Cape Verdeans

views updated May 08 2018

Cape Verdeans

ETHNONYMS: In New England: Black Portuguese, Brava, Crioul


Identification. Most Cape Verdeans dwell in their native Cape Verde Islands off the coast of West Africa. Diaspora settlements, however, are located around the world. "Cape Verde" refers to the green color of the islands that sailors first saw after traveling south from European shores. "Black Portuguese" refers to the Cape Verdeans who settled in New England; they are distinct from other black Portuguese-speaking people from the islands of the Portuguese empire (principally Azoreans) who often settled in the same New England Neighborhoods where Cape Verdeans lived. "Crioul" refers to the language the Cape Verdeans speak. In New England the term "Crioulo" also refers to their distinctive life-style.

Location. The archipelagoes of ten larger islands of Cape Verde, of which nine are inhabited, and numerous uninhabited islets are located between 17°13 and 14°48 N and 22°40 and 25°22 W, about 455 kilometers from the West African coast. Good tradewinds, desirable natural resources of fresh water and salt, and good currents helped make Cape Verde a port of trade in the sixteenth century. Its strategic geopolitical and military position continues to make it a desirable base of operations between Europe and Africa. Its climate is tied to that of the Sahel region of Africa and therefore is dry, with low average rainfall, at 25-30 centimeters annually. Drought is common.

Demography. In 1988 the population estimate for Cape Verde was 357,478 (295,703 in the 1980 census). Population density is 89 persons per square kilometer, with a population growth of 0.92 percent (urbanites were 31.5 percent of the total population in 1988). In 1985 the total labor force was 81,700, and life expectancy was 63 years. In 1988 infant mortality was estimated at 65 per 1,000. The majority ethnic group is mestico, or people of mixed racial heritage, whose skin color ranges from white to black. Cape Verdean settlements of up to 50,000 people can be found in New England, especially in and around Boston (Massachusetts), New Bedford (Massachusetts), and Providence (Rhode Island). There are also settlements in Rotterdam, the Netherlands; in France; in the West African states that formerly were Portuguese colonies (Sao Tome, Principe, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, and Senegal); and in Portugal.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Cape Verdeans speak Portuguese, the official language, as their contact language. Crioulo, however, is their everyday language. It has a Portuguese morphology and an African phonetic system; lexical items derive from both.

History and Cultural Relations

The Cape Verdeans were born of west European colonialism and African slavery. Most likely the islands were used by African and Arab fishing folk and sailors as seasonal bases and as safe ports and provisioning points. They were not discovered and claimed until 1460 when Antonio di Noli and Diogo Gomes assumed control over the Windward Islands (Sotavento) in the name of King Alfonso V of Portugal. Two years later, Diogo Alfonso sighted the Leeward Islands (Barlavento). From then on settlers arrived from Algarve and the Madeira Islands and from the Iberian Peninsula. The largest numbers of these settlers were political exiles, adventurers, and criminals, as well as Portuguese administrators and clergy. The mixing of slaves with these settlers created Luso- (or Portuguese-) African and Afro-Portuguese ethnic groups such as Ladinos, mesticos, and tangomaus, on the one hand, and degredados, feitors, and lançados, on the other hand (see below for further discussion of terms).

Since its settlement in the fifteenth century, Cape Verde was closely linked with the region of Africa now called Guinea-Bissau. The slave-trade economy linked the islands with Africa, western Europe, and the New World in the sixteenth century. During the seventeenth century, slaving increased, although the role of Portuguese vessels declined. By the eighteenth century, whaling had become a crucial aspect of Cape Verdean development and often the only means of escape from drought and abject poverty for the men. This business created a link with New England, whose whaling industry was famous. Contact with New England provided opportunities for Cape Verdeans to settle in North America. Furthermore, American interests kept slaving alive. The "African Squadron" was created in the 1850s to prevent continued American involvement in West African slave trading.

In 1884-1885 the Berlin Congress confirmed the Territorial claims that separated Portuguese and French colonies. In 1870 Guinea-Bissau was separated from Cape Verde for the first time. This division gave Portugal greater administrative control over both regions. The abolition of the Portuguese monarchy in 1910 and the seizure of power by Fascists in 1926 changed little for the islanders. In 1963 Portugal claimed Cape Verde as an "overseas province." It was no longer a colony.

Decolonization in Africa also generated an armed national liberation struggle in Cape Verde, led by the PAIGC, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. PAIGC was founded in 1956 in Guinea-Bissau, having its origins in an earlier clandestine group founded by Henri Labery and the nationalist leader and revolutionary philosopher Amilcar Cabrai. Military confrontations Between Portugal and PAIGC marked the 1960s, forcing the Portuguese government in 1971 and 1972 to revise the Portuguese constitution and to pass the Overseas Organic Law, thus giving Portugal's overseas provinces even more autonomy. Despite the assassination of Cabrai on 20 January 1973, the PAIGC under the leadership of Aristides Pereira formed a new state, which by October 1973 had received diplomatic recognition from countries around the globe. In April 1974, the Portuguese Armed Forces Movement successfully overthrew the Fascist regime and negotiated full independence. On 30 June 1975, a general election was held for representatives to the Cape Verdean People's National Assembly, an act that represented the independence of Cape Verde. The Republic of Cape Verde officially declared its independence on 5 July 1975, although maintaining a unity of state with Guinea-Bissau. In 1980, a coup d'etat split PAIGC and Divided the state into its geographically distinct parts. Cape Verde became an independent country, separate from Guinea-Bissau.


Initial settlement through land grants destined the majority of Cape Verdeans to varying states of poverty, destitution, and dependence. The island of Santiago was divided between Diogo Gomes and its codiscoverer, Antonio di Noli; their families retained rights over the island for 130 years. While initial settlement took place upon discovery, it was through slavery that the islands became populated. The first capital was Ribeira Grande (now known as Cidade Velha), abandoned with the economic decline and the self-liberation of slaves on Santiago. Praia, on the island of Santiago, became the capital. Slaves (domestic servants and plantation workers) escaped into the interior, especially on Santiago. They established communities that traded with white settlers. In the mid-nineteenth century freed slaves became small peasants on marginal land and landless laborers. Famines ravaged the population in 1770, 1830, and a generation later. Each time between 40 and 50 percent of the population perished. At the turn of the twentieth century, another drought struck with accompanying famine, killing 25 percent of the population.

The first settlements were created on Santiago in 1462. Sugar plantations were planned, modeled after those of the island of Madeira. Santiago residents were granted exclusive rights to the slave trade along the section of the Guinea coast nearest to the island because their lands were unable to produce sugar for the export market. Portuguese colonial landlords and merchants on the African mainland prevented Cape Verdean economic expansion. Cape Verdean smuggling developed as an important social and economic activity in response to this trade restriction.

Lançado merchants were active along the Guinea coast. Initially they were primarily Jews and then increasingly mulattoes. They also settled along the Gambia River and in Sierra Leone.

Piracy and attacks by foreign flotillas destroyed coastal towns, forcing many of those who survived to flee and settle in the interior.

Droughts shaped Cape Verdean settlement patterns, forcing people to move to areas of relative plenty. Furna, a town on Brava, was created in such a fashion. Droughts forced peasants into cities to obtain alms or public relief, creating shantytowns. Droughts also were responsible for longterm labor migration, following the extension of the Portuguese Empire. For example, Cape Verdean men and women went to the notorious labor camps in the cacao plantations of Sao Tome and Principe.

Sharecropping patterns have changed little since emancipation from slavery and, since independence in 1975, have been defined by absentee landlordism. In practice, though no longer by law, civil authorities usually reinforced traditional patterns of race and class differentiation. The black or mulatto peasant or laborer was as vulnerable to brutality from the police, under the direction of the administrator, as from the landlords. About 90 percent of the Cape Verdeans work as peasants, laborers, or fishers.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. As a socialist country, Cape Verde maintains a mixed economy. State-operated concerns such as the Empresa Publica de Bastecimento (Public Supply Company) or the Sociedade para a Comercializacão e Apoio ao Pesca Artesanal (Society for Fish Purchasing and Marketing) must turn a profit. Remittances from immigrant communities and the substantial aid packages put together by Cape Verde's aid partners have provided crucial economic support for Cape Verdeans. Remittances have played a central role in sustaining household economies since the establishment of diaspora communities. The central government maintains a hands-off policy regarding private investments. Agriculture has been virtually ignored, requiring the importation of most of the islands' food. In rural areas, agricultural production consists almost exclusively of maize, beans, sugarcane, and bananas, although drought has steadily decreased output. Five percent of all Production is produced by 29 percent of the working population.

Industrial Arts. Cape Verdeans use natural resources to fashion ornaments and household implements. For example, men carve coconut shells and sperm-whale teeth into a riety of decorative and utilitarian items. Women weave panos, strips of cotton cloth of West African texture and designs, which were originally woven on simple Mandingo strip looms. Cape Verdean weavers added indigo dye and wove elaborate Moorish or Portuguese designs in contrasting white thread. Pano production, for export as well as local use, involves local cotton growing, dying, spinning, and weaving. The indigo plant and Urzella lichen produce blue dyes, used in the Production of panos, which also have become an important export item.

Trade. The slave trade in Cape Verde started in the sixteenth century, intensified between 1475 and 1575, declined in the early nineteenth century, and ended in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Slaves were replaced by contratados, or contract labor. The export of labor, through contract or immigration, continued to be important well into the twentieth century. During the slaving period, metals, textiles, beads, spices, silver coins for jewelry making, wine, and brandy were traded through the port of Santiago to the Guinea coast. In addition to slaves, Africa exported ivory and beeswax. The "triangular trade" refers to trading relations that tied together New England colonies, the West Indies, and western Africa. Slave trade stimulated other trade in Cape Verdean goods, including animals, salt, and textiles. Panos and indigo dyes were important export items. The abolition of slavery in the middle of the nineteenth century stimulated the market-driven production of palm and coconut products. In the twentieth century, Cape Verde has had to import food because it lacks sufficient water for irrigation.

Division of Labor. Patriarchy has shaped Cape Verdean society. Women bear the brunt of an economy unable to sustain nuclear-family households. Over the centuries, men have had to go in search of work at sea or in America, Europe, or Africa. Women traditionally carried the burden of sustaining the household, often made up of many children, including illegitimate offspring of wealthier men of the region.

Land Tenure. Plantation agriculture resulted in latifundia. Land grants were made in the early sixteenth century by the Portuguese crown to the first settlers and inherited through primogeniture norms, which were broken often. In 1864, the universal primogeniture rule was abolished. For the most part, landownership among Cape Verdeans was severely limited. With the abolition of slavery, freed slaves became sharecroppers on the land of their former owners, paying as much as one-half of their crop to landlords until Independence in 1975. Tenant farmers and sharecroppers were dependent on merchant-moneylender-landlords. Black and mulatto peasants were particularly subject to their coercive brutality, often backed up by local authorities who continued to enforce traditional discriminatory race and class relations.

Emigrants have played an important role in land tenure on the islands. Cape Verdeans living abroad maintain ownership of land inherited from their families and often return from the United States or France to retire. Such people have significant economic and political power.


Kin Groups and Descent. Cape Verdean kinship is bilateral with a patrilineal preference. The more favored ancestry derives from the white colonial population rather than the African, though the latter is by far the more important demographic factor. Fictive kin practices include godparenthood, or compadrio. When slaves were freed, often a compadrio relationship was maintained between master and freed slave. Illegitimacy is a common feature in Cape Verdean history. Often, lançados (illegal traders and merchants) were illegitimate offspring (filhos de fora ) who used their patrilineal kin networks to ply their trade. Genealogies are used primarily to identify others as descendants of slaves or oneself as a descendant of Europeans.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage relations focus on race as a central organizing feature. Marriage ideally occurs between social and economic equals, as defined by skin color and racial heritage. Premarital sexual relations for women are considered a dishonor, no matter the race of the sex partner. For men, an active sex life is an expected element of "manhood" and knows no racial bounds. Men are supposed to marry within or above their class and within or lighter than their color. The different islands traditionally had slight variations in marriage customs. In Brava and Fogo, the preference for first-cousin Marriage was a strategy for maintaining resources within a family and therefore was practiced among the wealthy. Preferential first-cousin marriages also ensured racial purity. While Marriage norms discouraged racial, class, and kindred exogamy, everyday life gave people opportunities to rebel against or reject such norms. Among Protestants, religionrather than race or classdefined status, allowing the expansion of mixed marriages. Finally, economic means could transcend all other barriers to marriage. Wealthy men of color found white and "aristocratic" marriage partners. Remittances from immigrant family members enabled traditionally impoverished people and people of color to move into higher status categories.

Domestic Unit. Stem families are common and reflect the poverty under which many Cape Verdeans subsist. The size of a household unit depends on the number of children. Matrifocal households are common, a phenomenon related to a poverty that forces men to seek work elsewhere.

Inheritance. Traditionally, land was inherited on the basis of primogeniture, a norm that continues with exceptions in Santiago. In Fogo, the preference for marriages between first cousins in the landlord class has kept landholdings among wealthy families.

Socialization. Children are very much loved and live within a wide network of family relations that tie together Individuals spread out over many parts of the world. Adults teach children class and race consciousness to help them function properly in Cape Verdean society. Rites of passage related to Roman Catholic traditions prevail.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Traditional patterns of cooperative labor, juntamao, have given way to cooperative associations for production. Divisions of social organization based on slavery and race have blended with class divisions. Miscegenation was an important historical factor and remains the rule. Mulattoes in Cape Verde make up specialized strata within racially and class-stratified society. Skin color and other physical characteristics remain a central organizing principle in society. The hegemony of machismo defines gender relations.

Political Organization. The Republic of Cape Verde constitution defines the state as democratic and revolutionary nationalist. Its objectives include "the construction of a Society free from the exploitation of man by man." By definition, the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (the PAICV) is the "leading political force in the society and in the state." The PAICV is the successor political party to the PAIGC, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (discussed earlier in this essay). In 1974, after armed struggle against Portugal, the new Republic of Guinea-Bissau gained independence. On 5 July 1975, the Cape Verde Islands won their independence as the Republic of Cape Verde. The two republics of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde were united for five years, until their separation in November 1980. With the liberation of Cape Verde from Portuguese colonialism, the legitimacy of the state has increased. The state continues to penetrate further into the lives of even the most remote communities. The Cape Verdean People's National Assembly (ANP) is made up of elected deputies from around the country. Party membership is not necessary. A list of deputies is generated through a consultative process at the level of villages and workplace meetings. The ANP has the power to legislate in its meetings twice each year. In practice, however, the ANP is primarily a ratifying body. The president and the prime minister have the formal powers of government in their hands. Nonetheless, the ANP represents an important democratic element in the formal political structure of Cape Verde society. It is the focus of popular elections and debate regarding legislation.

Social Control. Local social structures, based on class and race, maintain social conformity. Self-government has been difficult at times because of passive political participation, which is a legacy of centuries of authoritarian political regimes. In recent times, youth have mobilized politically through the JAACCV (Juventude Africana Amilcar CabralCabo Verde, or Amilcar Cabral's African Youth of Cape Verde). Women are organized through the OMCV (Organização das Mulheres de Cabo Verde, or Cape Verdean Women's Organization). Both organizations reflect the democratic centralism of PAICV. Another mass organization is the UNTCCS (União Nacional dos Trabalhadores de Cabo VerdeCentral Sindical or National Union of Cape Verdean WorkersCentral Union), the federation of trade unions. Organizations for mass mobilization, such as JAACCV and OMCV, are expanding the ability for people to obtain greater justice at the local level.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Cape Verdeans are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. In the early 1900s the Protestant Church of the Nazarene and the Sabbatarians had successful conversion drives. Each was able to build a church and translate the Gospels into Crioulo. Only 2 percent of the population is not Roman Catholic. Patron-saint festivals are commonly observed through the incorporation of non-Catholic activities. In the 1960s, rebelados, remote Sao Tiago peasants, rejected the authority of the Portuguese Catholic missionaries and began to perform their own baptism and marriage rituals. These people also are referred to as badius, descendants of runaway slaves, and are less assimilated than other groups into Portuguese and Cape Verdean national culture. (More recently, "badius" has become an ethnic term referring to the people of Santiago.) In one annual festival, or festa, in honor of Fogo's patron, Saint Philip, men, women, and children from the poorer classes parade down to the beach early in the morning, led by five horsemen invited as honored guests. Saint John's and Saint Peter's day festivals on the islands of Sao Vicente and Santo Antão include the performance of the coladera, a procession dance accompanied by drums and whistles. During the canta-reis, a festa to welcome the new year, musicians serenade neighborhoods by moving from house to house. They are invited in to eat canjoa (chicken and rice soup) and gufongo (cake made from corn meal) and drink grog (sugarcane alcohol). Another festa, the tabanca, is identified with slave folk traditions that at various times in Cape Verdean history have symbolized resistance to the colonial regime and support of Africanisms. Tabancas include singing, drumming, dancing, processions, and possession. Tabancas are religious celebrations associated with the badius. The badius are the "backward" people of Santiago who represent the opposite of being Portuguese. In this sense, the term represents the essence and disdained characteristics of Cape Verdean identity. Tabancas were discouraged at times when Cape Verdean identity was suppressed and encouraged when pride in Cape Verdean identity was being expressed. Belief in magic and witchcraft practices can be traced from both Portuguese and African roots.

Religious Practitioners. Roman Catholicism has penetrated all levels of Cape Verdean society, and religious practices reflect class and racial segmentation. Conversion efforts were extensive among slaves, and even today peasants distinguish between foreign missionaries and local priests (padres de terra ). Local clergy hardly test the power of local elites. The Church of the Nazarene has attracted individuals who are unhappy with the corrupt Catholic clergy and desire upward mobility through hard work. Folk religious practices are most noticeably related to rites and acts of rebellion. The tabancas include the selection of a king and queen and represent the rejection of state authority. Rebelados have continued to reject the penetration of state authority.

Arts. Expressive and aesthetic traditions are maintained through cyclical ritual events that include the playing of music, singing, and dancing. Contemporary music styles assimilate appropriate themes and forms from these traditions to create popular art, acceptable in metropolitan life and in the diaspora. Pan-African traditions have increasingly tied together the various populations who identify themselves as Crioulo.

Medicine. Modern medical practices are increasingly available to the population as a whole, complementing traditional healing arts.

Death and Afterlife. Illness and death are significant occasions for social gatherings in the households of the afflicted. Friends and relatives participate in visits that may occur over a period of months. Hosts must provide refreshments for people of all stations in society. Mourning falls mainly to women, who participate more in the visitation practices, which in more well-to-do families take place in the sala, a ritual chamber also used for guests.


Beck, Sam (1991). Manny Almeida's Ringside Lounge: The Cape Verdean Struggle for the Neighborhood. Providence, R.I.: GAVEA-Brown.

Foy, Colm (1988). Cape Verde: Politics, Economics, and Society. London and New York: Pinter.

Machado, Deirdre Meintel (1981). "Cape Verdean Americans." In Hidden Minorities: The Persistence of Ethnicity in American Life, edited by Joan Rollins. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America.

Meintel, Deirdre (1984). Race, Culture, and Portuguese colonialism in Cabo Verde. Foreign and Comparative Studies/African Series, no. 41. Syracuse, N.Y.: Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University.

Nunes, Maria Luisa (1982). A Portuguese Colonial in America: Belmira Nunes Lopes. The Autobiography of a Cape Verdean-American. Pittsburgh, Pa.: Latin American Literary Review Press.


Cape Verdeans

views updated May 23 2018

Cape Verdeans

LOCATION: Cape Verde; United States
LANGUAGE: Portuguese (official language), Crioulo
RELIGION: Catholicism with Crioulo aspects


It is not improbable that Phoenician sailors sailing from Carthage in the 5th century bc were the first to see the volcano of Fogo as they navigated along the African continent. There is some reason to believe that Arab sailors were aware of the islands by the 10th or 11th centuries. Certainly for seven centuries before Columbus, Arabs and Jews had occupied large regions of Iberia and had made seminal contributions to the related sciences of navigation, astronomy, cartography, and naval design. This was critical input for the Portuguese navigators.

It was sea captains sailing for Prince Henry “The Navigator” during Portugal's Golden Era of Maritime Exploration who began to sail along the upper West African coast in the early 15th century. Looking for new trade routes, African gold, and a way around the Arab world, they reached modern Senegal in the 1440s, and it was between 1455 and 1462 that the Cape Verdean islands were reached. The Cape Verdean archipelago had no known precolonial inhabitants; its entire history, from 1455 until its independence in 1975, was as a colony of Portugal.

While sailing for the Portuguese, before his New World voyages, Christopher Columbus sailed down the West African coast to Al Mina in coastal Ghana. Because Cape Verde was a normal Portuguese port of call, we may safely assume that he stopped in the islands in the late 1480s. It is certain that he was in Cape Verde on his third trans-Atlantic voyage. Queen Isabella of Spain also wanted him to investigate reports of African ships from the empire of Mali deep in that region of the Atlantic; nothing was found.

Vasco da Gama, hurrying back from his raids in East Africa and India, was also in Cape Verde, but his preoccupation was with his dying brother and avoiding Muslim sailors whom he feared would seize his ships, which he deliberately sank in Cape Verdean waters. Sir Francis Drake, famed for circumnavigating the globe and defeating the Spanish armada, was no friend to Cape Verde after looting and burning its main towns.

Charles Darwin and his ship, the Beagle, stopped in Cape Verde on the epic and scientifically pioneering voyage that led to the proof of evolution. Darwin's voluminous notes and drawings done in Cape Verde record an amazing diversity of animal and plant life and the unique aspects of Cape Verdean volcanic geology. Even the Lindberghs made a brief Cape Verdean stop during their famed air flight around the Atlantic rim.


Although there are tens of thousands of Cape Verdeans residing in New England, many Americans have heard little of Cape Verde and its deep roots in the lands of West Africa. The Republic of Cape Verde is an archipelago nation of nine main islands, found about 300 mi off the west coast of Senegal. The horseshoe-shaped archipelago has two island groups: The Barlavento (northern, windward) islands include Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia (uninhabited), São Nicolau, Sal and Boa Vista. The Sotavento (southern, leeward) islands are composed of Maio, São Tiago, Fogo, and Brava. Some islands are flat and sandy (Boa Vista and Sal), others provide a moonscape terrain (São Nicolau and Santo Antão) and mountains (Fogo) that tower over 9,000 ft above the sea. The capital of Praia is located on the largest island of São Tiago, while Mindelo is the main town of the north on São Vicente.

Located at the same latitude as the Sahara desert, Cape Verde suffers from severe ecological conditions. The hot and dry climate and periodic droughts have made agriculture always marginal. Cape Verdeans long have had to turn to the sea for support from fishing, whaling, and sea salt production. Perhaps above all, Cape Verdeans have a very long pattern of labor emigration to Europe, Brazil, and North America to escape the difficult conditions in the islands and send economic support back home. The Cape Verdean diaspora continues to be critical to the islands' remittance-based economy, but there has been a great growth in tourism and foreign investment that has brought in considerable funds and important economic development on which the nation now relies.


Although Portuguese is the official language and many other languages are also known, it is Crioulo that is most widely spoken in Cape Verdean homes and clubs. Like other Creole languages, the Cape Verdean tongue is unique and follows its own grammar, lexicon, and style. Telephones, televisions, literature, films, press, poetry, and radios all enrich and strengthen Crioulo communication. Women often are considered the bedrock of Cape Verdean society, especially when it comes to preserving Crioulo linguistic skills.


Cape Verdean folklore is very rich in its intermingling of Portuguese and African sources as well as its own traditions. One popular set of tales relates to Nho Lobo, the clever wolf whose folksy wisdom can play an important role in teaching life's lessons and basic values.


Most Cape Verdeans are devout Catholics, and very active church life provides for core values and stability in the community. Important saint days are widely recognized; in fact, many of the islands are named for the saint days on which they were discovered. There also are unique Crioulo aspects of religion. For example, the mastro ceremony involves a post or mast that is colorfully decorated with fruits to honor a saint. Religious carnivals and parades in the islands or in the United States also are common. Aside from floats and marchers, one also may see a Cape Verdean man “wearing” a man-sized boat model in the line of march as his feet provide the locomotion and he appears to be the captain and crew. In recent years, revivalist Protestant sects have made inroads in Cape Verde.


Important holidays include 20 January (the assassination of President Amilcar Cabral) and 5 July (Independence Day). Other religious holidays surround Christmas, Easter, Carnival, and various saints' festivals. The tabanka festival incorporates African types of shrines with a Portuguese religious parade, particularly during the celebration of Saint John.


The main transitions in life are noted after birth with the First Communion, at marriage, and by cemetery burial at death. Farewell parties for migrants and for returning visitors have become so established that they approximate a rite of passage.


Within the family and within the wider Cape Verdean community, social networks are reinforced continually. These ties are critical when job-hunting, obtaining loans, seeking marriage partners, and conducting general social life. Cape Verdeans are highly involved in social clubs, voluntary and service associations, and community affairs. The warmth, caring, and sharing within Cape Verdean families and among friends is widely recognized. National and ethnic pride provide a strong social cement for these relations.


Generally, Cape Verde is strongly influenced by Portuguese culture and architectural styles and is similar to coastal Brazil in general atmosphere. Piped water and electricity are common in the main towns, but in rural areas may be lacking. Houses showing an African influence feature the round funco style from West Africa. They are built with Cape Verdean stone, but still may have an African-style conical thatch roof.

Modern technology now includes water desalinization and even wind-powered generation of electricity, as well as widespread use of televisions and telephones. Most main roads are paved with cobblestones and, although quite narrow, they do allow for a reasonable flow of motor traffic. The main towns have intra-urban bus transport and are connected to other towns by vans and taxis. Inter-island communication is maintained by ferryboats and frequent airplane connections. Relative to Europe or America, the living conditions in Cape Verde have numerous deficiencies. Compared with neighboring West Africa, however, living conditions are far advanced.

A substantial process of urbanization is unfolding in Cape Verde, especially to the cities of Praia and Mindelo. Traffic and parking are sometimes problems along with the high cost of imported fuel for public and private transportation.


The warmth and generosity of Cape Verdean family life is deeply rooted in culture and history. Sharing a pot of cachupa (stew) with family, neighbors, and drop-ins is normal. A great deal of sacrifice is made to educate children, and academic achievement and employment success are sources of great family pride.


Western-style clothing is standard, especially for men and children. Women sometimes incorporate their unique panos (a cloth woven on the West African narrow loom). These panos are used as sashes for dancing and also can be used as a wrap for carrying babies. At times in early Cape Verdean history, the panos were used as currency in a barter economy. Women also have unique styles of tying headcloths. Used clothing from Europe and New England sometimes arrives in metal barrels (bidon) to be sorted and resold to meet domestic needs.


Cape Verdean foods include cachupa (stew) , conj (soup), djagacida (chicken with rice), gufong (cornbread), and other Crioulo favorites. Recipes often involve corn, rice, and couscous as a starch base and, if meats are included, the most common are pork, chicken, and fish (especially tuna). A wide variety of tropical fruits is readily available, including mangoes and bananas. Several islands produce Cape Verdean rum (grog) from distilled sugar cane. Cape Verde is not self-sufficient in food production and must rely on imported corn and wheat. Historically, droughts have caused famines that have starved 15%–20% of the population and caused others to flee.


Cape Verdeans long have prided themselves on a relatively high standard of formal education, especially relative to other West African nations. This is due, in part, to the tradition of seminary education at the seminary in São Nicolau and because of the high degree of out-migration, which gave Cape Verdeans additional access to education. There are higher secondary schools in the major towns, and elementary schools throughout the islands. Teacher-training and technical schools are also present. Post-secondary and university level education is now advancing in Cape Verde with the foundation of the University of Cape Verde as well as the Jean Piaget University, both in Praia. In Mindelo private colleges are also underway to meet the great demand for modern training and research.


The roots of Cape Verde's population are found among mainland Portuguese, Azoreans, Sephardic Jews, Moors, political exiles like the degredados, and African peoples such as Fula, Balante, Wolof, Mandingo, Manjaco, Papeis, and Bissagos. The diversity of these origins has resulted in a Crioulo amalgam of Luso-African traditions. In this sense, one may say that Cape Verde is not only the westernmost extension of Africa, but also the easternmost extension of the Caribbean, and a southern extension of Europe.

Slavery helped to build Cape Verde. It was largely from the islands that the Portuguese crown monopolies based their slave trading economy from the 17th–19th centuries. Coastal middlemen called lançados traded with the victorious kingdoms in the slave wars required by the trade. Slaves were not only part of an important economy, but were used on Cape Verdean plantations of sugar cane and tropical products, as well as for general labor and household services.

It was quite ordinary for slave owners to have children with their servants. In fact, that is the original source of the evolution of the Crioulo population. Other slaves such as the badius fled to remote and interior portions of the larger islands and developed their communities there. Still other slaves were “seasoned” in Cape Verde and exported to the New World, especially to regions in northern Brazil. While slavery is an undeniable part of Cape Verdean history, the sustained patterns of brutality and racism clearly are more muted than elsewhere, in large measure because of the synthesis of the Luso-African population.

Today, more Cape Verdeans live in faraway diaspora communities than in the homeland. Cape Verdeans are found throughout Africa, Brazil, and Portugal, as well as in Senegal, Italy and Holland, and in southeastern New England. In these places, Cape Verdeans long have been involved in maritime trades, such as fishing, sealing, whaling, and docking, and more recently, as agricultural and industrial workers. Financial assistance from Cape Verdeans living overseas are a critical factor in the present island economy.

The crews of the famed American whaling and sealing ships were heavily represented by Cape Verdeans. As a consequence, American consular interests are among the oldest in Africa. American naval presence in Cape Verde was significant.


Agriculture and fishing in Cape Verde are conducted at subsistence level or for small scale exports. The most significant export is its workforce, often as contract laborers. Remittances from Cape Verdeans around the world continue to be a very important source of financial stability.

Historically, thousands of Cape Verdeans have found work on ships devoted to whaling, sealing, slaving, and fishing, but it was in the 19th century that more regular numbers began to arrive in America with the intention of permanent immigration. During these times, a chief source of employment was as longshoremen, or in agricultural work, especially the cranberry industries of Cape Cod. The seasonal nature of this work made factory jobs more attractive and through the 20th century, when not limited by immigration quotas, they arrived seeking jobs in textiles and other manufacturing. Today, Cape Verdeans are found in every walk of life, including education, major sports, medicine, the arts, banking, commerce, and construction.

Youthful unemployment and marginal work is a serious problem in Cape Verde. This is particularly difficult among those Cape Verdeans who have been deported from the US and Europe and arrived with more liabilities than assets to themselves and Cape Verdean society.


Many sports are popular in Cape Verde, especially soccer. Basketball has shown increasing popularity. Swimming, surf-boarding, scuba diving, track and field, and long-distance running also are growing. There is even a golf course and horseback riding stable on São Vicente. A very popular game in Cape Verde is ouri, a “pit and capture” game board that can be dated directly back to ancient Egypt.


Cape Verdean entertainment is centered around the home, where dances, parties, and receptions are very popular. Inside and outside the home there are rich varieties of popular music, both imported from the diaspora communities and synthesized in the Crioulo traditions. These forms range from the European-origin mazurkas and valzas, to the polyrhythmic batuko, and modern popular music of funana and finaçon. Perhaps most famed of all are the coladeiras and mornas, which capture the painful burdens of the Cape Verdean soul or saudade.

Lively post-colonial literature includes poetry, short stories, and novels. Cape Verde even boasts of its own neoclassical Claridade literary movement, much of it written in Portuguese and Crioulo and increasingly translated to English and French.


A wide array of folk arts are found in Cape Verde, including sewing and crocheting for women and a revived interest in the production of panos. Men enjoy building ship models, carving of wood and cow horn, making shell horns, and carving pipes. Modern arts can be found in exhibitions and galleries that show textiles, pottery, wood carving, sculpture, painting, drawing, and photography.


Cape Verde increasingly is suffering from a rising use of illegal drugs and alcohol and an increased incidence of HIV/AIDS. Struggles with self-identity also are common. Apparently the personal use of drugs and alcohol is also linked to a rise in the overseas illicit drug trade and other smuggling activities. With the rise in tourism there are also more reports of the sex trade that could cause increased incidence of HIV/AIDS.


The national liberation parties of Cape Verde (the PAIGC and PAICV) had long put forth the full liberation of women as one of their central goals. A number of women were incorporated into leadership positions within the PAIGC's fighting forces during the nationalist armed struggle. The Party insisted that at least two of the members of tabanka (village) committees be women. The Uniao Democratica das Mulheres (UDEMU) was formed by the PAIGC in the mid-1960s. During the armed struggle period (1963–1974) fought in the mainland but led by Cape Verdeans, UDEMU assisted in the mobilization of women for the war effort. UDEMU was replaced by the Commissão Feminina (Women's Commission) toward the close of the war, and while it has been replaced it belongs in the historical evolution of female empowerment in Cape Verde.

After the 1981 coup in Bissau, the PAIGC changed its name to the PAICV. Similarly, the UDEMU which had represented women in both nations was changed to the Organizão de Mul-heres de Cabo Verde (OMCV). The OMCV is organized by sectors which contain all “base groups” in a district as well as an administrative body. The OMCV continued much of the work of the former organization, and it functioned as a women's auxiliary of the single party. The position of women in Cape Verde remains hard with relatively high levels of illiteracy, hard physical work, a high level of machismo, and a relatively low level of participation.

While educational opportunities for women have been expanded since independence, the male-dominated nature of the social and familial structure is in need of further changes in various ways. Certainly the position of women has improved markedly given the traditions based in colonial patriarchy and male supremacy. Now the rights of women are legally protected. For example, children born out of wedlock must legally be supported by their fathers and the status of “illegitimacy” has been abolished.

The numbers of women in industry and tourism are increasing even though the overall numbers of industrial jobs are few. There are now women members in the Assembleia Nacional Popular. Women are commonly found in the health and educational services where such possibilities were limited during colonial rule.

Of particular importance is the male “brain drain” away from Cape Verde leaving the population composed disproportionately of women. Ironically, while their income is thereby reduced or reliant on remittances from absentee husbands, it has made the remaining women more self-reliant and code-pendent. It is impossible to overlook the hardships that women face, however, the spirit of liberation, social mobility and empowerment is now very significant in Cape Verde. Women are rapidly expanding into new roles and occupations and probably greater numbers of women more than men are seeking higher education that is now available in Cape Verde.

Similarly, new issues such as family planning, birth control, domestic violence, poverty and prostitution, abortion, and AIDS have also entered the picture. OMCV sectors sometimes help to organize jardins and pre-school teachers to provide day care and pre-school training for children. There are a number of Cape Verdean women writers, perhaps best known are Orlanda Amarilis and Yolanda Morazzo. The literary works of A. A. Goncalves reveal many of the complexities of the lives of Cape Verdean women. Since independence, March 8, International Women's Day, has been observed in Cape Verde.


Carreira, António. The People of the Cape Verde Islands: Exploitation and Emigration. Archon Books, 1982.

Halter, Marilyn. Between Race and Ethnicity: Cape Verdean American Immigrants 1860-1965. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.

Lobban, Richard A., Jr. Cape Verde: Crioulo Colony to Independent Nation. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995.

Lobban, Richard A., Jr. and Paul Khalil Saucier. Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Cape Verde. 4th ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2007.

—by R. A. Lobban, Jr

Cape Verdeans

views updated May 29 2018

Cape Verdeans


LOCATION: Cape Verde; United States


LANGUAGE: Portuguese (official language), Crioulo

RELIGION: Catholicism with Crioulo aspects


The Cape Verdean archipelago (island chain) had no known inhabitants before colonial times. It is believed that Arab sailors were aware of the islands by the tenth or eleventh century.

From 1455 until its independence in 1975, Cape Verde was a colony of Portugal. The islands were first reached around 1455 by captains sailing for Portugal's Prince Henry "The Navigator." They were looking for new trade routes and African gold, and they began to sail along the upper West African coast in the early fifteenth century.

The Portuguese based their slave-trading economy on these islands in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Slaves worked on Cape Verdean sugar plantations, and they did general labor and household work. It was common for slave owners to have children with their servants. That is largely how today's native Crioulo (Creole) population evolved.

Since 1975, Cape Verde has been governed by a National Assembly. A single party, the African Party, was in power from independence until Cape Verde's first elections involving several parties in 1991.


The Republic of Cape Verde is an archipelago nation of nine main islands. It lies about 300 miles (483 kilometers) off the west coast of Senegal. The horseshoe-shaped archipelago consists of two island groups. They are the northern Barlavento islands and the southern Sotavento islands. Some islands are flat and sandy. Others have mountains (notably Mount Fogo) that rise more than 9,000 feet (2,743 meters) above the sea. The capital, Praia, is located on the largest island, São Tiago.

Today, more Cape Verdeans live in faraway communities than in the homeland. Cape Verdeans are found throughout Africa, Brazil, and Portugal, as well as in Senegal, Italy, and Holland, and in the United States, in southeastern New England.


Although Portuguese is the official language, Crioulo (Creole) is most widely spoken in Cape Verdean homes and clubs. Like other Creole languages, Cape Verdean is unique and follows its own grammar, vocabulary, and style. Women play an important role in preserving the Crioulo language from one generation to the next.


Cape Verdean folklore is a rich combination of Portuguese and African sources. One popular set of tales relates to Nho Lobo. The folksy wisdom of this clever wolf is used to teach basic values and lessons about life.


Most Cape Verdeans are devout Catholics. Religion is an important source of stability and basic values in their communities. Important saints' days are observed widely. (Many of the islands are named for the saints' days on which they were discovered.) A unique Cape Verdean religious tradition is the mastro ceremony, which involves a post or mast that is colorfully decorated with fruits to honor a saint.


Important holidays include January 20, the anniversary of the assassination of President Amílcar Cabral (192473), and July 5 (Independence Day). Religious holidays include Christmas, Easter, and various saints' festivals. Cape Verdeans also celebrate Carnival in the days preceding Lent. The tabanka festival combines African-style shrines with a Portuguese religious parade.


The stages in life are marked by the ceremonies of first communion, marriage, and cemetery burial at death. Additionally, farewell parties for people about to travel and for returning visitors have become so important that they are almost like a rite of passage.


Social networks based on the family and the community are essential to finding a job, obtaining loans, seeking marriage partners, and carrying on social life in general. Cape Verdeans are deeply involved in social clubs, volunteer and service organizations, and community affairs.


Architectural styles in Cape Verde are strongly influenced by Portuguese culture. In appearance the structures are much like those found in coastal Brazil. Houses showing an African influence feature the round funco style from West Africa. They are built with Cape Verdean stone, but may have an African-style, cone-shaped thatched roof. Piped water and electricity are common in the main towns, but not always found in rural areas.


The warmth and generosity of Cape Ver-dean family life is deeply rooted in culture and history. It is common for families to share a pot of cachupa (stew) with relatives, neighbors, and any visitors who may drop in.

Parents make great sacrifices to educate their children. Families take great pride in children's academic achievement and in success in their jobs.


Western-style clothing is standard, especially for men and children. Women sometimes wear outfits that include their unique panos (strips of a cloth woven on the West African narrow loom). These panos are used as sashes for dancing and also can be used as a wrap for carrying babies. Used clothing from Europe and the United States is also used to meet local needs.


Cape Verdean foods include cachupa (stew), conj (soup), djagacida (chicken with rice), and gufong (cornbread). Recipes often involve corn, rice, and couscous (crushed grain, especially a certain type of wheat) as a starchy base. The most common meats are pork, chicken, and fish (especially tuna). A wide variety of tropical fruits are readily available, including mangoes and bananas.


Cape Verdeans have a relatively high standard of formal education. This is partly because of the tradition of seminary education on the island of São Nicolau. There are high schools in the major towns and elementary schools throughout the islands. There are also teacher-training and technical schools, but there is no university in Cape Verde.


Cape Verde has a rich variety of popular music, some of it imported from the communities where Cape Verdeans have settled abroad. Styles range from European-style mazurkas and valzas to the rhythmically complex batuko. Most famous of all are the coladeiras and mornas.


Farming and fishing in Cape Verde are conducted at subsistence level (to provide a basic diet) or for small-scale exports. Cape Verde workers often travel to other countries as contract laborers. They are found in every walk of life, including education, major sports, medicine, the arts, banking, business, and construction.


Many sports are popular in Cape Verde, especially soccer. Basketball is gaining popularity. Swimming, surfboarding, scuba diving, track and field, and long-distance running also are growing in popularity.


Cape Verdean entertainment is centered in the home, where dances, parties, and receptions are often held. A favorite board game in Cape Verde is ouri, a "pit and capture" game that can be traced to ancient Egypt.


A wide array of folk arts are found in Cape Verde. Women crochet and weave. Men build ship models, carve wood and cow horn, and make musical horns from shells.


Cape Verde suffers from a rising use of illegal drugs and alcohol and an increase in cases of AIDS. Many skilled and educated Cape Verdeans leave the country to seek employment overseas.


Halter, Marilyn. Between Race and Ethnicity. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.

Lobban, Richard A., Jr. Cape Verde. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1995.

Lobban, Richard A., Jr., and Marlene Lopes. Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Cape Verde. 3rd ed. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 1995.


Embassy of the Republic of Cape Verde, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Cape Verde. [Online] Available, 1998.