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 (1924–73), 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.

12 • FOOD

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.

User Contributions:

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Apr 24, 2010 @ 9:21 pm
Thanks! I am doing a big project on Cape Verde and this really helped!
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Apr 28, 2011 @ 4:04 am
Great site. However this article on Cape Verde islands needs to be updated regarding some issues, such as education. Nowadays, for example there are nine universities in Cape Verde...
But I think in general you are doing a great job. Keep up!
James E. Lucas
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Dec 6, 2011 @ 11:23 pm
As a person of Cape Verde ancestry living in San Antonio Texas, I am constantly approached with the question, what nationality are you? I reply that I am Cape Verdean. I find that many people do not have the slightest knowledge about Cape Verdeans. When I was going to college, during one of my classes I was given and assignment to turn in a paper on my ethnicity. When I turned in my assignment the teacher stated that this was first time he had heard of Cape Verdeans and it was very enlightening to him. If you are not living in California, Rhode Island or Massachusetts know one seems to know anything about Cape Verdeans.
I would like to know if there are any plans to start implementing this information into school history books? After all,there are more Cape Verdeans here in the United States then here are in Cape Verde
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Feb 2, 2013 @ 5:17 pm
Thanx.I have a really huge project due monday! Too bad I didn't find this earlier. :(
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Apr 22, 2013 @ 7:19 pm
Thank you so much! This was a great help to me! I found a lot of information i needed! I really enjoyed learning about cape verde through this website. My report is due soon... and im glad i found this website now!
Suggestion: put more information about Cape Verde's government and president. That would have greatly helped me. But i will just findd it on another website!!!
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Dec 6, 2013 @ 2:14 pm
What kind of traditons do cabo verdean do when they married?
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Mar 24, 2014 @ 11:11 am
Thank you!Your website has been very helpful to me. I appreciate your help!

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