José Craveirinha

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José Craveirinha

José Craveirinha (born 1922) was a journalist in Mozambique, East Africa, who became the foremost lyric poet of his nation. His early poems inspired African pride and protest during the long (and successful) struggle for independence from Portugal.

José Craveirinha was born on May 28, 1922, in Lourenço Marques, now Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. His father was an immigrant from the Algarve, Portugal's southernmost province, his mother a Ronga woman born in a village near Lourenço Marques. From her the boy gained his knowledge of African life and lore, while his father introduced him to great Portuguese prose and poetry of the 19th century.

"Zé," as he was called by his family and friends, received a good, European style education in his native city. Lourenço Marques was a cosmopolitan port, a beautiful modern city surrounded by teeming slums. People, ideas, and goods reached it from various parts of Africa, especially the nearby Republic of South Africa; from Asia, chiefly India; and from Europe, i.e., Portugal and Great Britain. For a bright young man it meant stimulation by the ideas of African consciousness, social justice, anti-colonialism and national independence that were agitating all of Africa by the time of World War II.

Mozambicans were called upon by a sociologist, Eduardo Mondlane, who studied and taught in the United States, to free themselves from European rule, just as two other African intellectuals were leading similar struggles for independence elsewhere: the physician Agostinho Neto in Angola and the agronomist Amílcar Cabral in Portuguese Guinea. In his book The Struggle for Mozambique, Mondlane showed how a small, educated, and therefore politically aware minority of urbanites had to perform the difficult task of organizing resistance among the mass of illiterate African country people, with whom they had little contact. They began "a purely cultural movement" by means of paintings and writings. Mondlane mentioned three pioneer poets of outrage and protest: Marcelino dos Santos, Noémia de Sousa, and José Craveirinha. They inspired a younger generation of intellectuals to join the armed struggle when it began in 1964. Craveirinha was to become the most effective poet of the three. He would be the only one to continue writing poetry long after the country had achieved independence in 1975.

Some of Craveirinha's poems appeared from 1955 on in the Brado Africano ("African Call"), for which he had been writing articles. Having played soccer, sports writing was a specialty of his. Eventually, after the outbreak of guerrilla warfare in the countryside, the Portuguese secret police and censors became suspicious. The poet-journalist was arrested, tried, absolved—and jailed with six other painters and writers. He spent four years in solitary confinement (1965-1969). In 1974, when the dictatorship was toppled in Portugal, Craveirinha was set free. He joined the government of the new state and was given various administrative posts, among them that of vice-director of the national press.

Many of Craveirinha's poems and all of his prose writings remain scattered in Mozambican and Portuguese periodicals; it has never been his ambition to be an author of books. However, part of his best poetry was collected and published. A first slender volume, Chigubo, named after a warriors' dance, was published without his knowledge by an overseas student association (Lisbon, 1964). The same group had awarded him a prize for a larger manuscript in 1962. It bore the title Manifesto, after the first poem. In it, he, the Mestizo, defiantly celebrated the African physique inherited from his mother—his hair, eyes, mouth, teeth, lithe body. He identified himself with the peoples, lands, warriors, and hunters of Africa: "Oh! I am a Zulu chieftain once again, / I, a Bantu spear, / I, a drum …." His African readers understood whom he meant by "greedy locusts."

Hallucinating images and haunting drum beats characterize two other poems in that booklet, which was reedited and enlarged in 1980, Sangue da minha mãe ("My mother's blood") and Grito negro ("Black shout"). The latter remains one of his best known. It begins: "I am coal!/And you tear me brutally out of my hole./Boss, I am the wealth you stole/… but not for ever, boss, no!" His second best known poem, Quero ser tambor ("I want to be a drum") appeared in the collection Karingana ua karingana ("Once upon a time," Lourenço Marques, 1974), which he dedicated to his Black mother, white father, Maria de Lourdes his wife, his three children, friend Belinha, his native land, "and to some of my best enemies." The book, his largest, also contained an homage "to my beautiful father, the ex-emigrant," Ao meu belo pai ex-emigrante: "You, my former and pure Portuguese/who fathered me in a native girl's womb/me, one more Mozambican of a new breed/semi-light to be different from any other white/semi-black so as never to renege/a drop of the Zambezis of my blood. …."

The bitter prison experience engendered Cela I ("Cell Number One", Lisbon: 1980), poems written for his wife Maria. During Maria's long illness and upon her death he wrote a large number of mournful poems in her memory, part of which were published as Maria, with a preface by fellow poet Rui Knopfli, an old friend of the couple (Linda-a-Velha, Portugal: 1988).

Craveirinha took the role of mentor in 1988, when he discovered a young woman of tremendous athletic ability competing on a male soccer team. Maria Mutola, then 15, was the youngest of six children of Joáo and Catarina Mutola, who lived in Macelala, near Maputo. Craveirinha's son, Stleo, a track and field coach, introduced Mutola to distance running. It wasn't until Craveirinha showed Mutola tapes of the 1984 Olympics that she became excited with the prospect of a career in track. Within months, she represented Mozambique at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where she finished seventh in the 800 meter. Because of the lack of opportunity for Mutola in Mozambique, Craveirinha sent Mutola to the United States through an Olympic Solidarity Scholarship. Soon after her arrival in Eugene, Oregon, in 1991, Mutola finished fourth in the 800 meters at the Tokyo World Championships, then returned to Eugene to win the Oregon girls' cross-country. She finished fifth in the 1992 Olympics at Barcelona, and won the 800 meter at the 1993 World Championships. Mutola was ranked No. 1 in her event from 1993 to 1995. In an unexpected upset in the 800 meter, top-ranked Mutola gave up the gold and silver in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, winning the bronze. Less than a year later, she had established the world's best time in her event. Mutola enjoyed the rewards of her accomplishments and the lifestyle she led in the United States. She helped her family in Mozambique and supported athletics in her home country. The nurturing of Craveirinha led a young girl from a poor family in his native Mozambique through the doors to greatness.

What makes Craveirinha a great poet and person are human sympathy, unpretentiousness, a passionate sense of justice, attachment to his land and people, uninhibited lyrical eroticism, a powerful command of words, the directness and concentrated vigor of his verses, an extraordinary combination of reality and dream-like imagery, and a profound seriousness alternating with subtle irony. In 1979, during a private conversation, when the talk turned to the struggle for a better Mozambican society out of love for humanity, the poet wondered why there was so much hate and so little generosity even after the victory had been won. He concluded: "It is easier for man to be heroic than to be humble."

Further Reading

Additional information on José Craveirinha can be found in R. A. Preto-Rodas, Negritude as a Theme in the Poetry of the Portuguese-Speaking World (1970), and Russell G. Hamilton, Voices from an Empire: A History of Afro-Portuguese Literature (1975). A few of Craveirinha's poems can be found in Eduardo Mondlane, The Struggle for Mozambique (1969), which includes a poem by J. Craveirinha in English translation in the section "The revolt of the intellectuals, and in Donald Burness, A Horse of White Clouds (1989), which includes Portuguese texts and English translations of four poems by José Craveirinha. □