The Evolution of a Genealogist

In March 2012, I logged onto a free blogging website and wrote:
“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.”

At the time, I was too embarrassed to use my own name and struggled to find a name for the blog. After a little thought, I decided on “The Creola Genealogist”.

It seemed perfect… at the time. The term “Creola” perfectly embodied with “what” and “who” I was trying to connect- my roots as a “Creola”- a descendant of this mix of “Portuguese and African” people… as I had been told all my life.

In the years since, I have grown to hate this descriptor of my ancestral identity, as if the country of Portugal and the CONTINENT of Africa held equal stature…??? I have been perpetuating a definition that honored the European side in its specificity and dishonored the African side in its ambiguity.

At the time, I also considered “Creola” to be a term of endearment used to describe the women of Cabo Verde without understanding that Portuguese/Spanish colonizers called their offspring with Enslaved Africans “Criolos” derived from the word “criar” or “to breed”. In this way, there is very little difference between “creole” and “mulatto”- derived from “little mule” in Portuguese. Creole is a term of acculturation and assimilation which requires the belief in the superiority of one people over the other. In this case, the superiority of the Portuguese over the Enslaved African. To agree with this is to believe that there is something inherently wrong with my African side and to relegate my ancestors to the status of a breed of animal.

I reject both!

My words should not be taken as an indictment of my “Caboverdeanidade” but as an act of love for my ancestors and my people.

I love Cabo Verde and I love that I am a child of Cape Verdean immigrants. I love Cape Verdean history and genealogy. I love the people of Cabo Verde and the diaspora. I want to continue to share its history and be a witness to that history through my blog and FB pages.

And that is why I cannot, in good conscience, continue to use language that perpetuates a horrific part of our history that continues to manifest itself in our communities today in the form of racism, colorism and any other -ism.

And so, on this day, the 45th anniversary of Cabo Verde’s independence from Portugal, I am declaring myself independent of the term “Creola”!

I haven’t found a replacement name for the blog and I am not in a rush to find one right now. But I would like some feedback and suggestions for what I should rename the blog and FB pages.

Any thoughts?

*** I have been getting feedback on my use of the definition of “to breed” for “criar”. My broader point on the word being used as a term of acculturation and assimilation is being lost in this. I could remove this sentence but would it really change my argument? Would it negate the fact that there is a sense that our “proximity to ‘being Portuguese’” for some of us, captured by the use of the word, creole, feeds into the narrative that we are somehow “better” than people who have no European mixture? Were Creoles not treated differently than people who were not mixed and referred to as “Badius”? Perhaps, regardless of the origins of the word, I should have only pointed out that the racist history of HOW the word was used in creating this narrative would have been more acceptable. But it still does not change my decision to not use the word to title my blog or FB pages.

A Cape Verdean- American Story

My grandfather, Raimundo Fortes Lima, was possibly the coolest man who has ever existed… in my opinion.

 

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8 months after he was born, his mother, Joanna Fortes Lima, boarded the Bertha B. Nickerson from Brava to New Bedford with $3 in her possession. The plan was for her to save enough money to send for both of her sons, Daniel and my grandfather. My grandfather stayed with a paternal family member who refused to send him to America in 1918 along with Daniel and wanted to continue raising him. I can write so much more about how my great-grandmother’s status in life (direct descendants of former enslaved Africans in Boa Vista) and as a “Criada” in Brava would have allowed for this to have happened without a fight but I will save that for another post.

So Daniel came to the US and had a family in Onset, Joana married and had two more children and my grandfather stayed in Brava with no way to come to the States with the changes in immigration laws at the time.

Raimundo married my grandmother, Rosa, while working as a “Pedreiro” but that would only do so much to raise a family. It was during one of the most devastating famines to hit Cabo Verde in recent years that my grandfather was able to get a visa to travel to Brazil in 1945. He would not have saved enough money to travel there until 1956.  He lived in São Paulo for almost 4 years and worked in a bakery so that he could send money to his family in Brava. Daniel and Joana were finally able to get him a visa to come to America in 1959. It was then that he was able to meet his mother for the first time! His reunion with his mother was short lived as Joana died in 1961 from congestive heart failure. He only had two things to remember her, one of which was the old Singer Sewing machine I grew up watching Bibi use.

Immediately after his arrival, he started working to save money to send for each of his 6 children. From 1960 to 1971, my Titio Boboy, followed by Titia Stella, Titio Reinaldo, my mother, Joanna and grandmother, Rosa, my Titios Walter and Djondjuka and finally, my great-grandmother, arrived in Massachusetts. My family was finally reunited after 15 years of separation.

Unfortunately, Raimundo was not in the best of health and had already received two blood transfusions by 1973 for severe anemia. Only two years after reuniting with his family, my grandfather died on his birthday on January 28, 1973, at 56 years old and two weeks before I was born.

While I never personally met him, I have always had the sense that I knew him and that he was/is my guardian angel because my family always spoke about him. My grandmother often spoke of “Kel Alma” (That Soul) when referring to my grandfather

I know his is but one of the many stories of the Cape Verdean diaspora but it is one that I hold near and dear. I would love to know if any of you have similar stories to tell.

Slavery, Freedom and the “Libertos” of Cabo Verde

I have seen quite a few records for ancestors in Brava and Fogo that specified their condition/status as “Liberto/Liberated”. Until recently, I assumed that this was a label to differentiate between enslaved and free blacks but Lumumba Shabaka describes in detail that Libertos were manumitted peoples who were not considered full citizens and who were, in fact, relegated to continued servitude for 7 years after manumission.
The Junta Protectora dos Escravos e Libertos or Committee of the Protection of Slaves and Freed People was established in 1856 to:

“apply manumission for infants age 5 (or younger) along with baptism and payment of 5,000 réis to the slave owner in compliance with Article 30 of the Decree; help slaves; promote freedom of slaves” following the declaration of António Maria Barreiros Arrobas, general governor of Cape Verde, noting that the Ministry of Trade of Marine and Overseas enacted the Decree of 14 December 1854, which was to promote the freeing and protection of slaves and freed persons in the overseas Portuguese provinces. (Shabaka)

“In summary, the Junta of Protection of Slaves and Libertos ushered in the end of slavery in Cape Verde, even though it was gradual, legalistic, and elitist driven. The Catholic Church and the state collaborated to end slavery in Cape Verde, but with financial recompense for the slaveholders. Furthermore, libertos had to serve seven years of service to the state or private entities, probably to instill notions of wageworker, rather than free peasant. A popular form of punishment was ‘public works,’ which the state used to implement major projects or control the libertos, slaves, and the poor majority. Thus, ending of slavery in Cape Verde was caught between manumission and emancipation. While they were manumitted, libertos, had to perform mandatory services, against their wills and full citizenship or emancipation was still lacking.”

The Junta served as a means for enslaved people and Libertos, alike, to find relief from harsh treatment and lack of sustenance from their owners as well as serving as means to ensure that the laws and decrees pertaining to slavery on the archipelago were upheld. Ironically, the members of the Junta included slave owners! The author writes:

“Thus, the Junta’s descriptions of the stories and complaints must be read with skepticism without dismissing all the stories, such as the sketches of the plight of slaves, otherwise these marginalized people would remain nameless and voiceless in the annals of Cape Verdean history… the Junta’s deliberations allows some micro-history and biographical outlines that enable a better understanding of macro-structural developments, which is new to the study of slavery in Cape Verde.’ (Shabaka)

The author also shows how baptism was used to liberate children of enslaved women through remuneration to the slave owners by the godparents! I will write more about this in a future post.

These records are proof of my enslaved ancestors who were only recently freed!!!! One record I found for my 4x great-uncle, Joaquim, son of Victorino Correia and Isabel Duarte (my 5x great-grandparents), was described as a liberto who worked as a mariner according to his death record. I was confused at first… why include details about what he did for work???? Now it makes sense. His seven years of servitude included work on ships.
Victorino and Isabel
This also explains why I’ve had a hard time getting more info on Victorino and Isabel. They were slaves as well! I suspected they were not native to Brava and possibly came from Sao Nicolau. At the time my 5x great grandparents lived in Brava, the parish of Nossa Senhora do Monte was established when the Bishop of the Catholic Church moved the seat of the diocese from Sao Nicolau to Brava in 1828. The actual church was completed in the mid 1840’s. The Church was probably built with slave labor. Could my ancestors have served out their seven years of servitude in the building of a church that generations of my family would come to worshiped in???
I also found libertos on my da Cruz side in Fogo in the 1850-60’s. Prior to 1850, I have not been able to find any records for them in Fogo and suspect that they came from Santo Antão or Boa Vista. This seems to coincide with the timeframe that Mr Shabaka refers to in “Junta” records that specified situations where Libertos were compelled to complete their seven years on other islands. My ancestors may have relocated from Santo Antão to Fogo. Could they have been used to work in the coffee plantations or vineyards of Fogo for their seven years of servitude?
FOgo da Cruz
Where I thought I had exhausted all avenues of research to add on to my family tree, Mr Shabaka’s work has opened new avenues to add to my family’s story and a new way to look at ancestral documentation in Cabo Verde.
Too be continued…

 

Everyday Life 

This is one of my most prized possessions. It’s an old photograph that belonged to my great-grandmother. She’s the one standing second to the right.


I “informally” inherited it, as I had all of her photo albums filled with photos that were often “indefinitely borrowed” from other people’s albums. I laughed when I found some of my old photographs I thought I had lost long ago in one of her albums. Most of her oldest photographs were of our ancestors wearing beautiful clothing, posing or maybe sitting in an ornate chair with a drawn background,  and always with the same emotionless stare that made you wonder if people back then even knew how to smile.

This is one of my favorite pictures because it depicts the rawness of the everyday lives of our ancestors. The women are all wearing hats or lenços. But for as long as I knew my great grandmother, she would quickly remove her lenço if she had visitors or was about to take a picture. It surprises me to see her here with a hat on her head.

I can’t help but notice that the two people standing on each end aren’t wearing shoes. But what’s more interesting is that you can’t see anyone else’s feet. Did they have shoes? Or were they just too embarrassed to show their bare, maybe worn feet for the camera? The women weren’t dressed in their very best, they weren’t posing by a fancy piece of furniture with a drawn backdrop. They weren’t all wearing the same somber stares. These people are actually smiling in this picture! Even Bibi looks like she’s struggling to contain her smile. And what is in that mug the woman standing next to Bibi is holding? Could a little grogue have something to do with those coy smiles???

When I look at photos like this, I wonder about who these people were, what their personalities may have been like, and how they were all related to one another. I notice what they’re wearing, their poses, their features including skin tones. I wonder if they were standing in the back or to the side because of their color or if it’s just a coincidence.

Photos like this can tell us more than what our ancestors looked like. For instance, the women standing in the middle of this particular photograph may be family elders and therefor placed in the middle as a symbol of respect. The way people are placed within photos may give clues to their status within their family or community.

I can spend hours pondering their individual stories!

Although I knew Bibi for the first 30 years of my life, I have come to realize that she never spoke much of the harshness of life in Brava. But this photo reminds me that she and her aunts may have been wearing black because within a span of less than 10 years she had lost both her parents and her husband. And it wasn’t very many years before that her grandparents and many other family members had died from starvation during one of the worst famines to hit Brava in the 1890’s.

I’d like to imagine this photo was taken taken on a sunny day by water, maybe in Feijão d’Agu. I imagine that Bibi and her family decided to perhaps forget all of their worries by spending it together, telling stories, with a picnic on the beach. For at least one day, the camera captured a moment of happiness.

I’m so grateful to have this treasure that allows me a glimpse into the everyday lives of my ancestors. I can’t help but feel blessed by my very comfortable life in the suburbs of Washington, DC in contrast to the stark depiction of life in this photograph. I am truly blessed.

The Cardoso Family from Santo Antonio, Fogo

I first met “Pa Bedju” in 2000, the great-grandfather of my, then, soon to be born son. A normal part of any introduction in Cape Verdean culture is to ask about what family you come from. I remember saying that I was the grand-daughter of Nho Popinho de Mosteiros.

Pa Bedju’s face lit up and he said something like; “Ka bu fra ma bo e neta de Popinho! / Don’t tell me you’re Popinho’s granddaughter!”

I remember the wave of nausea that overcame me as the realization hit me that if he knew my grandfather, they may be related… Which would mean I was related to my child’s father 😦

“Nos era grande amigo! / We were great friends!”.

Luckily, the two men had been childhood friends with no family connections that I have been able to find, lol!

My son is now 15 and Pa Bedju is no longer with us. And as I reminisce about that first meeting, knowing that my son is the great-grandson of these two best friends, I am honored to include the story of Filenio “Pa Bedju” Cardoso in The Creola Genealogist.

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Filenio Cardoso (1911-2006) and Etelvina Barbosa da Silva (1906-1995)

Filenio Cardoso was born on January 18, 1911 in Santo Antonio, in the parish of Sao Lourenco, Fogo. He was the son of Eusebio Cardoso and Ana L. Amado. Filenio was married to Etelvina Barbosa da Silva, born on May 29, 1906. She was the daughter of Filipe Barbosa da Silva and Francisca Correia.

The full surname for the Cardoso’s of Santo Antonio is de Jesus Cardoso. Eusebio was the son of Filenio De Jesus Cardoso (son of Manuel de Jesus Cardoso and Francisca Borges de Souto Cardoso) and Maria de Jesus Barbosa (daughter of Martha Monteiro Robelo).

There is a family story that Pedro Monteiro Cardoso, poet, who published the first book of Cape Verdean poetry in 1915 was a family member. Pedro was very outspoken about African – Cape Verdean identity and signed his work as “Afro”. He was the founder of several journal publications and author of at least fourteen books.

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Pedro Monteiro Cardoso (1883-1942)

Pedro was born on September 13, 1883. Some sources say he was born in 1890. He was the of Manuel Benecio Cardoso and Ana Teodora Monteiro Barbosa in 1883. While researching the records of Sao Lourenco, I found a record for a Gertrudes Benecio Cardoso, daughter of Felipe Benecio Cardoso and Filomena de Jesus Cardoso in Santo Antonio. This is a very small village and the chances of this being the same family as Pedro’s is very likely.

This is only the beginning of my research into my son’s paternal family tree. Some of this information may have to be revised in time but that’s part of the fun of genealogy!

 

 

Just A Thought…

It’s “Black History Month”, the shortest month of the year dedicated to the history of Black people in America.

As a child of Cape Verdean immigrants, some may say that I don’t have a direct connection to the history of Blacks in America, slavery, Jim Crow or even the Civil Rights Movement.

To those people AND my fellow Cape Verdean-Americans, here’s a little reminder…

Cape Verde was once the hub of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Where do we think some of the enslaved Africans who worked tobacco and cotton fields came from??? They were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and cousins to the very ancestors that worked sugar cane and coffee plantations in Santiago and Fogo and salt mines of Maio and Sal. Come on now, People!!!

And while I haven’t (yet) found a direct ancestor who picked cotton in the fields of Mississippi, I do know of my great-grandmother who picked cranberries and blueberries for pennies a week in Cape Cod. I know that she and other Cape Verdeans weren’t allowed to live in certain areas, use certain bathrooms or sit in certain seats. And they certainly weren’t allowed to vote.

Cape Verdeans were here before America was America. Cape Verdeans helped build this country and defend it in the same segregated military. It was a Cape Verdean who was the first Black representative of the Maryland Assembly in 1642! It was a Cape Verdean who became the first black Federal Judge, Hon. George Leighton (Leitão from Brava), and who was considered for appointment to the US Supreme Court along with Thurgood Marshall, who was later selected!

So the truth of it is, Black History month is about our history as well.

But what do I know… I’m just the proud daughter of Cape Verdean immigrants 😊

Finding Sylvania, #52 Ancestors

In 1905,  my great-great grandfather, Sebastiao Fortes traveled to America with a daughter Silvania Fortes. Until now, I had not known of this sibling of my great-grandmother, Anna. When I first found this record, I immediately set out to find more information about this unknown ancestor. I had to know who she was.

I was on a quest to find Sylvania.

Silvania was born around 1877 or 1878 and was the daughter of Sebastiao Correia Fortes Ramos and Hermelinda d’Andrade dos Santos. My great-great grandparents were married on March 18, 1871 in the Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte, Brava. Sebastiao was the son of Osvaldo Fortes, native of the island of Boa Vista, and Anna Correia. Hermelinda was the daughter of Manuel Antonio do Santos and Domingas d’Andrade who are noted to be the first parishioners of the Parish of Nossa Senhora do Monte.

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Marriage record of Sebastiao Fortes Ramos and Hermelinda dos Santos on March 18, 1871 in Nossa Senhora do Monte, Brava
Pa Tchoncha
Sebastiao Fortes Ramos

Hermelinda, was known as Nha Tilda, and her paternal grandparents were Antonio dos Santos and Valentina de Burgo. Family lore says that Antonio was from Braga (Portugal). Her maternal grandparents were Manuel d’Andrade and Escolastica de Barros. Given the time frame and the surnames, I am guessing that her maternal grandparents were from the island of Fogo. Sebastiao was born in 1847 and Nha Tilda was said to be much older. She may have been married before and had other children.

According to the immigration record of 1905, Sebastiao had come to America for the first time 30 years before in 1866 and was last in America in 1903. He would have probably come on a whaling ship in the earlier days and it has been quite difficult locating any of those records. Sylvania is listed as being 27 years old when she arrived with her father.

Silvana and Sebastiao
Sebastiao and Sylvania coming to America in 1905

By 1910, Sylvania is listed as working as a servant in a boarding house on 73 Joy St in Boston, MA. The boarding house belonged to Antonio Hypolito Brito and his wife, Theodora Fortes Ramos! At this point I’m convinced that there’s a family connection between Theodora and Sebastiao!

Silvana 1910

In 1915, Sylania marries Joao Fortes Lima, native of Boa Vista. The marriage is his first and her 2nd. Turns out that Sylvania was married before in Brava and has a daughter in 1905, shortly before coming to America.

Silvana marriage record
Marriage of Silvania and Joao F. Lima on January 12, 1915 in the city of Boston, MA

In 1921, Sylvania is listed as traveling from Brava to Massachusetts with Maria Fortes, age 14. Sylvania is 44 when she arrives and the record reports that they are going to live with Sylvania’s daughter, Olivia Fortes Almeida, and Maria is Olivia’s daughter.

Silvana and Maria

While I suppose it’s possible, this would mean that Sylvania became a grandmother when she was 30 years old. Olivia Fortes Almeida was born in 1901 in Brava and is listed in a 1917 immigration record as being the daughter of Carlotta Fortes, Sylvania’s sister.  It’s a possibility that this is the daughter she had with her first husband in Brava. In all other records and family stories, Olivia Fortes Almeida is listed as Sylvania’s daughter.

The last piece of information I found for Sylvania is of her being in a hospital in Boston in the 1940 census. What became of her is unknown but through contact with some of her descendants, I hope to learn more about her. What became of her second husband Joao? What happened to Maria and Carlotta? I have been able to find out that her daughter, Olivia, married Candido Almeida and had several children, including Mildred Almeida, who became Miss Massachusetts in 1951.

Mildred Almeida

When researching ancestors, it’s difficult not to imagine how they lived their lives. You become vested in their lives. Were they happy? Did they suffer? While I still have some questions about what happened to Sylvania, seeing that her descendants went on to be successful and even become Miss Massachusetts makes me feel a little better.

Teia’s Family Tree, #52 Ancestors

TeiaMy grandmother, Severa Fortes da Cruz Lopes, was born on March 25, 1920 in the village of Figueral in the parish of Nossa Senhora do Monte, Brava. She was the daughter of Domingos “Pa Mingo” da Cruz and Anna “Nha Nuka” dos Santos Fortes Ramos.

Nuka
Anna dos Santos Fortes da Cruz
Pa Mingo
Domingos Lopes da Cruz

 

When taking the test for her American citizenship, she was asked to name the first President of the United States to which she confidently responded “George Washing Machine”! At least her answer was 2/3 right, lol! She was an American citizen as was her father, Pa Mingo, who first came to America in 1907. He lived and worked in Portland, Maine before returning to Cape Verde. In 1912, Pa Mingo arrived in New Bedford where he stayed with his maternal uncle, Capt. Philip da Cruz.

Capt Philip da Cruz
Captain Philip Lopes da Cruz. Picture taken in 1908 in front of his ship the E.M. Story, New Bedford, Massachusetts

Pa Mingo was born on the island of Fogo in the village, Relva, on April 15, 1888, to Isidoro Jose Lopes and Maria Lopes da Cruz.

Isidoro

 

Isidoro was the son of Roberto Jose Lopes and Catherina de Barros Abreu (m. May 25, 1856). His paternal grandparents were Jose Antonio da Cruz and Ignez Lopes de Miranda and his maternal grandparents were Pedro de Barros Abreu, son of Manuel de Barros Abreu and Maria de Miranda, and Maria d’Andrade, daughter of Manuel d’Andrade and Beatris Donelha, daughter of Andre Donelha.

Maria Lopes da Cruz, Pa Mingo’s mother, was born in Relva to Domingos da Cruz and Maria Lopes, also the parents of Capt. Philip Lopes da Cruz. Domingos and Maria were married on December 14, 1856 in the church of Nossa Senhora da Ajuda and were residents of Relva. Domingos parents were Antonio da Cruz and Maria Gomes. His paternal grandparents were Joao da Cruz and Maria Espinhola. His maternal grandparents were Joao Gomes and Maria Fernandes. Maria Lopes’ parents were Francisco Lopes and Maria da Veiga. Her paternal grandparents were Luis Lopes Morino Friere and Maria Vieira Robello.

My grandmother’s maternal side of the family had roots on the island of Boa Vista, Cape Verde and Madeira. Anna dos Santos Fortes and her twin brother, Ayres, were born in 1886 in Figueral. Her father was Sebastiao Correia Fortes was born in 1846 to Osvaldo Fortes Ramos, native of Rabil, Boa Vista and Anna Correia and they were married in 1877 in Nossa Senhora do Monte, Brava. He had a half sister, Antonia. Her mother, Hermelinda dos Santos was the daughter of Manuel Antonio “Nho Mane Valentina” dos Santos (son of Antonio dos Santos and Valentina de Burgo) and Domingas d’ Andrade (daughter of Manuel d’Andrade and Escolastica de Barros). Manuel Antonio and Domingas d’Andrade were married in 1835 in the parish of Sao Joao Baptista, Brava.  Antonio dos Santos was a native  of Madeira.

Pa Tchoncha
Sebastiao “Pa Tchoncha” Correia Fortes Ramos

 

Papa’s Family Tree, #52 ancestors

I always thought it was kind of funny to hear someone say that they were 1/2 Brava and 1/2 Fogo considering that these are two very small islands are less than 30 mins from each other and, historically, inhabited by descendants of the same families. Nevertheless, I am one of those mixed Brava/Fogo people, lol!

My paternal grandfather, Papa aka Joao Antonio “Popinho” Lopes, was born in Relva, Mosteiros, Fogo on September 30, 1913 to Jose Antonio Lopes and Maria de Barros Abreu. He married my grandmother, Severa (Teia) Fortes da Cruz in 1937. He had 3 sisters, Maria Fidalgo Lopes, Catherina Lopes and Rosa Lopes d’Andrade, and at least two brothers, Roberto Jose Lopes and Manuel Jose Lopes. His father, Jose Antonio “Nho Djedje” Lopes, born in 1875 and arrived in the US in 1907 with his cousin, Anibal Jose Lopes. Nho Djedje worked on building the railroad in Cape Cod. The last arrival I have found for him was in 1925, when he was 50 years old, aboard the Leonardo da Vinci.

Nho Djedje’s parents were Roberto Jose Lopes and Catherina de Barros Abreu who were married on May 25, 1856 in the church of Nossa Senhora de Ajuda. They were residents of the town of Achada Grande. Roberto was the son of Jose Antonio da Cruz and Ignez Lopes de Miranda, daughter of Manuel Lopes da Veiga and Isabel de Miranda. He had at least three brothers, Manuel Jose Lopes (b. 1859) Eugenio Jose Lopes (b. 1862) and Isidoro Jose Lopes.

Catherina was the daughter of Pedro Jose de Barros Abreu and Maria d’Andrade. Her paternal grandparents were Manuel de Barros Abreu and Maria de Miranda. Her maternal grandparents were Manuel d’Andrade and Beatris Donelha, daughter of Andre Donelha. Coming across the Donelha surname was a pleasant surprise. Dr. Trevor Hall, Johns Hopkins University, has written that “Donelha” was a transcription error in early records for “da Nolli” and that the Donelha family are descendants of Antonio da Noli, Italian discoverer of Cape Verde and its first governor. Mr. Marcel Gomes Balla has an equally compelling argument that they are descendants of the Ornelha family from Madeira who once hosted Christopher Columbus during his third voyage to America in 1498. Either way, it’s an interesting find to have a direct connection to this family. This Andre Donelha may be the author or a descendant of the author of the same name of “An Account of Sierra Leone and the Rivers of Guinea of Cape Verde” written in 1625. The book was published again in 1977 edited by Avelino Teixeira da Mota.

Papa’s mother, Maria de Barros Abreu, was the daughter of Pedro de Barros Abreu and Maria Michaelina Lopes Friere. Her paternal grandparents were Andre de Barros Abreu (son of Manuel de Barros Abreu and Maria de Miranda, referred to above) and Joanna d’Andrade, daughter of Luis d’Andrade and Rosa d’Andrade. Maria’s maternal grandparents were Joao Lopes Friere and Rosa Goncalves.

If you’re keeping up with this, Papa’s paternal great-great grandparents were also his maternal great-great grandparents making his parents second cousins and it gets even better…Joao Lopes Friere (Papa’s great grandfather) is family to Luis Lopes Morino Friere, my grandmother, Teia’s, great-great-great grandfather and her grandfather, Isidoro Jose Lopes, was Papa’s great grand uncle.

I had the opportunity to visit Relva, located on the northeast coast of Fogo. The home my grandfather lived in still exists with the most beautiful view of the ocean.

Know Your History. Tell the Truth.

Since the airing of “Light Girls” on the OWN network, questions and comments about race, ethnicity and identity have ranged from vulgar to just plain offensive especially as it pertains to the segment focusing on Amber Rose and her story about family members not attending her wedding because she was marrying an African-American. The documentary is the second from Bill Duke focusing on the issue of colorism in the Black community.

Amber Rose, of Cape Verdean and Italian descent spoke about struggling with colorism within her family her whole life; ” With my family, they feel they are more superior than African American because we’re Creole and we have culture and it’s something I’ve battled with most of my life”.  This single statement sparked controversy among African Americans and Cape Verdeans, although for different reasons. People immediately took to social media to put their two cents in about “those Cape Verdeans playing white among among themselves” (Actual Facebook comment) .

Here’s an example of comments made;

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“Mutt” was thrown around quite a bit in these posts. And, apparently, many people agreed; notice the 16 likes as of the night this episode aired. What was it exactly that sparked this kind of rage toward Cape Verdeans? Was it that she used the words “superior” or “culture”? Was it because she was “airing our dirty laundry”? Was it because she participated in a dialog about an experience that had a profound affect on her life? After all, this was a documentary focusing on the experience of light skinned black women. Was what she said more hateful than the story told by a dozen other women on the same program? What I heard was a story very similar to my own and my reaction was quick and immediate in response to the ignorant comments I read.

In response to this gem

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I posted;

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And then there’s this;

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To which I responded;

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I wasn’t defending the notion that some Cape Verdeans feel a sense of superiority over other blacks. I found myself defending my “Capeverdean-ness” to strangers on Facebook.  I was armed with knowledge, prepared for a fight, but quickly found that the other side just retreated with their tails between their legs. All I did was speak the truth.

We need to have honest conversations about the realities of racism and colorism within the Black community, in general, and within the Cape Verdean community, specifically. And it begins with telling the truth about our history!

I’ve always had a descent amount of awareness in who I was and my identity. Since beginning my genealogical research, my awareness has become an unwavering confidence.

I’ve studied thousands of vital and immigration records. And staring back at me was the story of resilience and survival. I am a descendant of people who lived under the system of slavery, colonialism and European imperialism for over 500 years. I have also had to reconcile facts that include ancestors who owned slaves and who may have been active participants in the Atlantic Slave Trade. In these ways, Cape Verdean history is no different than African American history. The inception of the “creole” population began with the enslavement and exploitation of African women by their European masters. This is an undeniable fact.

The product of this is a genetically diverse population who created a culture that preserved traditions brought over from the African mainland, as well as, those of the very Europeans who were our oppressors. There were attempts to “water it down” by mixing more European blood. But we held steadfast to our “Caboverdeanidade”. They banned us from using our Criolu language but we ardently held on to our language and it is spoken in Cape Verdean homes all over the world. In defiance of ordinances against writing our language, our ancestors wrote and composed in Criolu. Our music was banned but the drumbeat of the Batuku and Tabanka continue to run through our veins. We were left to die during the most brutal droughts and famines but still we survived.

How could I not be proud to call myself a Cape Verdean? I AM A CREOLA!!!

Unfortunately, there are too many among us who don’t know about this history because it has been whitewashed by others who felt it was their duty to tell us who and what we are. Our greatness has been replaced by self-doubt and insecurities that has allowed untruths to be put on us and caused divisions to the extant that we no longer remember who we are. How dare we allow the memory and experience of our ancestors die in vain?

We were told by others that because we had their blood we were different. We were used as middle-men in the Atlantic slave trade. The key word is used. We received no gains. We were made to believe that we had a seat at the table when in reality we were used to as door mats. We were made to believe that our worth was based on our hue. Again, we received no gains. We were just sold at a higher cost. We were made to believe that Africa had no greatness, yet it was Africa that ran through our veins.

When all else failed, the divide and conquer strategy was used in the attempt to make us forget our greatness. Rather than being destroyed by the guns of our enemies we allowed divisiveness within our own families and communities. They couldn’t divide us by banning basic elements of our identity like music and language. Instead color has been used to redirect our hostility toward each other rather than direct it toward the actual reasons for inequities within our society.

Throughout our 500 year history, those of our ancestors who realized their greatness fought back. Rebelados were transported to different islands because they realized our strength in part was in our numbers. Where Caboverdeanos realized that our identity could be preserved in our stories and our language we began to write and compose in Crioulo. When we were left to die during numerous droughts and famines, our courageous ancestors risked their own lives to travel to foreign lands to find a way to take care of their families. When one man dared to speak out against the evils of imperialism and for the liberation of our people, he was killed. But his brilliance and strength live on today and Cabo Verde is an independent nation. Staring back at me in the volumes of records were these truths!

Slavery and colonialism is recorded in history through the eyes of those who were in power. It’s seldom told in the voice of those who lived under its shackles. In Cape Verde, vital records only go back to the early 1800’s. What wasn’t lost from natural disasters have been intentionally destroyed, I believe, with the intention of keeping us mentally oppressed and lost to our identity. Just another attempt to make us forget our “caboverdeanidade”. Amilcar Cabral not only fought a war of guns, but more importantly, of the mind. He understood that we needed to preserve our records not just to tell the story of the struggle for independence to later generations but, in essence, to remember the core of what it meant to be a Caboverdeano.

So why is colorism still dividing us. Do we still not remember our greatness?

As a researcher of Cape Verdean genealogy, I realize that I have a responsibility to try to help preserve the memory of these people and their experiences. Regardless of status, color or origin, our caboverdeanidade is rooted in the history of all the people in Cape Verde. As I said in my response to the Facebook posting, I never imagined that I would be perceived as denying our African-ness by trying to “discover and, more importantly, tell the truth about our history”. When I write here about our ancestors experiences, I did not refer to skin color because, in truth, our ancestors were of all shades and phenotypes. Some were considered white, others black, and still others where identified by numerous classifications.

We are descendants of Fulani, Bantu, Yorubas, Mandinkans and others who were enslaved and forced to endure unspeakable brutalities. We are also descendants of Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews who were persecuted, imprisoned, and exiled because of their religious beliefs. Ironically, even the descendants of the slave masters who remained in Cape Verde quickly assumed the Cape Verdean identity. It’s safe to assume that the truths in the words of this paragraph are the root of the colorism that continues to affect our culture.

The descendants of these people went on to marry one another, have children and build homes with each other. But the legacy of colorism left by the colonialism hasn’t been easy to extinguish. When we realize that it was nothing more than a tool used to make us forget our greatness it becomes possible to allow us to measure ourselves in terms other than color. When we begin to understand the truth of our history and that our skin colors have been used against us we might actually begin to remember our greatness and pass THIS on to our children.

I would be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone that people died for our right to call Cabo Verde an African country. We are Africans with a rich and multicultural heritage that I believe is embraced by our “caboverdeanidade”. It’s important that we make distinctions between race, culture and ethnicity.

Race is a social construct used to divide. Culture is what holds us together. Ethnicity is in the DNA that we can never deny.

In the end, Amber’s “airing out” of our dirty laundry should be used as an opportunity to continue the conversation about race, culture and ethnicity in Cape Verdean communities around the world. Let’s not be afraid to know our history and to tell the truth.