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close this bookThe Courier N° 127 May - June 1991- Dossier 'New' ACP Export Products - Country Reports Cape Verde - Namibia (EC Courier, 1991, 104 p.)
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View the documentAcknowledgements

The Cape Verdeans and America

by Miguel ALVES

On account of the terrible famines which have punctuated its history, Cape Verde has always been a land of emigration. Today, it is in the position of having more citizens living overseas than within its own frontiers. Most of these Cape Verdean expatriates live in the United States. Retired judge, Miguel Alves relates the story of these migrations.

Emigration to the USA is said to have begun when American whalers stopped off at Cape Verde to recruit men for their crew - which, Pedro Monteiro Cardoso claimed in the introduction to ‘Foclor Caboverdiano’ (2nd edition), they first did in the 17th century. This book on Cape Verdean folklore was produced by Luiz Silva, who gathered all the authentic information from the works of Antonio Carreira (or Antonio Barboza Carreira, to give him his full name), Luiz de Andrade and such publications es ‘A Voz de Cabo Verde’ and ‘O Manduci’ and points out that Cape Verde emigration experts tend to agree that emigration to the USA actually began in the 19th century.

Alfredo Margarido’s preface to ‘Foclor Caboverdiano’, of which extracts are reproduced below, says that the wave of emigration to the USA began in 1899, an idea which seems to be backed up by details from ‘O Manduco’ (Fogo, 192324), ‘A Novo Patria’ (Lisbon, 1930-32), ‘A Voz de Africa’ (Lisbon, 1913) and ‘A Voz de Cabo Verde’ (Praia, 1911-19).

‘Eugenio Tavares certainly seems very interested in this issue, possibly because the hundreds and hundreds of Cape Verdean emigrants to the USA came from the island of Brava. The leader in the 19 April 1911 edition of ‘A Voz de Cabo Verde’ is one of our most important sources of information on the conditions in which the movement first emerged. The colony saw emigration as repugnant 30 years ago, it said, Cape Verdeans traditionally dislike the idea of sailing and leaving their native soil and there were no emigrants from any of the islands in the archipelago - other than Brava, which lost a fairly large number of its inhabitants to North America, a place which was getting to be well known among our sailors working on the (mainly American) whalers which called there to recruit seamen. And from 1899 onwards the movement gathered momentum.

While giving credit to all this, there are one or two personally-known facts which we should like to bring to the reader’s attention.

Emigration from Cape Verde 1983 figures

In the I July 1950 issue of Cape Verde’s ‘Boletim de Propaganda e Informa’, the late Dr Julio Miguel Monteiro published extracts from the North American ‘Our World’, relating the exemplary behaviour of the Cape Verdean community in New Bedford and claiming that ‘the oldest of our contemporaries in the Cape Verdean colony of New Bedford is 116-year old Rosa de Barros’. So, if 1950 is taken as the reference date, Rosa must have been born in 1834 and, if she was 25 when she emigrated, she would have left Cape Verde in 1859.

Another, more personal case is that of a great uncle, Gaudencio Andrade Monteiro, who went whaling and ultimately got a master’s ticket in the US merchant marine. He died in Praia, in 1956 at the age of 75, was therefore born in 1881 and, if he started his career in whaling at 25, would have emigrated in 1906.


It is reasonable for Luiz Silva to have found evidence of American ships calling in at Cape Verde to recruit seamen for the whaling trade in the 17th century, although the exodus to America did not start until 1899, as Dr Alfredo Margarido has shown. ‘Exodus’ does not refer to departures prior to this date, for it is our belief that although emigration began on a small scale in the 1850s, the mass movement started in 1899.

Emigration to Senegal also began in the 18th century according to another article which the late Alfredo Mendes Rodrigues contributed to the Boletim de Propaganda de Cabo Verde (No 7, Year I of I April 1950). The article praises the conscientiousness and intelligence of the Cape Verdeans, saying that this should earn them the same consideration as the former French colony of Senegal - which led the local government to grant them building land in Dakar (at the place where the Avenue Gambetta now runs) and get the Credito Predial to provide 20-year loans to help with this.

The nearness of Cape Verde to Senegal and the fact that A.M.Rodrigues talks about the intensification of emigration suggest that small-scale emigration must have started prior to the 18th century.