Jews of Cape Verde

There has been a lot written about Jews in Cape Verde. The Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project Was established in 2007 by Carol Castiel and various Cape Verdean descendants of Jews who had migrated to the islands from Gibraltar and Morocco in the 1800’s. Throughout the existence of Cape Verde, Jews have been an integral part of its initial settlement and history.

The late 1400’s was the beginning of the Inquisition and expulsion of Jews in Spain. Sephadic Jews then migrated to Portugal which still welcomed them. By 1492, the Inquisitions found its way to Portugal. These Sephardic Jews found their ways to other areas which included Gibraltar, Morocco and Cape Verde but not before many were forced to convert to Christianity. Referred to as Novo Cristaõs, some families took on surnames that hid their Judaic history or to show their commitment to their new religion. These people became Dos Reis (of the king), da Jesus (of Jesus), da Graca (of Grace) or took names like da Lomba (forest), Lobo (wolf),d’Oliveira (olives), de Lima (lemon or of the place called Lima), Barbosa (Aloe),etc, that pertained to nature. The royal family had also given incentives to some Novo Christaõs to leave Portugal and migrate to their new property off the west coast of Senegal- Cape Verde. The first fidalgo of the island of Brava, d’Affonseca, was actually stripped of his position because he was accused of practicing Judaism.

In the mid 1800’s, 400 Moroccan Jews were massacred in the town of Tetouan. Relations between the Jews and Muslims were strained in Morocco and Gibraltar and so, a second wave of Jews began. They went to some of the islands as negociantes, merchants, traded in hides as well as the Slave Trade. The Benoloiel family migrated to the island of Boa Vista and their descendants can still be found there. Families with names such as Cohen, Wahnon, and Ben David have been well documented. The Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project is preserving some of the graves of these settlers in an effort to preserve this part of our heritage.

Not much has been written about the Jews of the island of Brava. There are some graves located at Covo de Judeu but this has not been well documented. In my research, combing through thousands of baptismal, wedding and obituary records, I have not come across any people with Jewish surnames aside from those descendants of Novo Christaõs. But when I literally stumbled across passport records from the mid 1800’s, there they were. Azulay, Azencoth, Suruyo, Bento, Ben David! Here’s a list of some of the names and origins of some of the people who called Brava their home as well as a few that lived in Praia, Santo Antaõ and Sao Vicente.

Abraõ Ben David, Morgador
Jaime Azencotte, Tangier
Isaac Seruyo, Gibraltar
Rafael Bamatar(sp), Rabat
Moyers Benros, Gibraltar (Praia)
Joao Bento d’Oliveira, Tangier
Moises Anahory, Rabat
Isaac Anahory, Morocco
Jacob Levi, Tetuan (Santo Antaõ)
Jacob Seruyo, Gibraltar (Isaac’s father)
Israel Benraim(?), Tangier
Salamao Azulay, Tangier
Abraham Benros, Gibraltar
Elias Elaroy(sp), Rabat
Isaac Bensamon, Tangier (Santo Antaõ)
Samuel Cohen, Tangiers (Sao Vicente)
Bento Levy, Morocco
Samuel Benoliel, Rabat

So I started to look at the other records a bit differently and found baptismal records for children named Jacob, Isaac and Moises. They were always listed as being “filhos natural” or natural children of single women instead of legitimate children of married couples. Some of these death and marriage records show these people as having different last names as their mothers. It’s interesting – when you compare them to records of children born to single women who carried their mother’s last names. Why is this?

My opinion is that these migrants were almost always men and they had relationships with the local women and fathered children. These women would have mostly been Catholics and probably chose to have their children baptized. Their father’s would not have been included in the ceremony and, thus, no records. But the took their father’s last names.

There are also lots of family stories explaining memories of parents or grandparents keeping Saturday Sabbath, reciting prayers in another language and lighting menorahs. They didn’t eat meat and they didn’t baptize their children. As a matter of fact, if you look closely at some of our traditions, you may find other connections.

The “Nodjadu” or mourning period is a great example. Although I was born here, I still remember my great-grandmother explaining why we couldn’t go to a party within six months of a family member’s death, covering or turning mirrors around and how she would sit with a person body over night before their burial. I remember her specifically telling me that when close family died, you weren’t supposed to leave your home for seven days but because people here in the US had to work, we were expected to be home on the weekends for the first month. If you count the days, it’s 7 days! She also said that you weren’t supposed to do things like cook,clean your house and mirrors were supposed to be covered or turned around because you shouldn’t look at your image during that time. People were usually buried within 24 hours or before sundown. She told me that she was usually the person who would care for the body which included washing and wrapping in a white clothe. She would keep vigil with the body, as well. After the initial 7 day period (month) therew there would be a mass after which you could begin to resume some normal activity but you still had to refrain from celebrating, dancing, etc. The mourning period officially ends at the one year anniversary when there is another mass.
While this is a description of a typical Cape Verdean Nodjadu but it almost mirrors exactly the Jewish Shiva ritual.

There is a story of one of Brava’s most prominent men burning records in the Cambra (ie City Hall) of Brava because he didn’t want anyone to discover his Jewish roots! That’s why some records prior to 1801 don’t exist. After independence, the Portuguese did take some records with them to Lisbon while there are some accounts of some going to Brazil, too. But some were destroyed by either scared Jewish descendants and even from pirate raids the happened intermittently in Cape Verde. Boa Vista was particularly hard hit and records exist only going back to the late 1800’s.

At some point I would like to learn more about some of the other ethnic roots of Cape Verde. In an earlier blog, I taked about my DNA test saying I’m almost 70% Tuscan Italian. But how exactly were Italians involved in Cape Verde? Another genealogist friend of mine who is researching her Italian heritage reminded me that Italy had been the center of the banking system of Europe. The Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English would have had to borrow money from the Italians to fund the Atlantic Slave Trade! Talk about being a walking conundrum – I am a descendant of not only slaves, but the people who traded them, built and captained the ships that transported them to Central and South America AND the ones who funded the whole thing!

Fula Connection?!

Since reading Maya Angelou’s “All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes” in college I have dreamt about traveling to mainland Africa and finding people who looked like me. In her book, Ms Angelou travel’s to Ghana in the 60’s and visits a village where she was immediately embraced as a lost member because she had many of the features associated with that tribe.

One day I met three women and babysitting onto an elevator. Immediately, two of the women started asking me if this was my real hair, am I mixed, etc. Since moving to the DC area, I’ve gotten used to the “What are you?” questions. So, immediately went into my “My family is from Cape Verde, off the coast of Senegal…” spiel and explained that it’s a former Portuguese colony, yadda, yadda, yadda.

They told me that they were Fula from Gambia, they hadn’t heard of Cape Verde, but were very familiar with Senegal. One of the women told me that I resembled her mother and had a lot of the features of the Fula people. While searching online for pictures of Fula people was immediately struck by the resemblance in features between many Cape Verdeans and the Fula’s.

Maybe I will have my Maya Angelou moment, after all!

I’ve added some pictures of my family, people from Cape Verde and Fula’s of different West African countries.

My mother
Fula child
My Great Grandmother

Fula woman

Spanish Flu and Tuberculosis in Cape Verde

My great-grandparents, Antonio and Rosa, both died within months from each other in 1917-1918. Antonio traveled regularly between Brava and the US between 1896 and 1917. During his last time here in the US, he became very sick and went back to Brava. Within a few months, passed away on June 17,1917. A few months later, Rosa, collapsed while working in her garden leaving behind Maria, 14 , Julio, 10, and Carolina, 6. All their belongings had to be burned and the children were left with nothing in the care of their great-grandmother, Angelica, who was already well into her 80’s.

Many of the Cape Verdeans who were in the US at that time did become sick in the epidemic that killed millions around the world. Brava was not immune to this and hundreds died on the island before 1920 from the illness. The Spanish Influenza or flu was a type of avian or bird flu that spread within two years mostly affecting young adults between 18-30. My great-grandparents were 28 and 38 years old. Older adults and children did not seem as affected as this age group and died at much lesser rates. A study, in 2009, stated that what actually killed these people was tuberculosis in addition to the flu. Most of the people had already been carriers when they got sick. As a result, many of the people of that time who were exposed but never became sick then may have gotten sick later in life as they aged or had some other type of chronic illness.

My great-grandmother always tested positive on her PPD tests (test for tuberculosis) but never got sick with it. As she became older she did always have a chronic cough that had apparently been the result of tuberculosis which until then was dormant. I spent a lot of time with her after graduate school and since then I have always tested positive on my PPD’s.

I have, apparently, been exposed to the same virus that killed my great-grandparents almost 100 years ago. Itbdoesn’t mean that I am sick or will ever have TB BUT definitely gives new meaning to my research into my family tree. Not only can we inherit genes that dictate what color eyes and texture of hair we will have, but also viruses that wiped out nearly 25% of the world’s population at one time! Wow!

Avelino Barbosa Rodrigues 1900-1929

Isabel Barbosa Rodrigues
1873-1951
Avelino Rodrigues
1900-1929

My great-grandfather, Avelino B. Rodrigues, was born on August 20, 1900 in Pai Luis, Sao Joao Baptista, Brava. He was the son of Rufino Rodrigues and Isabel Barbosa. The eldest of four, he joined his father and two uncles, Benjamin and Manuel, in Providence around 1917. Rufino and his brothers began immigrating to the US in the late 1800’s

His father, Rufino eventually retired back to Brava as well as Manuel, but I have found records of Benjamin as a wounded WWI verteran! By 1921, Avelino was joined by his brother Artur and cousin, Ernesto (Manuel’s son) in New Britain, CT. At some point they even owned a grocery store there.

The three eventually moved to Waterbury, CT to work at the Chase Metal Works factory. It was at that time one of the largest Brass metal factories in the country. They lived at 189 Orange St in Waterbury. Arthur would eventually marry the owner of the home, Rita Spinola, a widow, also from Brava.

December 31, 1922

In December 1922, Avelino traveled back to Brava to marry my great grandmother, Maria. They had been exchanging letters and pictures. He brought her everything she needed for the wedding.They were married on New Year’s Eve, 1922. In February 1923, he boarded the schooner, Volante, bound for the US and back to Waterbury.

American immigration laws started to become more stringent at this time making it difficult for most Cape Verdeans to travel back and forth as much. Avelino was never able to return to Brava or send for his wife and daughter.

On June 24, 1929, Avelino was killed in a factory accident at CMW at 3:45 pm. The hose he was using to clean his machine got caught and he was crushed between the machine and the floor, immediately killing him. He was buried on June 26, 1929 at Calvary Cemetary in Waterbury.

This past February, I was finally able to find and visit his grave. I am the first direct descendant to visit since 1929!

Cape Verdean Genealogy

 

I have been interested in my family history since as long as I can remember. I was that pesky kid constantly asking questions of anyone who would answer me. Countless hours were spent listening to my grandmother and great grandmother talking about the “old country”. After a while, I could basically tell you anything about the island of Brava, Cape Verde as if I had actually been there. My first trip to CV was in November 2009 with my mother and two children. It was so surreal to actually walk on the same ground that my ancestors walked. I felt like I was truly home. Of course, I had to visit the “Registo Civil” or civil registry where most of the baptismal, marriage and obit records were kept. I started with my grandparent’s baptismal records and went from there. I also visited the national archives in the capital of Cape Verde, Praia. Records prior to 1914 are kept there from each of the islands. After independence in 1975, the CV government started archiving as many of the records they could after the Portuguese left. A lot of records were taken to Portugal, as well as, Brazil. What was left is currently in the Archivo Nacional de Cabo Verde. For me, it was like being a kid in a candy store! There are slave records as well as records of people and ships that left CV for the States as well as England, Australia and New Zealand, to name a few of the places where you can find CV’s of the diaspora. This blog is my attempt to chronicle my research. My hope is to help as many people as I can find their roots while exploring my own.

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