The Cape Verdeans and the PAIGC Struggle For National Liberation: An Interview with Salahudin Omowale Matteos (1973)

The Cape Verdeans and the PAIGC Struggle For National Liberation: An Interview with Salahudin Omowale Matteos (1973)

For many of us who are descendants of Cape Verdean immigrants who arrived in the United States prior to Independence in 1975, the subject of Cape Verdean Independence and Amilcar Cabral, the father of Cape Verdean Independence, is often learned later in life. For many reasons,  identification and connection with a liberation movement in Africa has often been quite elusive. Knowledge of and pride in our European ancestry often overshadowed even acknowledgement of our African ancestry.

From my own reading of his speeches and by most other accounts, Amilcar Cabral was a brilliant theorist and strategist. Understanding that the history that resulted in the creation of the “Caboverdeano” was intrinsically woven with the people of mainland Africa, he sought to integrate Cape Verdeans into the struggle for liberation on the mainland to rid Guinea Bissau AND Cabo Verde of colonial rule. The unification of Cabo Verde with its African brothers was a major priority. But in the years during the struggle and even today, it is not hard to find elements of resistance to the ideas of Cabral and even the idea of Cape Verdean Independence, itself, within the Cape Verdean community in the United States and the Diaspora.

My question has always been WHY???

Mr Salah Matteos, Cape Verdean- American from New Bedford, gives one of the most insightful explanations I have come across in the following excerpt from Ufahamu, Volume III, Number 3, Winter 1973 pigs 43-48 in special issue “In Memoriam Amilcar Cabral, 1925-1973 (1)

The Cape Verdeans and the PAIGC Struggle For National Liberation

An Interview with Salahudin Omowale Matteos

[As many of our contributors to this issue point out, one of the problems which the PAIGC has had to face, but one which it has handled with a great deal of tact and imagination, has been the problem of integrating the Cape Verdeans into the struggle for national liberation. Because the Portuguese used the islands as a major staging post in the infamous traffic in slaves, many Cape Verdeans have had to undergo varying degrees of cultural disorientation and alienation, some of them, alas, suffering an outright loss of identity (2)

During Cabral’s last visit to the United States, it was decided that there was need for a PAIGC Support Committee in the U.S. part of whose assignment would be to raise the general level of awareness among the Cape Verdeans in this country. As Gil Fernandez said, “Most American Cape Verdeans are either ignorant of or apathetic towards the fighting going on in the homeland for the past decade.” One of those intimately involved with the founding of the Support Committee was Salahudin Matteos.

Matteos was born in New Bedford of Cape Verdean parents. After more than a decade of involvement with civil rights, black liberation and peace movements in this country, he left on a trip to Africa and was able to meet with other Cape Verdeans not only in Guine but also in Gambia and Senegal.

Since his return, and on a mandate from the Committee, Matteos has been touring several U.S. colleges and universities, explaining the goals of the PAIGC and soliciting the support of civilized humanity. It was on the invitation of Ufahamu that, on February 23, 1973, he gave a talk to a large group of students at the African Studies Center at UCLA.

We are pleased to carry a transcript of that presentation. We also urge our readers to make whatever contribution they can to the PAIGC Support Committee – Three Pyramids, Box 1510, Duxbury, Massachusetts. Ed. Note.]

I think it would be very useful to begin by giving you a little background about Cape Verdeans. Not too many people know about Cape Verdeans, but that is easily understood. The people who live on the Cape Verde islands were people who were enslaved by the Portuguese and taken from Africa beginning in the fifteenth century. The Portuguese were the first Europeans into Africa and they led the way for other Europeans. One of their first stops was around Senegal, but as they were not successful in establishing fruitful contact with Africans, they went further down the coast to Guinea Bissau. (Its proper name in Africa is Bissau). The Portuguese enslaved the Africans of that area concentrating on societies such as the Fulani, Balanta, and Mandingoes. These Africans were taken to the Archipelago of Cape Verde off the coast of Africa. These islands are some two hundred miles due west from the lower part of Senegal; the farthest point from Africa is about 450 miles. And, of course, Portugal is almost 300 miles away.

All the sorts of atrocities which go hand in hand with slavery were perpetrated by the Portuguese system. On different islands a variety of methods were used to deal with the African mind in order to reshape it. One phase of the enslavement of Africans was to send them to other parts of the world to work. The Portuguese called them oontractos. It was the Portuguese who originated the idea that Africans were not people, but animals. There is a word that we say in Creole, negro cachin (3) which means in Portuguese “blacks are not people.” This gave way to the wholesale slaughter and exploitation of Africans because this was the excuse for treating them in such an inhumane manner.

An example of the different methods used on Africans was that on one island the Portuguese brought together African men and Portuguese prostitutes, who bore children. The fathers were then killed while the women brought up the children to speak Portuguese. Today, most of us do not speak Portuguese except for a few educated in recent years. We speak our own language, Creole, which is part African and part Portuguese.

Cape Verdeans came to the United States only within the past century. In my case my grandparents came to this country seventy years ago. My grandparents were born on Cape Verde. You will find that they came here primarily as contractos. However, they did not view themselves as coming just as workers; they were also looking for freedom because they recognized that on the island they were continually being starved to death. Since the middle of the 18th century, more than 250,000 people have starved to death. More people have died of starvation than have ever lived on the islands. There are thousands of Cape Verdeans in the United States who were forced to leave the islands because of famine. Cape Verdeans have been forced to go to many other countries such as Senegal, Gambia, Holland, France and many other parts of Europe and Africa because of starvation.

Cape Verdeans were brought to the New England area as freed men although they were treated as indentured servants. Thus, a kind of false pride has developed among Cape Verdeans here who say that they are different from Afro-Americans because they were not brought to this country as slaves. But I would like to make a correction. There is no difference between Afro-Americans and Cape Verdeans. The only difference is that the Africans who were taken to Cape Verde were enslaved by the Portuguese and the Afro-Americans who were brought to this country were enslaved by other Europeans. We were both enslaved by Europeans to be used as cheap labor.

Cape Verdeans were brought to the New Bedford and Cape Cod areas, the tri-state area of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. (About 75,000 Cape Verdeans presently live there.) Their main source of employment was working in cranberry bogs for white landowners who were transforming this land for producing cranberries. It was the backs of my grandmother and grandfather who made Ocean Spray what it is today.

Because Cape Verdeans have a rich African heritage, you will find that we have a style of living which is very similar to that of Africa. The kind of foods that we eat are similar to African foods. We eat mandioc , oous-oous (4), arros, manchupo. Our mothers also used to wear long dresses and tie up their hair.

Unfortunately, Cape Verdeans in this country do not identify with our African heritage because they have been brainwashed over several centuries into relating to something which was false. For myself, it was through my contact with Amilcar Cabral and traveling through the liberated zones that I gradually became aware of who I am as an individual. This was a very traumatic experience. I was thinking that I was Portuguese, but I knew that I was not European. So I began to involve myself as a Negro. But the irony is that while I was trying to become a Negro, Negroes were trying to become Black!

Accordingly, it is one of the main purposes of the PAIGC Support Committee to organize and mobilize Cape Verdeans in this country to help support the liberation movement of the PAIGC. We are attempting to give Cape Verdeans the facts about the suffering and famine on Cape Verde islands and how best we can help to raise the level of consciousness of Cape Verdean people to the true facts of their enslavement by the Portuguese system of colonialism. We are hopeful that when Cape Verdeans see the contradictions of their history, they will relate to our Cape Verdean African heritage.

I would now like to give you an idea of the purpose and direction of the PAIGC. The PAIGC has been fighting against the Portuguese colonialists since 1963, but the Party was organized several years before that. We have been fighting a “hot war” since 1963 and have liberated more than two-thirds of that territory. The PAIGC goal is the total liberation of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde islands. After ten years and more of fighting, the people of Guinea Bissau have established an administration and set up schools and hospitals which had never existed under the Portuguese. Last April, the leadership of the PAIGC invited the United Nations to send a special mission to visit the liberated areas and to find out in loco where the liberated areas are and “how they are administered.” After the visit to those areas, the mission recommended to the General Assembly that PAIGC should be considered the only legal authority in the colony. (5)

Under the Portuguese system, very few Africans had the opportunity to go to school. Amilcar Cabral was one of those few who was able to receive a university education; he was trained as an agronomist. Although he was born in Bafata, Guinea Bissau, Amilcar Cabral is a Cape Verdean of Cape Verdean parentage. He came from a privileged class of Africans. However, he was able to understand the magnitude of the problems of his people. He was a brilliant theoretician and pragmatist and recognized that Africans need not borrow ideas wholesale from all over the world because he believed that no one had a monopoly on knowledge.

As I have mentioned, the purpose of the PAIGC Support Committee is to organize and mobilize Cape Verdeans in the United States to help support our liberation movement, but we are also informing all African people in this country to become involved in supporting and relating to our struggle against Portuguese colonialism in Africa. The fight against Portuguese colonialism is the most important struggle in Africa today. The Portuguese are the last bulwark of European colonialism in Africa. They were the first to come and they are the last to leave. Most of the aid supporting Portugal comes from the United States through NATO to help Portugal maintain her wars of oppression in Africa. In Cape Verde, we are not yet fighting a “hot war,” but we do have a strong clandestine organization which is working effectively. That is significant for those of us who are involved in the liberation of our people.

I want to make it very clear that when I talk about Portugal, I am talking about the Portuguese system, not the Portuguese people. Our struggle is not against the Portuguese peasant or farmer who is suffering at the hands of fascism, but against the oppressive Portuguese system of colonialism. So, we even ask the Portuguese people of this country that they should be about the business of relating to what is happening in Portugal because they should realize that what is happening in Africa only mirrors the exploitation in Portugal. They should realize that about 45% of the population of Portugal is still illiterate and is controlled by an oligarchy which is linked up with western imperialism. We are against that system of government which perpetuates colonialism in Africa. Fifty percent of the Portuguese budget is spent on military activities in Africa; that money could be spent on education or social programs.

I also want to reiterate that our struggle is not a color issue between black and white. Our struggle is between the oppressor and the oppressed. We don’t view our struggle as being racist, we don’t see our fight as against white people although we are opposing white supremacy.

A question which I have been asked is what will happen to the struggle in Guinea Bissau now that Cabral is dead. One of the myths of the western world is that Africans are incapable of ruling themselves or making an orderly transition of government. They want to make you think that every time something happens, everything will fall apart. They assassinated Mondlane, but the fighters of FRELIMO have intensified their struggle in Mozambique. They killed Patrice Lumumba, but they did not stop progressive change in Africa. When Kwame Nkrumah died, the struggle in Africa did not stop. Certainly, the loss of Cabral will be felt deeply by the PAIGC, but whoever it is that they elect will carry on the struggle and it will gain the support of our people.

Angola will be free. Mozambique will be free. Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde will be free. Africa will be free (6). The end result will depend on what we all do.

QUESTION: An important question which we have been considering lately is the role of Cape Verdeans in the organization of the PAIGC. Would you please tell us how the people of Guinea Bissau view Cape Verdeans?

ANSWER: I think we should realize that Portugal went into Guinea Bissau and did many of the same things that she did on the Cape Verde islands. You will find, for instance, that those in the mainland speak the same type of Creole dialect that Cape Verdeans do. We don’t view ourselves as any different. We are all the same. I was there in the mainland and I was accepted. But if I go there as a Cape Verdean and a Portuguese at the same time, you can understand why I might not be accepted. You must remember that the Portuguese sent Cape Verdeans to her African colonies to serve as functionaries and to work as administrators over other Africans. They were led to believe that they were better than other Africans. These Cape Verdeans were, of course, only serving the interests of Portuguese colonialism. One of Amilcar Cabral’s important contributions was to deal with the problem of integrating Cape Verdeans with mainland Africans.

Some folks have also asked why we aren’t fighting on Cape Verde. The reason why we are fighting in Guinea Bissau first is that it was far more realistic strategically to initiate the struggle on the mainland. Amilcar Cabral’s position was that not even twins are born at the same time. We will take care of the birth of the first child and then the second. We would still like to bring about a negotiated settlement before the physical combat spreads into the Cape Verde islands, but if the situation demands it we would have no choice. There can be no alternative to the total independence of our people.

*My notes:

  1. Amilcar Cabral was born on September 12, 1924 in Bafata, Guinea-Bissau not 1925
  2. The sections in Bold explain some of the “resistance” to the liberation movement within the Cape Verdean community.
  3. This is a transcription of the interview with Mr Matteos. “Negro cachin” is probably “Negro ka genti”.
  4. “Oous-oous” probably refers to Cous Cous.
  5. The United Nations General Assembly approved, on November 2, 1973, a resolution that condemned the “illegal occupation by Portuguese military forces of certain sectors of the Republic of Guinea Bissau and acts of aggression committed by them against the people of the Republic”. One UN representative noted that an affirmative vote meant recognition of Guinea Bissau. There were seven (7) negative votes that day from Portugal, Brazil and Greece (both military dictatorships at the time), Spain (under the rule of Franco), South Africa (Apartheid), Britain … and the United States of America. During draft resolution debates, a Saudi delegate argued “Is that Statue of Liberty with its torch a sham?”.
  6. Angola became independent on November 11, 1975. Mozambique became independent on January 25, 1975. Guinea-Bissau became independent on September 24, 1973. Cabo Verde became Independent on July 5, 1975. Djibouti is the last African nation to gain its independence on June 27, 1977. Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (bordered by Morocco and Mauritania) is only partially recognized as of February 27, 1976.

Everyday Life 

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

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.

image

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.

image

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…

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 😊

Aye, Nha Leandra! # 52 Ancestors

Aye, Nha Leandra! # 52 Ancestors

The only spanking my great-grandmother, Bibi, ever got from her father was when she refused to go to the cemetery to put flowers on the grave of her sister, Clara. She said that her father told her that she shouldn’t be afraid to go there because sooner or later we would all end up there. But it wasn’t fear that made her refuse. It was because the cemetery was located on a mountain in Nossa Senhora do Monte named after her great-great grandmother, “Nha Leandra”.

When someone passed and was buried at this cemetery, someone would inevitably recite something like;

“Aye, Nha Leandra! Dja bu toma’m nha mae!”                                                                                                                (Aye, Nha Leandra! You’ve taken my mother!)

Bibi just hated the fact that people said that her ancestor had taken their loved one! I don’t really blame her for taking the risk of a spanking to avoid visiting a place associated with such sadness and knowing you have a more personal connection with its namesake.
Of course, being the genealogy sleuth that I am, I had to find out who Nha Leandra was and why she had a mountain named after her.  

Leandra Pereira Dias  

On December 29, 1811, in the church of São João Baptista in Brava, Joaquim de Barros son of Antonio de Barros and his wife, Maria Pires, married Leandra Pereira, daughter of Angelo Dias and Maria Pereira.

 

My great-great-great-great-great grandparents received a special dispensation by the Bishop of Cape Verde to marry since they shared the same great-great grandparents. In older marriage records, such marriages included a notation such as ” forão dispensado a 4 com 4 grãos de consanguinidade”. There were 4  “degrees” of separation between each of my great x5 grandparents and their common ancestor. Siblings are 1 degree removed from their parents, first cousins have 2 degrees of separation from their common grandparents, second cousins or first cousins once removed have 3 degrees of separation, etc.

Joaquim’s father, Antonio de Barros, left one of the largest wills known to exist in the national archives of Cape Verde. It contains over 650 pages and contains information that includes ownership vast amounts of land in Brava and how it was devided between his heirs. The will also includes information of slaves the family may have owned and probably freed after he died. It was customary in Cape Verde that any enslaved people were to be freed after their master died.  I hope this was the case for my great x6 grandfather. I have not been able to actually read this will as I am still waiting for special permission to receive a copy after proving my descendancy.

This may help to explain how Leandra came to have a whole mountain named after her. In baptism records for her grandchildren, Leandra is listed as the sole grandparent listed without Joaquim which means that he probably died young. I have not seen any information that said women didn’t inherit from the husbands. It is safe to assume that Leandra would have been left with any land and property from her husband.

GENERATION 1 

Joaquim and Leandra had five children that I have been able to find so far;

1. Manuel de Barros (b. 1816- d. 1891)

2. Joanna de Barros (b. April 8, 1825)

3. Alexandrina de Barros

4. Anna de Barros (b. 1816- d. 1889)

5. * Aniceta de Barros married Celestino Duarte, son of Zacharias Duarte and Isabel de Barros.

GENERATION 2

Aniceta was known as “Nha Nicetra de Leandra”. Celestino and Nha Nicetra had at least 12 children, including my great-great grandmother, Clara de Nha Nicetra. I have only found records for 8 of the 12 children.

1. Catherina Duarte married to Antonio Jose Lopes

2. Julia Duarte married to Antonio Tavares, child – Eugenia Tavares ( Jania de Neka)

3. Manuel Duarte married to Maria Pires do Livramento, child – Joaquim Manuel Duarte

4. Carlotta Duarte (b. 1847)

5. Joao Duarte (b. February 20, 1845)

 6. Emilia Duarte married to Joaquim Rodrigues

7. Eugenia Duarte married to Jose Tavares da Silva

8. * Clara Duarte married to Jose Coelho (b. 1845) , son of Marcelino Jose Coelho and Desidaria Rodrigues.

GENERATION 3


Clara Duarte married Jose Coelho on February 12, 1870 which fell on a Wednesday. Their marriage also received special dispensation by the Bishop of Cape Verde as they shared great-great grandparents. They had at least 9 children;

1. Adelia married to Augusto Jose Fonseca

2. Henrique Jose Coelho (b. 1870) aka Henry Rodgers married to Margarida Duarte

3. Joao Jose Coelho (b. 1871) married to Maria Ozorio

4. Carlotta Coelho (b. July 2, 1873)

5. Julia Coelho (b. 1878) married to Francisco Jose da Lomba, children – Maria and Jose

6. Maria Coelho “Ma Mulatta” married to Joaquim da Costa – children Joao, Arminda, Clara and Carlotta (twins)

7. Manuel Jose Coelho (b. June 15, 1881) married to Mariana Jose Coelho

8. Luis Jose Coelho (b. October 7, 1887) married to Amelia Tavares

9. * Antonio Jose Coelho (b. 1879-1918) married to Rosa da Lomba Goncalves (1886-1918), daughter of Julio Goncalves and Carolina Correia da Lomba.

GENERATION 4

My great-great grandparents, Antonio and Rosa, lived in Tome Barraz and had four children;

1. Julio Antonio Coelho (b. 1908 – d. 1971) married to Rovilla Fern Youle, children – Myrtle and Rose Coelho and their descendants live in Northern California

2. Carolina Coelho (b. 1912 – d. 1998) married Joao dos Santos, children Antonio, Joaquim, Arthur, Irene and Idilia dos Santos and their descendants live in Cape Verde, California, Massachusetts and Rhode Island

3. Clara Coelho (b. Unknown)

4.  * Maria “Bibi” Coelho (b. 1904- d. 2003) married to Avelino Rodrigues (b. 1900 – d. 1929), had one daughter Rosa Rodrigues (b. 1923 – d. 2003) married to Raimundo Fortes Lima, son of Marcelino Teofilo Rodrigues and Joanna Fortes Ramos Lima (b. 1876 – d. 1961). Their descendants live in Massachusetts … Except for one who lives in Maryand and calls herself the Creola Genealogist 😃.

Finding Sylvania, #52 Ancestors

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.

sebastiao's marriage record

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.

Know Your History. Tell the Truth.

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.

 

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