Henrique Teixeira de Sousa

Henrique Teixeira de Sousa (born 1919) of Cape Verde was regarded as one of the most prolific and best-known novelists of Portuguese-speaking Africa.

Henrique Teixeira de Sousa was born on September 6, 1919, in Bernardo Gomes on the small volcanic island of Fogo. Fogo, which means "fire" in Portuguese, was one of Cape Verde's leeward islands situated in the South Atlantic some 350 miles from the west African country of Senegal.

Although of Portuguese stock and thus superficially white, Sousa believed that on his mother's side he had African ancestry. His father, originally from Cape Verde's Brava Island, was the captain of a sailing ship that traveled regularly to neighboring Fogo, where he settled after meeting and marrying Sousa's mother.

At the age of 17, while attending high school in the city of Mindelo, on the windward island of São Vicente, Sousa published his first piece of fiction. This story, written in Portuguese, carried the title of "Chuba qu'énós governador," which was Cape Verdean creole for, literally, "the rain is our governor." The young Sousa intended the governor metaphor as a somewhat cryptic protest against Cape Verde's status as a colony of Portugal. In other words, the regime appointed governors to rule the colony but neglected to deal with the island's endemic social and economic problems, many of which were caused by frequent and extended drought.

After high school in Cape Verde, Sousa studied medicine in Portugal. In 1945 he graduated as a medical doctor from the University of Lisbon. He then embarked for Timor, in the far-off Indonesian island chain, to assume an internship in the then Portuguese colony's general hospital. By the late 1950s Sousa realized his dream of a post in Cape Verde, first on his native Fogo and then on the Island of S. Vicente.

Despite his unbroken dedication to the practice of medicine, Sousa also devoted himself to writing. After his first literary effort in 1936, Sousa published a number of short stories, four novels (an unprecedented number by Cape Verdean standards), and several essays. "A estrutura social da llha do Fogo em 1940" (The Social Structure of Fogo Island), published originally in 1947, and "Sobrados, lojas e funcos" (Mansions, Shops, and Shanties), which appeared in 1958, were two essays that explore the same issues on which Sousa based his short stories and novels. One of these stories was the acclaimed "Na corte de El-Rei D. Pedro" ("In the Court of King Dom Pedro"), in which the hero played out the tragic and comic drama inspired by social transitions on the island of Fogo. In 1972 Sousa brought together this and nine other of his short stories, most previously published in journals and anthologies, in a volume titled Contra mar e vento (Against Sea and Wind). The story from which the collection derived its title has as its protagonist a sailor modeled on Captain John, the author's father.

The first of Sousa's novels, Ilhéu de contenda (Isle of Contention), which he finished writing in 1974, on the eve of the overthrow of Portugal's colonialist regime, was published in 1978. In this monumental work the author depicted the major social transitions that occurred on Fogo with the social and economic decline of the landed gentry, of mainly European origin, and the ascendancy of a chiefly mestiço (mixed-race) middle class. In 1985 he published Capitão-de-mar-e-terra (a variation of Capitão-de-mar-eguerra, a Portuguese navy term for a senior sea captain), a novel that treated the time-honored themes of the sea and Cape Verdeans' legendary wanderlust.

Xaguate (The Xaguate Hotel), published in 1988, initiated a new phase in Sousa's writing and gave a unique twist to Cape Verdean fiction. To paraphrase the promotional blurb on the novel's back cover, this story was about returning rather than departing. Historically, much of Cape Verdean literature deals with the climatic and economic harshness of life on the islands that has resulted in the often massive emigration to such countries as Portugal, Brazil, and especially the United States. Sousa, whose own father eventually emigrated to Massachusetts, fashioned the story of Xaguate around Cape Verdean immigrants who, after decades in America, returned home to live on their native islands.

Sousa proved himself to be even more innovative in Djunga, a novel published in 1989. Djunga, which was the creole nickname of one of the main characters, was a metanovel. In other words, it was a novel about writing a novel, perhaps the great Cape Verdean novel. And like Xaguate, it took place after Cape Verde's independence from Portugal.

Cape Verde gained its independence in 1975, the year Sousa resettled in Portugal. In an extensive interview with Michel Laban, in the latter's volume Cabo Verde: Encontro com escritores (Cape Verde: An Encounter with Writers), Sousa explained why he left his native islands. He cited his disagreement with certain of the ruling party's policies. Sousa offered, however, familial, not political, concerns as his principal reason for remaining in Lisbon.

Despite his disagreement with certain aspects of his homeland's post-colonial policies, Sousa remained one of Cape Verde's favorite sons. Moreover, Henrique Teixeira de Sousa continued to be one of the most celebrated of Cape Verdean authors, both at home and elsewhere in the Portuguese-speaking world.


Further Reading on Henrique Teixeira de Sousa

Only one of Sousa's works of fiction has appeared in English. "Na corte de El-Rei D. Pedro," translated by Donald Burness, appeared under the title "In the Court of King Dom Pedro" in Across the Atlantic: An Anthology of Cape Verdean Literature. Edited by Maria Ellen, this anthology, published in 1988 by Southeastern Massachusetts University, was in fact a rare collection of Cape Verdean prose and poetry in English translation. There was likewise very little in English about Sousa and his works. In Russell Hamilton's Voices from an Empire: A History of Afro-Portuguese Literature (1975) several pages were devoted to Sousa's essays and stories. For the English-speaking reader interested in learning about Sousa's Cape Verde there were a few worthwhile historical accounts, such as D. Abshire's and M. Samuels' somewhat dated, but still informative, Portuguese Africa: A Handbook (London, 1969). Also worthy of mention were two books that, even though they focus on Cape Verdeans in America, specifically in southern New England, shed light on many of the issues and themes dealt with in Sousa's novels. The studies in question are D. Machado's Cape Verdean Americans: Their Culture and Historical Background (1978) and M. Halter's Between Race and Ethnicity: Cape Verdean American Immigrants, 1860-1965 (1993).