Subsistence and Commercial Activities. As a socialist country, Cape Verde maintains a mixed economy. State-operated concerns such as the Empresa Publica de Bastecimento (Public Supply Company) or the Sociedade para a Comercializacão e Apoio ao Pesca Artesanal (Society for Fish Purchasing and Marketing) must turn a profit. Remittances from immigrant communities and the substantial aid packages put together by Cape Verde's aid partners have provided crucial economic support for Cape Verdeans. Remittances have played a central role in sustaining household economies since the establishment of diaspora communities. The central government maintains a hands-off policy regarding private investments. Agriculture has been virtually ignored, requiring the importation of most of the islands' food. In rural areas, agricultural production consists almost exclusively of maize, beans, sugarcane, and bananas, although drought has steadily decreased output. Five percent of all Production is produced by 29 percent of the working population.
Industrial Arts. Cape Verdeans use natural resources to fashion ornaments and household implements. For example, men carve coconut shells and sperm-whale teeth into a riety of decorative and utilitarian items. Women weave panos, strips of cotton cloth of West African texture and designs, which were originally woven on simple Mandingo strip looms. Cape Verdean weavers added indigo dye and wove elaborate Moorish or Portuguese designs in contrasting white thread. Pano production, for export as well as local use, involves local cotton growing, dying, spinning, and weaving. The indigo plant and Urzella lichen produce blue dyes, used in the Production of panos, which also have become an important export item.
Trade. The slave trade in Cape Verde started in the sixteenth century, intensified between 1475 and 1575, declined in the early nineteenth century, and ended in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Slaves were replaced by contratados, or contract labor. The export of labor, through contract or immigration, continued to be important well into the twentieth century. During the slaving period, metals, textiles, beads, spices, silver coins for jewelry making, wine, and brandy were traded through the port of Santiago to the Guinea coast. In addition to slaves, Africa exported ivory and beeswax. The "triangular trade" refers to trading relations that tied together New England colonies, the West Indies, and western Africa. Slave trade stimulated other trade in Cape Verdean goods, including animals, salt, and textiles. Panos and indigo dyes were important export items. The abolition of slavery in the middle of the nineteenth century stimulated the market-driven production of palm and coconut products. In the twentieth century, Cape Verde has had to import food because it lacks sufficient water for irrigation.
Division of Labor. Patriarchy has shaped Cape Verdean society. Women bear the brunt of an economy unable to sustain nuclear-family households. Over the centuries, men have had to go in search of work at sea or in America, Europe, or Africa. Women traditionally carried the burden of sustaining the household, often made up of many children, including illegitimate offspring of wealthier men of the region.
Land Tenure. Plantation agriculture resulted in latifundia. Land grants were made in the early sixteenth century by the Portuguese crown to the first settlers and inherited through primogeniture norms, which were broken often. In 1864, the universal primogeniture rule was abolished. For the most part, landownership among Cape Verdeans was severely limited. With the abolition of slavery, freed slaves became sharecroppers on the land of their former owners, paying as much as one-half of their crop to landlords until Independence in 1975. Tenant farmers and sharecroppers were dependent on merchant-moneylender-landlords. Black and mulatto peasants were particularly subject to their coercive brutality, often backed up by local authorities who continued to enforce traditional discriminatory race and class relations.
Emigrants have played an important role in land tenure on the islands. Cape Verdeans living abroad maintain ownership of land inherited from their families and often return from the United States or France to retire. Such people have significant economic and political power.