In 1937, Mario “Marty” Rose, a Cape Verdean American from New Bedford filmed his trip to Cabo Verde and produced what is probably the first film ever made in Cape Verde. He set sail with Captain Benjamin Costa aboard the schooner, Stranger, owned by the da Lomba Family of New Bedford. This film was shown by Mr Rose and the Seamen’s Memorial Scholarship Fund in the 1940’s.
The significance of this film can not be overstated as it gives us a visual glimpse into how our ancestors lived. The footage of the men aboard the ship at the port in New Bedford reflects the daily activities of our ancestors preparing to leave port on whaling ships for whatever corner of the earth yielded the coveted whale oil. As the men set off, Mr Rose includes a clip of some rough seas and violent looking waves that was surely common on any voyage across the Atlantic and further testifies to courage our ancestors demonstrated each time they made these voyages.
They arrived in São Vicente and travel over to São Nicolão filming various aspects of island life. But for me, the moments in Brava, about 20 minutes in, were the most emotional to watch. In 1937, my maternal grandmother, Vovo, would have been 14 years old and living with my great-grandmother, Bibi, in the home built by her and my great-grandfather, Avelino, who died in Waterbury, CT just 8 years prior. My maternal grandfather, Raimundo, was 20 years old and living in Tome Barraz. His mother would have been living in Onset, MA for about 19 years at that point and his father Marcelino, was back in Lomba Lomba after spending many years in New Bedford.
My paternal grandparents were newlyweds having gotten married in July of that year and living in Figueral in the same home with her mother, Anna, while my great-grandfather was living and working in New Brunswick, NJ with his brother João. My father would be born two years later. The house that would be later owned by my great-aunt, Albertina, is shown in the port of Furna, as a large group of Brava men work to put a ship they had just finished building in the water. Those men pictured could have been the same ones who boarded the schooner, Mathilde, 6 years later.
Mr Rose filmed a wedding procession from Campo to Nova Sintra showing beautifully dressed men and women following an equally beautiful but somber couple to the church to be married. A group of men with guitars and violins escorted the group to and from playing mornas I’m sure I’ve heard before. I can imagine my grandparents walking the same paths in their wedding clothes with other members of my family following as the same musicians played a morna. Another procession depicts the da Lomba family burying one of their female family members.
Watching the feast on Emancipation day commemorating the abolishment of slavery in Cape Verde took my breath away. In the footage it looks like a group of men, women and children, who may have been descendants of the slaves freed in 1876, are seen eating canja at a long table flanked by whiter-skinned people with smiles. The gentleman at the head of the table looks like so many Cape Verdeans I’ve known in my family and in my community. It’s difficult not to feel some ambivalence and maybe outright abhorrence toward the “benevolent Portuguese Government” who footed the bill for this “magnificent feast” of chicken and rice soup while looking into the faces of our ancestors who endured slavery in Cape Verde. I can’t imagine that hundreds of years of slavery could be forgiven over a bowl of canja.
Mr Rose was right when they wrote that Bravenses frowned upon the “Sabe Colinha”, a dance brought to the islands by our African Ancestors. I’ve actually done this dance before when a popular artist, Gil, came out with the song, “Maria Julia” in the 1990’s. You see a group of people in a circle surrounding people pounding on tamboros as a black woman with an lenço on her head sings and claps. You can almost hear her singing;
“O Sabe Colinha!
Colinha manda rufa na portal figuerinha!
Quel qu’e suju, bu da cachor,
Quel qu’e limpo, bu da’M de meu!”
The film then shows various aspects of life for Cape Verdeans in New Bedford and Cape Cod. We see ordinary people taking part in normal activities, along with lawyers and business people in the community. There’s even a wedding! Except these people could be seen smiling through out whereas it would have been considered impolite to do so in Cape Verde.
You can’t help but pause as the film begins showing some of our ancestors as they crouched in the cranberry bogs for pennies a bucket. In the 30’s and 40’s, my great-grandmother, Joanna, could have been among the women hunched over on their knees, in the hot summer sun, picking cranberries or blueberries. Her children and grandchildren would have accompanied her on many of those days to help the family. My great-grandfather, Jose and his cousin, Anibal, were working on the same railroad tracks shown in the film. Seeing these people who could have been and probably were my own relatives made feel all the more appreciative for the life I have because of them.
This film is a treasure for Cape Verdeans and Cape Verdean-Americans. Mario “Marty” Rose filmed this over 80 years ago and it was recently posted on youtube by his grandson, Derek Rose, a writer who now lives in New Zealand and gave his permission to attach this video. Please tell your family and friends about this great piece of history. Share this with as many people as you can so that we can all learn about our culture as we take a glimpse of a day in the life of our ancestors.
Thank you Marty and Derek!