in Cape Verde have traditionally been written for educational purposes, and as a way of passing on the island’s cultural heritage. Books for children are a cultural product, forming a link in the chain of social-inheritance. They reveal society’s customs and values, but they also shed light on the quality of graphic artists’ work, editorial policies, the literacy level, and on how we perceive and express our points of view about life.
Understanding life is tantamount to assimilating this cultural channel as a factor of inclusion or exclusion in society, or as a way to forget or block our memories. Yet flooding our children with a product that alienates them from their reality may lead them to despise or look down on their own identity and culture. How can we expect our young people to create works rooted in the Cape Verdean cultural matrix if they are not acquainted with those traits? It is important to stimulate children’s imagination by helping them to identify with the island’s customs, values and culture, whilst also helping them to be part of not only the island, but also the Cape Verdean diaspora across the world.
Whilst the Cape Verdean children’s book market is still small, it nonetheless covers a range of genres, styles, and topics.
Some writers focus on the present day, such as Luísa Queiroz in her book SAARCI, O último gafanhoto do deserto (SAARCI, The Last Grasshopper in the Desert), whilst others draw on dying oral traditions, such as Helena Centeio in her short story collection Stória, stória (Story, Story) inspired by the stories she heard the elders tell when she was a child, or Natacha Magalhães‘ collection of folktales Sete contos ao luar (Seven Tales in the Moonlight).
Folklore is popular with other writers such as Leão Lopes (Blimundo) and Hermínia Curado (Estórias de Encantar – Charming Stories) and the multilingual book Nkantada – Rainha do Lago Dourado (Nkantada – Queen of the Golden Lake) by four Cape Verdean writers. Some books are educational, such as A Tartaruginha (The Little Turtle) by Orlanda Amarílis and A Cruz de Rufino (Rufino’s cross) by Fátima Bettencourt or the series Tufas, Princesa Crioula (Tufas, Creole Princess) by Dai Varela.
Other stories display the author’s sensitivity by means of purely aesthetic messages and images, as in the cases of O Monstrinho da Lagoa Rosa (The Little Monster from the Pink Pool), by Graça Matos Sousa and UNINE, by Leão Lopes.
The skill of reading is also encouraged through books such as 1,2,3, by Marilene Pereira, the other-worldly fantasty-fiction story ET by Carmelina Gonçalves, SOLRAC no planeta terra (SOLRAC on Earth) by Carlos Araújo, “Vamos conhecer Cabo Verde” (Let’s find out about Cape Verde), by João Lopes Filho, and A fita cor-de-rosa (The Pink Ribbon) by Dai Varela.
As children read and retell those stories, they transform the text into their own narrative and learn how to analyse their own beliefs, sense of belonging on the island, and relationship with the diaspora and the world in general. It is important to recognise the role that children’s literature can play in forming identity and developing emotional intelligence. Unfortunately due to the size of the island, there is not yet a Cape Verdean publisher dedicated solely to children’s books. To a certain extent, this goes against the grain because those who are knowledgeable about what is going on internationally know that young people are a key target market for printed books. We must pave the way for the emergence of new writers of children’s literature, and so open new perspectives in terms of reading and of children’s literature.
Cape Verde is a country with little fertile soil in the literal sense, however reading can prepare the way for planting words. By hoeing with the printed word, we will bear fruit: readers, authors, and thinkers.
Article translated by Vicente Ricalo. Edited by Claire Storey & Johanna McCalmont.
Dai Varela is from Mindelo, on the island of São Vicente. He published his first book A fita cor-de-rosa (The Pink Ribbon) with illustrations by Rogério Rocha in 2013 and received an Honorable Mention in the Trofa Lusophony Competition, an initiative supported by Camões, I.P. designed to promote children’s literature from Portuguese-speaking countries. That same year, he received public recognition by the Ministry of Culture for “valuable work for the dissemination of Cape Verdean culture”. His latest books include Tufas, Princesa Crioula – learning the magic words (2017) and Tufas, Princesa Crioula – the box of excuses (2019) both featuring Luna Alvarez and illustrations by Alberto Fortes. Read more about his work on his website.