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Henrique Teixeira de Sousa: Ilhéu de Contenda [Squabbling Islander]

I have translated the title literally from the Portuguese but the title in fact refers to a property that the main character plans on acquiring during the course of the novel. The main character is Eusébio, youngest son of Caela, who dies at the beginning of the novel. Eusébio is the only one who has remained on the ancestral island of Fogo. His two sisters have moved to the mainland of Equatorial Guinea while his older brother, Alberto, after passing his career in Angola, has retired to the Benfica district of Lisbon. Eusébio’s family is one of the old white families but they seem to be fading away, intermarrying or leaving the country, often to go to the United States. Eusébio prefers working as a farmer, growing, primarily, coffee, but he also has a shop, where his illegitimate son, Chiquinho, works. It is not sure who Chiquinho’s mother is though we do know that Chiquinho is the result of a casual encounter. Eusébio is now living with Belinha and fretting over his financial situation.

Eusébio has a plan for the distribution of the property left by Caela, which he hopes that his brother and sisters will agree to. It will result in his owning Ilhéu de Contenda, among other properties. When Alberto arrives, the issue that has been bubbling under emerges, namely that Alberto (and many of the older families) are no longer interested in preserving the traditional culture of the island but just want to get as much money as possible and run. Alberto makes a deal with his sisters as regards the distribution of assets, whereby he gets the items in the house in exchange for a property. These he will ship back to Portugal and, presumably, sell. Alberto has continually complained from Portugal about the management of the joint property, feeling that Eusébio could get a better return. Now that he is here, he makes his point more forcefully, comparing the situation unfavourably with that in Angola. In particular, he wants the workers exploited more, feeling that they have it too easy and does not want anything done that will not have an economic return.

The other major concern that Eusébio has is his shop. He tries to run an honest, sound business but too many people go to his competition. His competition is run by half-castes and they are quick to offer deals, reductions and the like to their customers, particularly the Americans (i.e. Cape Verdeans who have lived in the USA and have now returned), knowing that they will recoup by short-changing, giving inaccurate lengths and weights and using other dubious means. The Americans, who are generally well off, also invest their money in savings account with Eusébio’s competition. Eusébio is now thinking of getting out of commerce and concentrating on agriculture.

Part of his opposition to the competition is racism but racism comes much more to the fore in other characters, particularly with his cousin, Felisberto. Felisberto is a rogue. He drives a lorry, which is falling apart, and shows his racism in two ways. Firstly, Dr Vicente, the local doctor, is black. He is however almost saintly, perhaps too saintly. He works devotedly for the hospital and the general health of the population (leprosy is an issue here). He also saves the life of Felisberto’s daughter, by performing an emergency appendectomy on her. Felisberto is not only not grateful, but resentful. Felisberto is also involved in a plan to send workers from Cape Verde to São Tomé, which is considered as tantamount to slavery by many worthy Cape Verdeans, Eusébio included.

There is no doubt that for Eusébio and Teixeira de Sousa a way of life is changing. While both are critical of the new ways, the competition from the blacks/half-castes to a certain degree but, in particular, the whites leaving their land and not doing any productive work, they also welcome some changes, such as Dr. Vicente’s plan to modernise health care on the island and the construction of a dock. Teixeira de Sousa skillfully shows a world that is changing and, while leaving no doubt which side he is on, shows the various issues and concerns, while telling a fine story at the same time. It is a pity that this book has not been translated into English and is out of print in Portuguese, and French, the only other language into which it has been translated.

Publishing history

First published 1978 by Editorial O Século
No English translation
Translated into French as Un domaine au Cap-Vert, Actes Sud 2002