The Republic of Cape Verde is an archipelago of 10 islands about 300 miles 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.
The Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project is mainly concerned with the second wave of Jewish immigration that occurred for primarily economic reasons in the late 1800′s from Morocco and Gibraltar. We know from the Hebrew and Portuguese etchings on the tombstones in the small Jewish cemeteries which dot several islands that the majority came from the Moroccan cities of Tangier, Rabat, and Mogador (now Essaouira) bearing distinctive Sephardic names such as Cohen, Levy, Benoliel, Benrós, Wahnon, Benathar, Benchimol, Brigham, Auday, Anahory, Pinto, Maman, and Seruya.
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 Catholic population, widespread intermarriage occurred. As a result of this assimilation, Cape Verde today has virtually no practicing Jews. Yet, descendants of these families, whether in Cape Verde, the United States, Portugal or Canada, speak with pride of their Jewish ancestry. They wish to honor the memory of their forebears by preserving the cemeteries and by documenting their legacy.
The first democratically elected prime minister of Cape Verde, Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga, is of Jewish descent. He is the great grandson of Isaac Wahnon and Raquel Levy Bentubo.