Jews of Cape Verde

There has been a lot written about Jews in Cape Verde. The Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project Was established in 2007 by Carol Castiel and various Cape Verdean descendants of Jews who had migrated to the islands from Gibraltar and Morocco in the 1800’s. Throughout the existence of Cape Verde, Jews have been an integral part of its initial settlement and history.

The late 1400’s was the beginning of the Inquisition and expulsion of Jews in Spain. Sephadic Jews then migrated to Portugal which still welcomed them. By 1492, the Inquisitions found its way to Portugal. These Sephardic Jews found their ways to other areas which included Gibraltar, Morocco and Cape Verde but not before many were forced to convert to Christianity. Referred to as Novo Cristaõs, some families took on surnames that hid their Judaic history or to show their commitment to their new religion. These people became Dos Reis (of the king), da Jesus (of Jesus), da Graca (of Grace) or took names like da Lomba (forest), Lobo (wolf),d’Oliveira (olives), de Lima (lemon or of the place called Lima), Barbosa (Aloe),etc, that pertained to nature. The royal family had also given incentives to some Novo Christaõs to leave Portugal and migrate to their new property off the west coast of Senegal- Cape Verde. The first fidalgo of the island of Brava, d’Affonseca, was actually stripped of his position because he was accused of practicing Judaism.

In the mid 1800’s, 400 Moroccan Jews were massacred in the town of Tetouan. Relations between the Jews and Muslims were strained in Morocco and Gibraltar and so, a second wave of Jews began. They went to some of the islands as negociantes, merchants, traded in hides as well as the Slave Trade. The Benoloiel family migrated to the island of Boa Vista and their descendants can still be found there. Families with names such as Cohen, Wahnon, and Ben David have been well documented. The Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project is preserving some of the graves of these settlers in an effort to preserve this part of our heritage.

Not much has been written about the Jews of the island of Brava. There are some graves located at Covo de Judeu but this has not been well documented. In my research, combing through thousands of baptismal, wedding and obituary records, I have not come across any people with Jewish surnames aside from those descendants of Novo Christaõs. But when I literally stumbled across passport records from the mid 1800’s, there they were. Azulay, Azencoth, Suruyo, Bento, Ben David! Here’s a list of some of the names and origins of some of the people who called Brava their home as well as a few that lived in Praia, Santo Antaõ and Sao Vicente.

Abraõ Ben David, Morgador
Jaime Azencotte, Tangier
Isaac Seruyo, Gibraltar
Rafael Bamatar(sp), Rabat
Moyers Benros, Gibraltar (Praia)
Joao Bento d’Oliveira, Tangier
Moises Anahory, Rabat
Isaac Anahory, Morocco
Jacob Levi, Tetuan (Santo Antaõ)
Jacob Seruyo, Gibraltar (Isaac’s father)
Israel Benraim(?), Tangier
Salamao Azulay, Tangier
Abraham Benros, Gibraltar
Elias Elaroy(sp), Rabat
Isaac Bensamon, Tangier (Santo Antaõ)
Samuel Cohen, Tangiers (Sao Vicente)
Bento Levy, Morocco
Samuel Benoliel, Rabat

So I started to look at the other records a bit differently and found baptismal records for children named Jacob, Isaac and Moises. They were always listed as being “filhos natural” or natural children of single women instead of legitimate children of married couples. Some of these death and marriage records show these people as having different last names as their mothers. It’s interesting – when you compare them to records of children born to single women who carried their mother’s last names. Why is this?

My opinion is that these migrants were almost always men and they had relationships with the local women and fathered children. These women would have mostly been Catholics and probably chose to have their children baptized. Their father’s would not have been included in the ceremony and, thus, no records. But the took their father’s last names.

There are also lots of family stories explaining memories of parents or grandparents keeping Saturday Sabbath, reciting prayers in another language and lighting menorahs. They didn’t eat meat and they didn’t baptize their children. As a matter of fact, if you look closely at some of our traditions, you may find other connections.

The “Nodjadu” or mourning period is a great example. Although I was born here, I still remember my great-grandmother explaining why we couldn’t go to a party within six months of a family member’s death, covering or turning mirrors around and how she would sit with a person body over night before their burial. I remember her specifically telling me that when close family died, you weren’t supposed to leave your home for seven days but because people here in the US had to work, we were expected to be home on the weekends for the first month. If you count the days, it’s 7 days! She also said that you weren’t supposed to do things like cook,clean your house and mirrors were supposed to be covered or turned around because you shouldn’t look at your image during that time. People were usually buried within 24 hours or before sundown. She told me that she was usually the person who would care for the body which included washing and wrapping in a white clothe. She would keep vigil with the body, as well. After the initial 7 day period (month) therew there would be a mass after which you could begin to resume some normal activity but you still had to refrain from celebrating, dancing, etc. The mourning period officially ends at the one year anniversary when there is another mass.
While this is a description of a typical Cape Verdean Nodjadu but it almost mirrors exactly the Jewish Shiva ritual.

There is a story of one of Brava’s most prominent men burning records in the Cambra (ie City Hall) of Brava because he didn’t want anyone to discover his Jewish roots! That’s why some records prior to 1801 don’t exist. After independence, the Portuguese did take some records with them to Lisbon while there are some accounts of some going to Brazil, too. But some were destroyed by either scared Jewish descendants and even from pirate raids the happened intermittently in Cape Verde. Boa Vista was particularly hard hit and records exist only going back to the late 1800’s.

At some point I would like to learn more about some of the other ethnic roots of Cape Verde. In an earlier blog, I taked about my DNA test saying I’m almost 70% Tuscan Italian. But how exactly were Italians involved in Cape Verde? Another genealogist friend of mine who is researching her Italian heritage reminded me that Italy had been the center of the banking system of Europe. The Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English would have had to borrow money from the Italians to fund the Atlantic Slave Trade! Talk about being a walking conundrum – I am a descendant of not only slaves, but the people who traded them, built and captained the ships that transported them to Central and South America AND the ones who funded the whole thing!

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4 Comments on “Jews of Cape Verde

  1. Thank you for this post. I have been curious about a possible Jewish connection in my family ~Bento. I have very little info on my family tree. Can you pass along the info/records you found to me?

  2. Thanks Creola. It’s amazing of how much effort you have put of you own time to educate us on our ancestry. I was born on Cape Verde and a direct ancester of Abraham Benros, Gibraltar

    • Hi. I am also a da Cruz! My paternal grandmother’s family were from Mosteiros, Fogo but I suspect that they had origins in Sao Nicolão in the early 1800’s! The Benros family seem to have beeb merchants when they arrived in Cabo Verde.
      Thank you for your comment and I appreciate your taking time to write me.
      Anna

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