A few years ago, I happened to be interviewed by a reporter for a Cape Verdean radio show. One of the questions pertained to who I was and who my family was. Before I could filter what came out of my mouth, I said, “I’m Nanie de Ramizi de Rosinha de Nha Maria Rosinha de Cham de Souza”! In one breath, I had given him 5 generations of my family history in Cham de Sousa, Nossa Senhora do Monte. While I’m sure he would have been satisfied with my first and last name, I merely answered the question as I have heard many Cape Verdeans respond to the same question growing up in Massachusetts.
We joke about the fact the most Cape Verdeans don’t know each other’s official names. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have sat down to interview a family member and was given names like “Ma Lina Nha Sena”, “Lota de Nha Tansha”, “Genio Culung” and “Genia de Neka”. My own grandmother went by Matitita. I have cousins named Maria Lora, Maria Fidjinha, Maria Meninha and Maria Bia who are all “Maria” and are identified by their mothers, Laura, Virginia (Fidjinha), Meninha, and Bia. Then there’s Mane Bia, Mane Candia and Mane Creola, all family members named Manuel whose mothers were Bia, Candida, and … Well, I have no idea who “Creola” was, lol! Try finding these people in vital records where everyone is literally named Maria, Gertrudes, Manuel, Jose and Joao… Well, It might just be easier finding that needle in a haystack!
Naming conventions or naming traditions in Cape Verde can be a little tricky to navigate. Like many Portuguese “rules”, a first son may be named after the father’s father and the first daughter named after the mother’s mother. More often than not names were recycled in almost every generation! Middle names were often used by both men and women to identify which branch of the family they belonged. In my Coelho tree, Jose was the middle name given to all the sons and daughters of Jose Coelho. Not be confused with children of his brother Joao who also used the middle name Joao and sometimes Jose. Maria is also a common middle name for men, ie, Jose Maria Feijoo. There’s also the mysterious changing middle name. Marcelino Antonio Coelho was also Marcelino Jose Coelho.
I think this is one tradition we should continue. People do refer to my children as “Nia de Nanie de Ramizi” or “Tyson de Nanie de Ramizi”. It will help later generations trace their trees much easier. Knowing that my Great-grandmother was known as Maria Rosinha made it easier to find records for her mother, Rosa.
So my real name is… Nanie de Ramizi de Rosinha de Nha Maria Rosinha de Cham de Sousa … AND… Nanie de Jose de Sevala de Nha Nuka de Ma Tila de Nho Mane Valentina… It’s also Nanie de Jose de Popinho de Nho Djedje de Relva. But you can call me Anna or even the Creola Genealogist 😊
Ask anyone who has spent many hours painstakingly sifting through baptism, marriage and obituary records and they will tell you that it is a labor of love. We will admit that its tedious at best but it’s completely worth it to find the one gem in a sea of minutiae of awful handwriting and abbreviations that make no sense. And when the awful handwriting and nonsensical abbreviations are in a different language… well you might begin to understand why we may not always want to just give away what we worked so hard to find.
I recently found a marriage record for my great-great-great-great-great grandparents, Manuel da Lomba and Dorothea de Burgo, who were married on April 4, 1816 in the Sao Joao Baptista in Brava. Manuel’s parents were Antonio da Lomba and Rosa Rodrigues and Dorothea’s were Nicolao de Burgo and Maria de Andrade Gilmete. From this record, I now had the names of MY great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents! Its such a great feeling to be able to go back one more generation.
But when you really think about it, I had just found the names of the great x6 grandparents for thousands of people. These people don’t just belong to me. No matter how much I would like to believe that my tree only belongs to me because I am the one doing the research, the reality is that it belongs to all the descendants of these people. I don’t own my ancestors.
It’s this idea that makes me share my research and my ancestors with others. I hope that what I’ve been able to uncover will inspire others to expand this tree or work on their own. The best feeling is being contacted by someone who has found one of my blog posts and tells me that they are a descendant of that person and they want to know more about the family and the culture. Helping people connect with their Cape Verdean roots is just as gratifying as finding the names of an elusive ancestor.
But most importantly, these are stories about our ancestors in their own words through records that date back to the early 1800’s. We have been accustomed to other people telling us about who and what WE are. So with this in mind, I will continue to “share” my ancestors and I will tell their stories in hopes of creating a new narrative of what it means to be of Cape Verdean descent in their own words.
About five years ago, I became a volunteer at the local Family History Center at the Mormon Church located in Annapolis, MD.
YES, you read it correctly, I spent many Saturday mornings and occasional evenings during the week at a Mormon Church just so I could get direct access to genealogical records! When I first learned the Mormon Church had archived Church records for each of the islands in Cape Verde and the only place I could see them was at the Center I did what any logical genealogist would do to get unfettered access.
I spent countless hours ordering then scanning each record for the islands of Brava, Fogo and Boa Vista. I felt like the luckiest person in the world armed with quite a few flash drives painstakingly filled with baptism, marriage and obituary records of my ancestors. Life was good. But now it’s gotten better!
Had I known that one day ALL of the records would be available online I could have saved some money and spent my Saturday’s doing something a bit more exciting. Now anyone can have access to these vital records though the Family Search website available through the Mormon church.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😃.
I recently posted this on the Azores genealogy group on Facebook
To which I got this reply,
Doug had found a baptism record for Francisco who was born in April 10, 1799 in Quatro Ribeiras in the parish of Santa Beatris, Terceira. Franisco was the son of Jacinto Coelho de Mello and Joaquina Luiza, who was a natural of Biscoitos, in the parish of Sao Pedro. Francisco’s paternal grandparents were Joam Coelho de Mello and Francisca Marianna and his maternal grandparents were Joam Machado da Rosa and Agostinha da Rosa.
I am only beginning my research of records from the Azores but I have found that the Coelho’s were among the first families to settle in the Azores and the island of Terceira, specifically. There are two branches of the family, descendants of Joao Coelho and Luis Afonso Coelho.
The donatorio, Jácome de Bruges, gave land to these first families. João Coelho was given Porto Judeu.
João Coelho married Catherine Rodrigues da Costa in 1456 , after her husband settled in Porto Judeu . They had the following children:
1 – Salvador Coelho, who was married to D. Catarina Martins.
2 – Baltazar Coelho, who married twice, the first with Dona Ana Cabeceiras and the second with D. Violame of Valadão.
3 – Gaspar Coelho married Violante Nunes.
4 – António Coelho, married in Angra do Heroismo with F. Mourato.
5 – Fernao Coelho, who died as a child.
6 – Bartolomeu Coelho, married in Belo Jardim, Victoria Beach Agnes Bridge.
7 – Francisco Coelho, married Maria de Barros.
8 – Margarida Coelho also married Diogo da Ponte.
9 – Nicolau Coelho.
Francisco, Antonio and Nicolau are all common first names in my Coelho family tree.
My great-grandmother, Maria Coelho, affectionately known as Bibi, was one of the most pious women I have ever known. She was a devout Catholic and had a moral compass that was unparalleled. There was no in between with her. You were either right or you were wrong. She demanded that you treat yourself with respect and that you carried yourself with the utmost propriety. In the 30 years that I had the honor of knowing her, I am convinced that she never did anything wrong.
In 1998, Bibi suffered a major stroke. That morning, Vovo, my grandmother, called me to come over and help her with Bibi because she just wasn’t acting right. I was in grad school at the time studying to become a Speech and Language Pathologist and I immediately recognized that she was having a stroke. While she was still able to speak, it wasn’t making much sense. We got her to the ER and I’m with her as the Dr was checking her out. He asked if she spoke any English. I said “No”. Of course, Bibi looks at him and says “Dr, Nobody’s home!”… In perfect English!!!
I had studied in class certain phenomenon that happened with a persons language skills after a stroke, like forgetting their native language and only speaking a second language. So at that point, Bibi had started to speak only English. I had NEVER heard Bibi speak English in my life. There I was worried about my 94 year old great grandmother suffering a major stroke and I’m giggling in the ER in shear disbelief over what I just heard!
By the end of that day, she was stable but not speaking … In Criolu or English. I spent the night with her after and was with her when she woke up the next morning. I asked her how she was and she looked at me and said “Alberto”. Every time she opened her mouth to speak, she said “Alberto”. All I kept thinking was “Who in the world is Alberto?”.
Nobody knew who Alberto was. No one had even ever heard Bibi mention Alberto. Her husband’s name was Avelino. So who was Alberto and why was that the only thing she could say????
To make matters worse, a social worker visited my great-grandmother in the hospital to have some paperwork done regarding a Medical Power of Attorney, etc. She apparently asked Bibi who she wanted to handle her medical decisions and Bibi responded “Alberto”. So later that day, I arrived at the hospital and asked a nurse about Bibi’s condition and she told me she couldn’t talk to anyone except “Alberto”!!!!
Needless to say, I caused a bit of a ruckus and made sure everyone understood that she had Aphasia and could ONLY say that one word.
Bibi’s speech eventually came back and she was back to her normal self in no time. At 94, she wasn’t about to let a little stroke keep her from going back to being our family matriarch. One day, I asked her who “Alberto” was. She never responded but gave me that look that meant I better not ask again if I valued my life.
To this day, every time I look at vital records from Cape Verde, I’m always keeping an eye out for someone named Alberto who almost became my Great Grandmother’s Medical Power of Attorney 🙂
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
My 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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;
“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 an honest 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
I found myself defending my “Capeverdean-ness” to strangers on Facebook. What was most interesting is that I didn’t have many rebuttals to the points I was making. I was armed with knowledge, prepared for a fight, but quickly found that the other side retreated with tail between legs. All I did was speak the truth.
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 and colonialism 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 many ways, Cape Verdean history has similarities to 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?
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. 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 and Mandinkans 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 married each other, had children and built homes with each other. But the legacy of colorism left by the colonizers 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.