Southbound Again

The Mare Clausum of the Perfect Prince was closed by a line drawn through the 37th parallel, or the Fortunate Islands.

Any ship—be it Spanish, French, or Italian—found south of that line would be sunk and its crew drowned, by order of the king of Portugal.

This determination followed the Treaty of Alcáçovas, signed by the two Iberian rulers in 1479. Castile kept the Canaries, then known as Las Islas Afortunadas, and all points south belonged to Portugal—by then, that already included Elmina, in what is now Ghana.

It also included the Cape Verde archipelago—it will take me a few hours to get there today, but in the late XVth century, the caravels of Vasco da Gama took about two weeks from Lisbon to the island of Santiago.

Cape Verde was uninhabited before the Europeans found the islands—it is generally accepted that the Venetian Alvise Cadamosto first discovered part of the archipelago in 1456, although there are claims of an earlier landing by Antonio de Noli, a Genoese. Both men sailed on behalf of Prince Henry the Navigator, and in 1462, after the great man’s death, the Portuguese explorer Diogo Gomes discovered a further five islands.

The archipelago of Cape Verde, shown on a map from 1598—ten islands that span three degrees of longitude.

Since the Canaries were out of bounds, Cape Verde was the perfect way station for fleets headed to Africa and later India and Brazil. The archipelago is shaped like an arrow, with the top row termed ‘barlavento’ (windward) and the bottom row ‘sotavento’, or leeward. At a latitude of fifteen degrees, three degrees of longitude span one hundred seventy-four nautical miles, or about three hundred and twenty km.

Since before the late XVIIth century there was no accurate way to measure longitude due to the lack of accurate ship-borne chronometers, an archipelago spanning such a vast distance—wider than Portugal itself—was hard to miss.

Cape Verde gradually became a platform for the slave trade between Europe and the Americas, and this formed a major part of its commerce until slavery was sequentially abolished in the Western World. The decline of these sinister economic opportunities led to a diaspora—there are far more ‘Cabo-Verdianos’ abroad than at home.

Just as in Brazil, India, Mozambique, and all nations that were once Portuguese colonies, the black and white melting pot led to a population of mixed race—Cape Verde is probably the most racially integrated nation on the planet.

It also gave rise to a spectacular culture of music, which reflect the fusion between Africa and Portugal. The most emblematic genre is the Morna, which can be loosely translated as ‘warm’.

The Morna is structured as a circle of fifths—if you have an interest in music theory, or math. If you don’t, but love music, perhaps I can just share that a standard blues tune is based on one-four-five, meaning that if it’s a blues in E (the first or root note of the scale), it will only contain two other notes or chords—the fourth, which is an A, and the fifth, which is a B.

The Morna has given rise to a dance—if music be the food of love and all that—called the Coladera. Loosely, the term translates as ‘stuck together’—as the name implies, it is an intimate dance.

A lilting Morna lures me to shore, while out at sea the mermaids lure the sailors with plaintive cries.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TIR-AF-CE-FT-2019.jpg

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets

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