Interesting Facts About Cape Verde You Probably Didn’t Know
The history of Cape Verde has emerged from a diverse melting pot of European colonizers and African customs drawn together over centuries. These days, the archipelago is extremely proud of its heritage and maintains strong cultural ties to both Portugal and the African mainland.
The first island of Cape Verde to be inhabited was Santiago, the first permanent settlement in the tropics, founded in 1462 and colonized by the Portuguese. From its early days, the island was an integral part of the slave trade, with the first captives shipped from West Africa in the 16th century.
The archipelago’s industry was at risk in 1675 until the Portuguese monarchy agreed to purchase slaves directly from New Guinea. Pirate attacks and takeover attempts from other empires also started to increase around the same time, bringing a fresh wave of chaos to Cape Verde. The most successful attempt was by the French in 1712, when they sacked the island of Santiago and completely stripped the former capital of its wealth.
Cape Verde suffered the first of many droughts in 1742, causing widespread devastation, and despite persistent pleas for aid from Portugal, the colonizers refused to pour money into the country without gain. The large population of goats meant limited vegetation was already overgrazed and the lack of funds led to an inevitable famine. Over the next few years, thousands of people (an estimated half the population) died as starvation gripped the islands. The once lush islands were dry and barren and many Cape Verdeans fled to America in hopes of a better life.
The situation went from bad to worse on Cape Verde after the abolition of slavery in 1876; however, things picked up during the 19th century. Steam ships emerged on the oceans and needed somewhere to stop, providing Cape Verde a new lease of life and some of the region’s most significant ports, notably Mindelo.
Cape Verde started to gain autonomy at the turn of 1950’s, becoming an Portuguese overseas territory, but full independence was not granted until 1975. Over the next couple of decades, the government brought political and economic stability to the country and has seen it transition into a bourgeoning tourist destination.
Cape Verde’s culture is heavily influenced by its unique music, such as the morna, a melancholy sound harking back to the days of slavery, batuko, a more jovial genre which gets everybody dancing and funana, an intriguing vocal tune which vibrates throughout the islands. The archipelago’s most famous export is undoubtedly Cesaria Evora, the world renowned morna artist. Cape Verde has also produced a number of talented poets and authors including Frusoni Sergio, Tavares Eugenio and Manuel Lopes. Numerous sports, such as uril and bisca are popular throughout the country and tend to attract large crowds.
Most people with a basic knowledge of Africa know that Cape Verde is a volcanic archipelago located 350 miles off the west coast. Many others appreciate it as a beautiful tourist spot with white sands and azure waters. But Cape Verde is far more than a vacation destination with sun. It has a marvelous history and unique geology. It’s Creole Portugal-African culture might actually amaze you. Below are the 14 interesting things about Cape Verde you probably didn’t know.
1. Ancient Mega-Tsunami
A mega-tsunami occurred about 73,000 years ago in Cape Verde, caused by an eastern flank collapse on the volcanic island of Fogo. As reported in the journal, Science Advances, it was one of the largest in the geological record.
Volcanic flank collapses occur about once every 10,000 years. Often they’re not as sudden and catastrophic as the Fogo island collapse. Scientists measured the size of the wave by calculating the energy needed to hurl the huge boulders which were discovered on Santiago Island, 34 miles from Fogo. These boulders – the size of trucks – landed as far as 600 yards inland and 200 yards above sea level. After an investigation, the scientists reached a conclusion: the boulders must have come from Fogo because they contained limestones and basalts found only on the edge of the island’s plateaus. The terrain on Santiago Island is younger volcanically and doesn’t contain the same type of marine rock. These boulders arrived on Santiago Island by wave action.
Fogo is an oceanic volcano 9000 feet high, which erupts about once every 20 years. It forms the highest peak in Cape Verde. The mega-tsunami 73,000 years ago would have engulfed Santiago Island with waves around 550 feet high, perhaps reaching as high as 750 feet. To create this much wave energy, it’s estimated that 40 cubic miles of rock must have just dropped into the sea, causing a massive water displacement.
Scientists were even able to date the mega-tsunami to the nearest 1,000 years by measuring helium-3 (He3) isotopes on the surface of the boulders. The extent to which these helium isotopes change depends on how long the boulder has been exposed in the open to cosmic rays. This gives an accurate estimate of when the boulders were washed ashore.
2. 500-Year-Old Church
Cape Verde has the oldest colonial church in the tropics. Situated in Cidade Velha on Santiago Island, the 500-year-old ruins contain over 1,000 bodies, most of them slaves. Cidade Velha was the hub of the African slave trade for almost 300 years. Through this dubious trade, it became the second richest city in the Portuguese Empire.
The church, called Nossa Senhora da Conceicao, is one of about two dozen churches and chapels in Cidade Velha. Before the Portuguese colonized it in the late 15th Century, Cape Verde comprised of simply 10 barren islands of volcanic rock. It was the colonists who brought civilization to Cape Verde. The same colonists built the church on the bend of a river. Perhaps not surprisingly, in time, it was destroyed by flooding.
Archaeologists from the University of Cambridge started excavating the ruins in 2014. They uncovered stone foundations from a Gothic chapel dating back to 1470. This is the oldest colonial construction in Cape Verde. Within the church’s footprint, there is a further, larger construction, which dates around 1500. To have been buried under the floor of the church, the slaves would have likely been converted to Christianity before they died.
Today the entire footprint of Nossa Senhora da Conciedo is on display to the public, including the vestry, side-chapel, and porch. The church offers a remarkable insight into the history and culture of Cape Verde.
3. Cosmic Music Scene Thanks to a Marooned Ship
Electronic music underpins Cape Verde’s musical culture today, and all because of an abandoned sea cargo. On 20th March 1968, a ship carrying a cargo of the latest synthesizers and keyboards left Baltimore. It was en route to Rio de Janeiro, and the cargo was intended to be displayed at a large exhibition to showcase the latest brands.
Mysteriously, the ship disappeared the very same day it departed. A few months later it was found abandoned on the island of Sao Nicolau. The crew had gone, but the cargo of brand new boxed keyboards and synthesizers, all from leading names, remained on board.
Cape Verde at that time was still under Portuguese colonial rule. Amilcar Cabral, the leader of the nationalist movement, had plenty of influence though. He arranged for the electronic equipment to be distributed among the islands’ schools.
The result was an explosion of electronic sounds in the 1970s and 1980s. Synthesizers were used to modernize the native rhythms of Morna, Coladeira and Funana folk dances. Before independence in 1975, this music was banned in Cape Verde. Liberation and electronic synthesizers really shook up the music scene, contributing to a new cosmic sound.
4. 100% Renewable Energy Pledge
Cape Verde has pledged to supply the nation’s entire power needs through renewable energy by 2020. Currently, the nation’s half a million populace have to import all their fossil fuels. Cape Verde has no mineral deposits and very little arable farmland, but it does get a lot of wind and sun. The government wants to capitalize on these natural resources. It hopes that the country will eventually no longer have to be dependent on imports for power. To this end, it has set up Project Cabeolica to deliver wind power across all populated islands.
Currently, 30 wind turbines located on four islands supply about 25% of the electricity needed. This figure can peak at 35% of demand supplied. The aim is to stop using fossil fuels altogether by 2020, which will cut carbon emissions, as well as create jobs. Twenty percent of Cape Verde nationals live in poverty, so the drive towards total renewable energy will help the national economy too.
5. The Cabo Santa Maria
If you’re prepared to hike across difficult terrain, you’ll find the rotting steel structure of a ship on one of the northern beaches of Boa Vista Island. A Spanish cargo ship, the Cabo Santa Maria ran aground there on September 1st, 1968. She was en route to Brazil and Argentina, laden with machinery, food, clothing, and medicines: gifts from Franco to his supporters.
The crew fled the island, and it took nearly a year for the cargo to be unloaded. Many of Boa Vista’s islanders used mules and donkeys to haul the grounded cargo to Sal Rei, Boa Vista’s capital.
Today the Cabo Santa Maria is a gutted, rusting hulk abandoned to the wind and waves. She has become a popular tourist attraction and is often painted by local artists.
6. The Pedra de Lume Salt Mines
On the eastern coast of the island of Sal, near the village of Pedra de Lume, lie the island’s salt mines. Set in a beautiful landscape, the volcanic crater which supplies the salt mines is filled with water 26 times saltier than seawater. For a small fee, tourists are allowed to float on its surface.
The salt mines in Pedra de Lume originated in the 18th century. Salt was exported to countries that included Brazil and France, but production was stopped in 1999.
The base of the crater is the lowest point in Cape Verde, lower than sea level. Water infiltrates the basin, and over three months slowly evaporates leaving the salt deposits. Today these salt pans provide salt only for the local economy.
7. The largest port in all of the Atlantic
Porto Grande: At one point, Cape Verde had the biggest harbor port in all of the Atlantic which is named Porto Grande. Due to Cape Verde’s geographical position and close proximity to the motherland, it provided a much-needed advantage as it was positioned to facilitate trade routes between Europe, Brazil, North America and the west coast of Africa. Its position as the main trading port in the Atlantic Ocean helped to increase the population of Sao Vicente and Cape Verde as a whole. The British and the Portuguese played a major role in the expansion of the port. Porto Grande is still active and currently owned by two companies, Armas from the Canary Islands and ENAPOR which is based in Cape Verde.
8. Best harpooners, steersmen, and whalemen
Cape Verdeans were considered to be the best Whalemen in the world at one point in history. The crewmen, known collectively as “Bravas,” usually far surpassed all others of whatever racial or national origin.” The “Bravas” was a reference to Cape Verdean men that were recruited to work on New England whaling ships. In the early nineteenth century, a significant number of the crew of the Nantucket whaling ships were Cape Verdeans.
The contributions of Cape Verdeans on many of these whaling vessels often exceeded roles beyond lead boat headers and skilled whalemen. Some Cape Verdeans excelled to the point where they became officers on board famous vessels such as the bark Charles W. Morgan, the brig Daisy, the bark Wanderer and the bark Sunbeam. Some legendary harpooners include Jose Gomes, Joao da Lomba, and Bras Lopes. To learn more about the impact Cape Verdeans had on the whaling and industry, we recommend a visit to the New Bedford Whaling Museum located in New Bedford, Massachusetts where there is an exhibit dedicated exclusively to commemorate Cape Verdeans significant maritime contribution. The exhibit is called the “Cape Verdean Maritime Exhibit” and has been open since July 5th, 2011.
9. The Discovery of Cape Verde
Who were the original discoverers of Cape Verde? The discovery of Cape Verde has been a subject of much debate. Before we proceed to provide some clarifications, let us first emphasize the point that may be the culprit for much of the confusion and debate. Just in case you didn’t know, there are two places on earth that use Cape Verde in its name. There is the country of Cape Verde (otherwise known as the Republic of Cape Verde) which is an island nation consisting of ten islands, located off the west coast of Africa, and there’s the Cape Verde Peninsula, which is a peninsula in Senegal which marks the westernmost point of the African continent. The Cape Verde Peninsula is also referred to as Cap-Vert or in some cases, also as Cape Verde, which as you can imagine leads to a lot of confusion. In fact, it wasn’t until 2013 that the Republic of Cape Verde made a request to the United Nations to be recognized officially and internationally as the Republic of Cape Verde.
Based on the above fact, it is possible that the context of exploration and discovery between the islands and the peninsula could have been erroneously intertwined. So did a Portuguese explorer by the name of Dinis Dias discover Cape Verde in 1445? Perhaps, but based on most references, the Cape Verde that was discovered by Dias is actually the Senegal peninsula while the actual Republic of Cape Verde was discovered by other Portuguese and Italian explorers around 1456. Italian explorer Antonio de Noli is officially credited as the discoverer of Cape Verde and was accompanied by Portuguese explorer Diogo Gomes (also known as Diogo Dias). Another Italian explorer by the name of Alvise Cadamosto has also claimed to have discovered the archipelago. Although Diogo Gomes and Antonio de Noli are officially credited with being the discoverer of Cape Verde, no historians have been able to discredit Cadamosto’s claim and the issue continues to be debated to date.
10. The first president of Cape Verde
Many Cape Verdeans look up to Amilcar Cabral as the first president of Cape Verde. Amilcar Cabral was no doubt one the most profound heroes of the country. Cabral was not an actual citizen of Cape Verde has been in Guinea-Bissau, but he was born to Cape Verdean parents. Amilcar Cabral lived a significant portion of his life in Cape Verde and attended preliminary school in Mindelo, Sao Vicente prior to departing to Portugal to study agronomy. His love for Cape Verde and neighboring colonies prompted him to initiate movements against Portuguese colonization.
Amilcar Cabral was the founder and leader of PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde) which led movements against Portuguese colonization and paved the way for independence for both Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. Unfortunately, however, Cabral was assassinated in 1973 before he could see his dream come true but his effort towards the liberation of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau has been recognized as “one of the most successful wars of independence in modern African history” (Wikipedia). His effort eventually resulted in Cape Verde’s independence from Portugal on July 5th, 1975. Amilcar Cabral’s legacy continued long after his death as his ruling political party continued to govern the newly independent country of Cape Verde. Aristides Pereira was a member of this party and officially became the first and non-elected president of the country.
11. More Cape Verdeans live abroad than on the islands themselves
According to 2015 estimates from the CIA, the population of Cape Verde is approximately 525,000. Due to emigration, more Cape Verdeans live abroad than at home. In the USA alone, there are more than 350,000 immigrants living predominantly on the East Coast. Massachusetts and Rhode Island have the highest concentration of Cape Verdean immigrants in all of America. Cape Verdeans have also immigrated to other countries such as Italy, Netherlands, Senegal, Portugal, Brazil, Luxembourg, Argentina and several other countries in Africa. In the UK, Cape Verdeans can be found in Liverpool, Hull, Cardiff, and Newcastle.
To date, the number of Cape Verdean immigrants living abroad is unknown but is substantially greater than the estimated population living at home. For this reason, one of CV Hustle’s main objective is to not only unite the people of Cape Verde through digital collaboration and interactive content but to develop a way to more accurately provide visibility with regards to where and how we’ve expanded our reach outside of Cape Verde.
12. Tropical Storms
What do the names Ivan, Matthew, Katia, Gloria, and Emily have to do with Cape Verde? While these may be the names of some fellow Cape Verdeans, these are actual names of notable hurricanes that were originally formed in Cape Verde and occurred between 1985 and 2016. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), most of the major hurricanes that have impacted the United States have had their origins near the Cape Verde Islands. Due to this natural phenomenon, Cape Verde is closely monitored via satellites and is a focus of attention for meteorologists and scientific organizations such as NASA. To learn more about how hurricanes are formed and evolve around Cape Verde, read.
13. Cape Verde becomes codename for powerful computer hardware
What is the connection between computer hardware and Cape Verde? Cape Verde does not have any facilities for manufacturing hardware equipment for computers. However, did you know that a large multinational semiconductor company based in California named Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) manufactured a powerful graphics card and code-named it Cape Verde? The Radeon HD 7700 series graphics card was initially released in February 2012 and has since then been upgraded with ongoing updates.
14. One official language, nine different dialects of Kriolu
Despite Cape Verde being a small island nation with a population of approximately half a million people, the country is divided into nine inhabited islands with each speaking a unique and different dialect of Kriolu, which is a mix of Portuguese and words from various other countries such as Africa, Europe, and even the US. Although the official language in Cape Verde is Portuguese which was inherited from Portugal as a result of colonization, Kriolu remains the language most frequently spoken throughout the islands.
Interestingly, some individuals from different islands often find it difficult to understand each other. This is especially common among individuals from the different group of islands which are grouped into the Barlavento and the Sotavento Islands.