Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Thanks to financial assistance provided by the Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project Inc. and the US Embassy in Praia, during the past year, a dedicated staff at the The National Archives of Cape Verde (ANCV), accelerated the organization and classification of documents pertaining to the islands of Boa Vista and Santo Antão, where the Jewish community was most pronounced. So CVJHP historian Ângela Sofia Benoliel Coutinho was finally able to access valuable documentation pertaining to the presence of the Moroccan and Gibraltarian Jews, heretofore unavailable to researchers.

CVJHP Historian
The NationalArchives of Cape Verde (ANCV), founded in 1988, is the repository of documentation from all of the towns and islands in Cape Verde. Given financial constraints, the ANCV had not previously been able to organize and classify the documents pertaining to these two islands. On her return trip to ANCV headquarters in Praia in July and August, Ângela was able to consult the rich, original documentation pertaining to the Jewish merchants in these two islands. The legal proceedings in the Court of Ribeira Grande in Santo Antão yielded the most valuable information. Ângela identified approximately 154 cases showing that the Jewish community comprised about 50 individuals in the second half of the 19th century. An analysis of this original documentation is likely to shed light on the nature and extent of the Jewish community’s commercial activities and the impact they had on the economy of the archipelago. It will also indicate the commercial relationships they forged among each other and with Cape Verdeans or Portuguese Catholics, as well as with colonial authorities.
Ribeira Grande, Santo Antão
The documentation may also provide clues about the family, social and cultural life of the members of this community and their linkages with Jewish merchants from Morocco and Gibraltar in other Portuguese territories such as Lisbon, the Algarve, the Azores, Angola, Mozambique, São Tome e Principe and Brazil. 

It’s not surprising that this community of Jewish merchants was drawn to monoculture for export given that Cape Verde was an agricultural island with few inhabitants who had limited purchasing power. For example, in the island of Santo Antão, the most profitable export was coffee, the price of which rose in the international market during the second half of the 19th century. Documents suggest that the merchants engaged in business with Jewish coffee exporters in other agricultural islands such as Santiago, Fogo, and São Nicolau, and with those who lived in São Vicente, Santiago, and Brava, islands that had international ports to facilitate exports. Since many of these Cape Verdean-based traders traveled to Lisbon approximately once a year, it is probable that a commercial network existed among Moroccan and Gibraltarian Jews in all of the Portuguese speaking African territories and in the Atlantic. It is something to explore as Ângela traces the outlines of a forthcoming book about the Jewish presence in Cape Verde.

--Ângela Sofia Benoliel Coutinho, Dezembro 2016