"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!!!

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!