Monday, July 30, 2007


Welcome to the Jews of Cape Verde blog! I would like to share with you a fascinating and little-known story about the Jewish heritage of Cape Verde. The Republic of Cape Verde is an archipelago of ten islands off the coast of Senegal, West Africa. As a result of over 500 years of Portuguese colonial rule, Cape Verde is predominantly Catholic. However, beginning with the period of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition through the late 19th century, Cape Verde received Jews fleeing religious persecution or seeking greater economic stability.

I am in the process of creating a not-for-profit organization called "The Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project," which will honor and document the presence of the second wave of Jewish immigration. These Jews came primarily from Morocco and Gibraltar in the late 1800's for largely economic reasons. (Jews have lived relatively peacefully and harmoniously with their Muslim brethren in Morocco for more than 2000 years!) We know from the Portuguese and Hebrew etchings on the tombstones in the small Jewish cemeteries which dot several islands that the majority hailed from the Moroccan cities of Tangier, Rabat and Mogador (now Essaouira) bearing distinctive Sephardic names such as Auday, Anahory, Benoliel, Benros, Benchimol, Benathar, Brigham, Cohen, Levy, Maman, Pinto, Seruya and Wahnon.

These families landed primarily on the islands of Santo Antao, Sao Vicente, Boa Vista and Sao Tiago and engaged in international commerce, shipping, administration, and other trades. The Jews lived, worked and prospered in Cape Verde. However, because their numbers were few relative to the larger non-Jewish community, widespread intermarriage with the predominantly Catholic population diluted their affiliation with Jewish customs and rituals. As a result, there are virtually no practicing Jews in Cape Verde today. Nonetheless, the descendants of these families speak with pride of their Jewish roots and want to revive and chronicle the memory of their ancestors. The first democratically elected prime minister of Cape Verde, Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga, is of Jewish descent! The Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project has these major objectives:
  • Rehabilitation and re-dedication of the small Jewish cemeteries that dot the archipelago.
  • Publication of a book about the Jews of Cape Verde based on archival research and oral testimonies of descendants and friends.
  • Promotion of Jewish Heritage tourism in Cape Verde.
I look forward to your feedback and help. I would love to hear from those who are of Cape Verdean Jewish descent. Even though I have established relationships with many of the major families and have garnered much information, I am seeking more testimonies.