The island nation of Cape Verde, an archipelago some 300 miles off the coast of Senegal, was first settled by Portuguese colonists in the 15th century, and only gained independence in 1975. In the 19th century, Sephardi Jews whose ancestors had fled persecution in Spain and Portugal four centuries earlier began to migrate there. Now all that remains of the Jewish community are graves, which a group of American Jews and Cape Verdeans is trying to preserve. Rosanne Skirble writes:
Four cemeteries were identified for restoration. Modeled after Jewish burial grounds in Morocco, each has white horizontal stones with inscriptions in Hebrew and Portuguese. All [have] languished and were in various stages of deterioration. One was overrun with grasses and weeds, so much so that the graves were barely visible. . . .
Archival records [suggest] that about 100 Jewish settlers immigrated to Cape Verde. The small Jewish cemeteries scattered in the islands contain dozens of graves. Cape Verde’s [current] population hovers around 550,000. Among them, more than 1,000 claim Jewish [descent], which is held in high esteem. . . .
[The historian] Angela Sofia Benoliel Coutinho [believes] a confluence of events in the 19th century—[most importantly] the end of the Portuguese Inquisition in 1821 and the economic treaty between Portugal and England in 1842—sent Jewish Moroccans to the seas in search of greater religious freedom and a better life. . . . The new Jewish arrivals were largely single men; they married Catholic women and quickly assimilated. They never built a synagogue, but . . . they did build cemeteries.
In this way, Cape Verde’s Jews resembled Jewish communities throughout history and across the globe, which generally built cemeteries before synagogues since prayers could always be held informally in a private home, but custom dictates that Jews must be buried together in a graveyard of their own.