We took a walking tour of Evora Portugal with a woman named Maria. We happened to be the only people on her tour so during our time together we learned quite a bit about her. She had been a school teacher but then decided to go back to university to study to be a tour guide. Maria speaks six languages fluently. I asked her if she had been born in Portugal and she said, “No.” She told us she had been born in Cape Verde, Africa and lived there till she was seven. Cape Verde was a Portuguese colony and her family had a lovely home there. In 1975 when Cape Verde gained independence it was no longer safe for Maria’s family to stay in Cape Verde so they repatriated to Portugal. Maria said this was a huge change for her. Her family had to leave everything behind when they fled back to Portugal and the country seemed cold and conservative to them. They eventually learned to adjust to their new home.
Maria’s story is the same as that of hundreds of thousands of Portuguese citizens who lived in Portuguese colonies in Africa. In 1974 when the dictatorship begun by Oliver Salazar ended, the decolonization of Portugal’s African territories began. Over a period of some five years places like Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Sao Tome gained independence and some 800,000 Portuguese citizens who made their homes there returned to Portugal. At the time the population of Portugal was only ten million so this was a huge influx of new residents. Maria is like most of the other returnees who have done well and contributed in many areas of Portuguese society.
Maria is not the first Portuguese person we have met whose family had lived, sometimes for generations, in Portuguese colonies and returned to Portugal in the 1970s. It was a unique period in the country’s history and significantly impacted its development. Of course the Portuguese occupation of those colonies also significantly impacted their development. The Portuguese government had been waging wars against insurrections in several of them and their hurried and sometimes violent exit had long-term consequences.
One of the things I have found most interesting about our stay here in Portugal is the opportunity it has given me to learn so much about Portuguese history and culture.