22 March 2009

Cape Verde project launched

I first heard about the Cape Verde Jewish Heritage back in 2003, when Carol Castiel spoke extensively about her hopes and plans to promote this project, at that year's International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Washington, DC.

This week, the Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project was formally launched by Aziz Mekouar, the Moroccan ambassador to Washington.

Castiel's project, which she has been trying to organize since the 1990s, includes restoration of cemeteries in the former Portuguese colony, writing the community history, descendant interviews and research.

Cape Verde includes 10 islands 300 miles from Africa's west coast. It experienced two immigration waves. The first, in the 15th century, included Conversos, escapees from the Inquisition in Spain. This community is still very secretive and thus the projects focuses on the second wave of immigrants, who came from Morocco in the mid-19th century.

The Cape Verde and Portuguese ambassadors attended the launch. B'nai B'rith helped Castiel, a Voice of America staffer, set up the project. When Castiel was stationed in Portugal she learned about the colony's Jewish history. Although there is no Jewish community today, many of its citizens of Jewish ancestry are proud of their heritage.

Also participating in the launch were Cape Verdean immigrants to the US, who descend from its Jewish immigrants.

Tracing the Tribe has written previously about the Cape Verde project here and here. The International Jewish Cemetery Project also has information, with additional links. A 1996 paper at Saudades.org offers very interesting history. The Cape Verde Project also has a blog and a Facebook page.

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