"Learning through life, learning through books, and learning through other people’s experiences. Learning always!"

I’m guessing that ignorance is something that Amilcar Cabral would have probably not been in favor of. Cabral, father of Cape Verdean independence, not only fought a war of guns but, more importantly, of the mind. He felt it important enough to assure that Cape Verdean records were preserved for later generations to understand not just the struggle for independance but, in essence, the core of what it was to be Cape Verdean. Rather than having our history written for us, preserving the actual records allows those of us of Cape Verdean ancestry to understand our history and self identify as Caboverdeanos.

I don’t think it was right for the Portuguese government to dictate our identity based on political manipulations and untruths in an effort to squash independent thinking and I certainly don’t think that it’s for anyone to try to do the same thing now.

I began this journey to trace my personal family tree and genealogy and along the way learned a great deal about Cape Verde’s history as a colony and as an independent nation. These are just some of the truths I have learned more about through fact based research;

1. Cape Verde was “discovered” by Italian sailors under the Portuguese Flag. There is literature that state that there were Wolof as Fula peoples present in Santiago but not other islands. The Portuguese also found the Gaunches (Aboriginal Berbers) on the Canary islands and wiped them out as an ethnic group, killing them or selling them off into the Atlantic Slave Trade to the Americas.

2. It’s initial European population was made up of a significant number of “conversos” or converted Jews during the Inquisitions.

3. Slaves were brought to the islands to work its plantations as well as by way of Cape Verde being a seasoning point through which Africans were captured, baptized and given Christian names and then sold off to be traded in the Caribean, Central and South America, including Brazil.

4. Africans that were kept in Cape verde were used for particular skills the had, ie weaving,etc.

5. The Portuguese and other European settlers rarely traveled with women and such had relations, forced and otherwise, with African women, even marrying them. There are plenty of letters written to the King complaining of these relationships taking place and in response the Portuguese began exhaling more Portuguese women to offset this phenomenon.

6. Within the first century of its existence, Cape Verde recorded a large number of “mulatto” or mixed peoples.

7. On the island of Santiago, that had the largest number of African slaves that far outnumbered the Europeans, there were uprisings and many of them fled to areas outside the major settlements. This group of people remained mostly ethno-genetically pure African. They were called ‘badius (vagabonds in Portuguese).

8. The other islands contupinued to have growing numbers of mixed peoples, with some areas having larger European descendants or new immigrants from places like Madeira and the Azores; some as voluntary immigrants but most were criminal, political and religious exiles. I have found and studied records of their sentences of time spent in Cape Verde for various crimes committed. Many never went back to Portugal.

9. The Africans who made up much of the slave population were Wolof, Fula, Mandike, and Yoruba to name just a few. Many were previously captured by other African kingdoms and used to trade with the Europeans for guns to use in other wars and battles.

10. Kriolu, as a language, is the culmination of various linguistic influences. A creole language by definition, is a culmination of two or more languages that emerges (by the off spring) with a it’s own distinct linguistic features, using the vocabulary and phonology (sound system) of those languages. Birkerton (University of Hawaii) states that the linguistic features of creole languages mirror the innate language sense that we’re all born with. So, Capeverdean kriolo could not have existed if it wasn’t for the mixing in the islands.

11. Lancados, people of mixed portuguese and african ancestry and usually son’s of european slave owners, were used capture Africans in the mainland or to, at times,negotiate in the trade of Africans with other African leaders.

12. In 1849, a commission was created in Boa Vista whose mission was the abolishment of slavery in Cape Verde. I have copies of the original documents.

13. Cape Verde had as many as 3000 slaves traded per year in the early 1600’s. The English signed their treaty abolishing the English slave trade while the Portuguese half-heatedly signed theirs in 1810. By 1851, it was illegal to transport slaves to Santo Antaõ and Sao Nicolão but I have passport records of people who traveled with their “escravos”, slaves well into the 1860’s and 1870’s. Slavery was officially abolished in 1878 in Cape Verde and the term “criada” or caretaker was used to classify servants who lived and worked for families (presumably with no pay).

14. AND because of a half Guinean and half Cape Verdean man who dared to stand against political oppression and colonialism that led to the liberation of two countries from the shackles of colonialism, I am free to sing a morna, dance funana and write all about it all day, if I wanted to – in English and Kriolu!


A brief history of Fogo, Cape Verde and my family origins on the island

I can trace my Fogo family tree to the Canuto family of Sao Laurenco, Fogo of the late 1700’s. Fogo was one of the first islands populated by the Portuguese and was primarily used for plantations harvesting coffee beans and slave trading. Other than Santiago, Fogo had the largest number of slaves recorded in its census. There was also a fairly large number of Europeans there which included the Vasconcellos, Henriques, Roiz, Nozolini and Barbosa families that were heavily involved in politics and the slave trade.

One of the most interesting facts about Fogo is that it was the only island that did not
fly the Spanish Flag during the period of Spanish occupation of Portugal in the late 1500’s. That fighting spirit certainly lives strong in our Fogo genes today!

Some of the wealthiest Europeans lived in Fogo and during episodes of famine, drought or volcanic eruptions they would migrate to nearby Brava which up until the 1680’s had a population numbering in the hundreds. The initial inhabitants of Brava were Europeans, most probably of Jewish ancestry. The Fogo migrants brought some of their slaves with them. Some families returned to Fogo once conditions allowed while others stayed. We see evidence of this through records of even some families that split between Brava and Fogo; the Lopes, de Barros Abreu, Pires, Oliveira, and Barbosa families to name just a few.

Fogo also records some of the largest numbers of free blacks in Cape Verde. This is evidenced in records as late as the mid 1800’s where one’s free status was included in Baptismal and Marriage records. Only certain records contained this status clause leading one to conclude that this was to delineate certain people from others that were clearly identified as “escravos” or slaves of a particular person. The Europeans were either identified as “proprietors” or land owners or “trabalhadors”, workers.

My grandfather, Joao Antonio Lopes, was born in Relva, Mosteiro to Jose Antonio Lopes and Maria de Barros Abreu. Jose first emigrated to the States in the late 1890’s to New Bedford and to the Cape where he stayed with a cousin, Anibal Jose Lopes, and brother-in-law, Cristiano de Barros. Jose worked the railroads in the Cape as did many cape Verdean migrants who weren’t working the cranberry bogs.

Jose Antonio was the son of Roberto Jose Lopes and Caetana (Caterina) Lopes de Barros Abreu. Roberto was the son of Jose Antonio Canuto and Francesco Lobo of Sao Lourenco, Fogo. He also had a brother, Candido Jose Lopes.

Maria de Barros Abreu was the daughter of Pedro de Barros Abreu and Maria Michalina Lopes Friere. Pedro was the son of Andre de Barros Abreu and Joanna de Andrade. Andre was the son of Joao de Barros Abreu. Maria Michalina was the daughter of Joao Lopes Friere and Rosa Gonsalves.

My family had stopped using the Abreu and Friere surnames. I assume that the additional surname was to distinguish themselves from other lines of Barros and Lopes families. Abreu was sometimes used to identify people who came from Galician or northern/central region of Portugal, specifically Abreu in the Minho province. There was also a large presence of Abreu’s in Madeira. Fogo had many emigrants from Madeira.

The origin of Friere surname is a little more interesting. The Friere surname is most common in the Galician region, around Coimbra. It is said that when Charles V came to the throne, having been born in Germany, he moved to Spain bringing many of his friends including a Dutch Frie Herr family who settled in the Galicia/ Coimbra region. Another account tells of two brothers from the Bourbon Kingdom (border of France and Germany) who took up arms against the Ottoman empire in defense of Europe in the 1300’s. These brothers became known as Friere (brother) and many of the the men who fought with them took up this name as part of a fraternity. The Pope eventually gave them land in the Galicia region where you still have a very strong presence of Friere’s. It is also stated that a particular line of the Friere’s had a deep involvement in sea industry and exploration and eventually ended up in many parts of the world. The Friere’s were physicians, philosophers, farmers, priests and merchants. There is every reason to believe that they would have been a part of the new and growing industry of the Atlantic slave trade in Cape Verde. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Friere de Andrade family was one of Portugal’s most influential and important families. The Friere and Andrade families are very well documented in Mosteiro. Relva, in particular, seemed to exist primarily of Lopes, de Barros Abreu, de Andrade and da Cruz families with a few Fernandes marriages in the 1800’s.

It may have been important during Cape Verde’s heyday to self-identify according to specific family delineations especially in places like Fogo where racial separation was an unfortunate way of life. A de Barros Abreu would have had a completely different status than that of a de Barros who was someone’s slave. As Cape Verde’s influence declined in the 1800’s such concepts weren’t as necessary since everyone was in the same boat trying to survive many bouts of drought and famine without Portugal’s aide and comfort.

Fogo had many large and influential families which included the Nozolini and Roiz families which I want to mention briefly to illustrate the diversity of European ancestry which can be found in Fogo. The Nozolini’s of Italian origins and Roiz’ of Spanish origins were the ancestors of Brava’s most famous citizen, Eugenio Tavares, who’s mother was born on the island of Fogo and later went to Brava to stay with family after having to leave the Guinean Coast during some civil unrest. Eugenio was born in Brava shortly after she arrived. She, unfortunately, died during childbirth.

The histories of Fogo and Brava are deeply intermingled. Many, if not most, of the families in Brava originated in Fogo. I know this is true of my Barbosa and Rodrigues family, as well as, many other surnames in Brava today.

Rambligs about race and identity

The problem of identity is a complex issue when it comes to Cape Verde. Especially if your ancestry is from Brava and Fogo you will inevitably come to an undeniable question; What does it mean to be black or white? The business of genealogy implies the chance that you will find a person or branch that will make you question the core of what you always thought you were.

America has long established “rules” for identification. The one drop rule automatically defines us as black in the United States. Having one white and one black parent makes you black. Having one grandparent who was black makes you black. We self-define in this way without hesitation. I agree that if I were to go around telling people I was white even through the majority of my genes say that I am, people may question my sanity.

After getting the results of my autosomal DNA test, I had to take a good look at my family tree. The majority of my maternal and paternal lines are clearly European. The majority of most Cape Verdean family tree’s are going to reflect similarly to mine.

When I was younger, we would joke about those brown skinned Cape Verdeans who refused to identify themselves as black. They wouldn’t identify as white, either, necessarily. Their answer was always “I’m a Cape Verdean”, end of story. It makes sense to me more now after all these years of research. How do you embrace one part of you and disregard the rest?

I can’t disown my European heritage just as much as I can’t my African. I refuse to ignore my white grandmother in favor of the black one, and vice versa. They each loved me and I loved them.

Cape Verde’s slave history is undeniable. I will not excuse any of the evils of slavery. Slavery in Cape Verde was not better than slavery here in the US. The atrocities of slavery in the US happened in Cape Verde, as well. Slave holders here didn’t necessarily recognize their off-spring legally and very rarely were their liasons with slave women looked at as bona fide relationships. We all know about Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson but they were definitely the exception.

The Portuguese had no problems with having relationships with African women. Many of the europeans were exhiled for certain crimes like practicing Judaism or were political adversaries. Once in Cape verde, most stayed beyond the original sentences and established families and other ties. They did recognize their children from these liasons and their children would inherit from their parents and carried their father’s names. In my own tree, I have found actual marriages between “black” and “white” ancestors.

I understand now why some people only reply “Cape Verdean” to self identify. To be a whole person means embracing all parts of oneself. My ancestors have made me who I am – all 68.7% Tuscan Italian and 31.3% West African. I am an American of Cape Verdean ancestry and all the things that brings with it.

And I love it!

I’m Back!!!

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to post anything. With graduate season upon us, I had to first get through my daughter’s high school graduation and then my son’s graduation from the fifth grade! I am so proud of the two of them!

It’s funny how things work out. I recently received an email from a gentleman who lives in Florida and has been researching his Cape Verdean roots for the last eight years. He and his cousin have accumulated quite a database of information. After speaking with one of them for about an hour, we discovered that we are very closely related and even knew each other as kids! This passion for genealogy must be in the genes!

Small world!!!

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