Amílcar Cabral arrives in Portugal in 1945. This is a year of great hopes and expectations for Portuguese democrats. But such hopes soon vanish when Salazar manages to continue his dictatorial regime with the tacit approval and support of the victors of World War II.
Cabral’s first wife, Maria Helena de Athayde Vilhena Rodrigues, was his classmate at the Agronomy Institute. This is how she describes her first meeting with her future husband, with whom she would have two children, Iva Maria and Ana Luísa. The description was written by Mário de Andrade:
“I met Amílcar during our freshman year at the Agronomy Institute, in 1945. School had begun in November and he arrived in December...I didn’t belong to his group but I remember very well seeing him among the other students. He stood out, since he was the only negro in the group...Amílcar had not taken the college entrance examination...Everybody talked about him...they praised his intelligence and, on top of that, he was very pleasant and easygoing. As far as his political activities were concerned, I remember that my fellow students were gathering signatures in support of democratic movements. Amílcar was actively engaged in these antifascist student organizations. Whenever there was a general meeting, he acted as moderator because he expressed himself so well...In the beginning of our third year, in October, 1948, we were in the same group, which was composed of the last twenty-five students who had passed the examinations.”
Amílcar is remembered by his classmates and friends as a person of contagious energy, a great sense of humor, and an enormous capacity for making friends. He is charming and women are easily attracted to him.
“He was the best dressed and groomed of all of us,” recalls his friend, the journalist Carlos Veiga Pereira.
“My brother could make friends anywhere,” says Luís Cabral, Guinea-Bissau’s first president. In an interview to the newspaper Diário Popular, he revealed that “...It was because of Amílcar’s charm that the soviets gave us the missiles to control the Portuguese Air Force. The Italian tycoon Perelli was his friend and gave us the officer uniforms we used. It was all because of friendship and affection.”
Even having to attend to his studies, his political activities and his romantic affairs, he still found time to practice his favorite sport: soccer.
And, according to the sports columnists, he could have made a career of it, if he had wanted to. His performance with the institute’s football team was so impressive that he was invited to play for Benfica, one of the top teams in Portugal. But Amílcar doesn’t accept the offer and prefers to stick with the informal games at school.
He feels an irresistible calling during his college years, a feeling that affected other Negro students as well: it was necessary to return to Africa. Not only because of his family, which he loves so deeply, but because “...millions of people need my contribution in the hard struggle against nature and against man, himself...There, in Africa, in spite of the beautiful and modern cities on the coast, there are still thousands of human beings who live in the utmost darkness." In 1949, he writes: “I live life intensely and from life I have extracted experiences that have given me a direction, a road that I must follow, whatever the personal losses that I might come to suffer. That is my reason for living.”
The life he is referring to is lived in Lisbon, at the Agronomy Institute, in the Casa dos Estudantes do Império and through the books that open up horizons for the understanding of the world of his times. One of such books has a fundamental influence: Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie négre et malgache (Anthology of the New Black and Malagasy Poetry), edited by Léopold Sédar Senghor. This book convinces him that “...the Negro is awakening everywhere in the world.” He theorizes on the condition of the Cape Verdean man, the result of the miscegenation of the archipelago’s first inhabitants, black and white. He knows that the number of mestiços (people of mixed races) is already six times that of the whites and three times that of the Negros. From a psychological point of view there is a “Cape Verdean spirit,” a cape-verdeanness. This profession of faith must be brought into harmony with his militancy.
During his fifth year at school, Amílcar returns to the archipelago for a summer vacation. He wants to teach and pass along to his fellow Cape Verdeans all the knowledge at his disposal, whether it be in his special field of studies, soil erosion, or in general culture. He delivers several lectures on the Radio Clube de Cabo Verde, in the city of Praia, covering the soil characteristics of the islands. He recognizes that, despite the difficulties, the economy of Cape Verde is based on agriculture. As such, it is essential that the man in the street be elucidated, be well-informed, be made aware. Amílcar discusses the problems of the elite in Cape Verdean society. There is a need for the creation of an intellectual vanguard that will give the anonymous Cape Verdean citizen all the information about his traditional problems. As he says: “The members of the organization must bring light to those who live in ignorance.”
Such information must travel beyond the borders of Cape Verde and become global in nature so as to be available anywhere in the world. This is Amílcar’s task as a militant: to make Cape Verdeans aware.
But the Portuguese authorities are quick to forbid his access to the radio waves. In the same fashion, they forbid him to give a night course at the Central School, in Praia.
“Make Cape Verdeans aware of Cape Verde,” is a slogan that also reflects what is happening in Angola, where a group of young intellectuals has gathered around the poet Viriato da Cruz and has adopted the motto: “Let’s discover Angola.”
Back in Lisbon, Amílcar makes connections that put him in close contact with other students from the Portuguese colonies. This is a group of young people, members of the urban African lower middle-class, who are conscious of the rebellious feelings against colonialism and who have the advantage of being well-educated and cultured. They are active in the Portuguese democratic youth movement known as MUD Juvenil, the Movement for Peace. As Amílcar Cabral put it, they have an ideal that distinguishes them from the Europeans - it’s: the reafricanization of the spirits.
This search for an identity brings about the creation of the Center for African Studies at the home of the Espírito Santo family (whose most important member is Alda Espírito Santo, a native of S. Tomé). In spite of the frequent interference of the secret police (PIDE), some of the most important questions affecting Africa are discussed there. Amílcar’s participation in these debates has a decisive influence.