for ISKCON News on Feb. 10, 2012
Cabo Verde’s Prime Minister, Dr. José María Neves and Yadunandana Swami
Last year, Bhaktivedanta College principal Yadunandana Swami brought Krishna consciousness to Cabo Verde, a cluster of ten islands 570 kilometers off the coast of West Africa, for the first time ever.
From January 16th to 30th this year, he returned to the country—which was a Portuguese colony until its independence in 1975—with five other devotees, to follow up on contacts and plan the establishment of an ISKCON center in Cabo Verde.
The team included Radha Govinda Dasa, temple president of the Porto temple in Portugal; Rupa Vilasa Dasa also from Portugal; kirtaniya and expert accordion player Janmastami Dasa from Belgium; and cooks and husband and wife couple Dina Sharana Dasa, from the Ukraine, and Damodara Priya Dasi, from Gujarat, India. Yadunandana Swami describes the mood amongst them as one of camaraderie and enthusiasm to spread Krishna’s holy names and message.
“We decided to go back to Cabo Verde because last year we received a very successful response,” he says. “People there are open, simple hearted and interested in learning about spiritual culture. They also like singing and dancing very much, which is highly conducive to experiencing the process given by Sri Chaitanya and Srila Prabhupada.”
One of those open to learning about spiritual culture this year was Cabo Verde’s Prime Minister, Dr. José María Neves, who met with Yadunandana Swami in his office at the Government Palace in Praia, Cabo Verde’s capital city, on January 23rd.
During the ten-minute meeting, Yadunandana Swami presented Dr. Neves with a deluxe edition of the Ramayana from the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Introducing it as one of the greatest epics of India, he explained that Lord Rama exemplified the perfect leader, and that the ideal of Rama Rajya—or Rama’s righteous reign—is still very much appreciated in India.
“I also spoke about Gandhi and mentioned some parallels with Amilcar Cabral, as both of them fought for independence in their respective countries of India and Cabo Verde,” Yadunandana Swami says. “I explained how Gandhi got inspiration from Bhagavad-gita—which we passed onto the Prime Minister through his legal advisor last year—as well as from Lord Rama’s example and spiritual teachings.”
When the Prime Minister inquiried about ISKCON’s activities, Yadunandana Swami described the society’s Food for Life programs around the world, including a program scheduled in Cabo Verde’s SOS Children Village that evening, where devotees were planning to cook prasad for 100 people.
“We want to help the people of Cabo Verde,” the swami explained, saying that as the country had a high percentage of young people, ISKCON could contribute by providing spiritual values for them.
Dr. Neves responded positively, encouraging the devotees to keep in touch with the Cabo Verde Ministry of Education. The meeting concluded with the Prime Minister signing a copy of his book, An Agenda for the Transformation of Cabo Verde, for Yadunandana Swami, along with a personal message of friendship and consideration.
“Please keep up your good work,” he told devotees, as they left him with a parting gift of maha prasadam from the presiding Deities of ISKCON Belgium, Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha.
The remainder of this year’s fifteen-day Cabo Verde mission was also a major success, with 1,125 books and thousands of pieces of prasad distributed; eight Harinamas held in public areas; various articles published in the media; and seventeen lectures given in universities, schools, cultural centres, and other organizations around the country.
Devotees visited the University of Cabo Verde’s House of Music; the National Library; Praia Military Base; the Cabo Verdiana Federation of Football, the Instituto Sao Miguel in Calheta; Jean Piaget University in Praia; SOS Children Villages; the University of Cabo Verde in Mindelo; Lusófona University; the National Centre of Arts; and the University of Mindelo.
“People would ask good questions and show great interest in reading Srila Prabhupada’s books,” Yadunandana Swami says. “And in many places, they also participated spontaneously in our kirtans. At one secondary school, the whole class, including the teachers, danced with great enthusiasm.”
Such was the interest in spiritual life exhibited by Cabo Verdeans, that while devotees were waiting outside the airport preparing to return to Europe, all the taxi drivers lined up next to the building approached them to ask questions.
“In a very short time, they were singing Hare Krishna with the devotees, and a great kirtan built up,” says Yadunandana Swami. “The Western tourists there were amused to see Western Hare Krishnas chanting and dancing with a large group of local taxi drivers!”
The Cabo Verde mission had yielded one new devotee, who plans to study Srila Prabhupada’s books through the Bhakti Sastri program at Instituto de Estudios Bhaktivedanta in Spain and may also later attend Bhaktivedanta College in Belgium.
The mission truly took Krishna consciousness to brand new frontiers, a fact confirmed by one astonished tourist from the US, who spotted devotees on Harinama during their last Saturday in the country.
“I could imagine finding Hare Krishna devotees anywhere in the world,” he said.
But I never expected to meet them in Cabo Verde.”
For Yadunandana Swami, experiencing the pioneer flavor of the sankirtana movement in a new country felt like a privilege.
“It is Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s desire—prthivite ache yata nagaradi grama, sarvatra pracara hoibe mora nama—that in every town and village the Holy names of Krishna are sung,” he says. “We should visit countries where there are no temples and build a foundation for establishing Krishna conscious centers and communities in them. Devotees who are able to speak the local languages, especially, can have the privilege of pioneering the sankirtana movement in those places.”
Yadunandana Swami’s next move in Cabo Verde is to start looking into establishing an ISKCON center there. He’s planning a meeting in July with some of the devotees who accompanied him on this trip, to see if any will be willing to commit to the project for one year.
“The idea is to have the volunteers start a center, then train local people as devotees who will take their place,” he says.