Cape Verde

Traditions and customs of Cape Verde

What traditions and customs are there in Cape Verde?

A look at the customs and traditions of Cape Verde, a former colony of Portugal.

Food and economy

Food in daily life

Corn is the staple food of Cape Verde. The national dish, cachupa, is a stew of corn, beans, and whatever meat or vegetable is available. Other common foods include rice, beans, fish, potatoes, and cassava.

A traditional breakfast is couscous, a steamed cornbread, eaten with honey and milk or coffee. Cape Verdeans usually eat a large mid-afternoon lunch and a small late dinner. Grog, or sugarcane liquor, is made on the islands and is a popular drink, especially among men.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Many Catholic saints’ days are observed throughout the year. Food and its preparation play an important role in these celebrations.

Women often spend the days leading up to the feast pounding corn for cachupa, cleaning and cutting vegetables, and preparing meat. Xerem, a form of cachupa in which the corn is ground more finely, is often served.


Legal and ecclesiastical weddings are rare in Cape Verde. Most of the time, a woman just leaves her family’s house to move in with her boyfriend. This is often caused by the woman’s pregnancy.

After four years of cohabitation, a relationship acquires the status of common-law marriage. Although polygamy is not legal, it is customary for men (married or not) to sleep with several women at the same time.


Cape Verdeans are an extremely generous and hospitable people. Even the poorest take pride in offering a meal to their guests. It is considered rude to eat in front of others without sharing, and for this reason one does not eat in a public place such as on the street or on a bus.

Cape Verdeans stand close together when speaking and are physically demonstrative, often touching and holding hands (both male and female). Greetings are somewhat lengthy, and include shaking hands (or kissing women), and asking about each other’s health and family. This is usually done whenever two people get together, even if it is more than once on the same day.


Religious beliefs

98% of Cape Verdeans are Roman Catholic. The Nazarene church is also represented, as are Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, and evangelical Christians. There is a history of various Jewish settlements dating back to the inquisition, but they are now extinct.

Rituals and Holy Places

Every town has a church, but most Cape Verdeans are non-practicing Catholics. However, saints’ days are often the basis for community-wide parties that include dancing, drinking, and eating. A family, neighborhood or town usually takes charge of the celebration of a certain saint.

Death and afterlife

Despite its relatively secular atmosphere, the rituals surrounding death are strictly observed. Funerals are large events attended by much of the community.

The procession is accompanied by mourners performing a highly stylized musical lament. Members of the deceased’s family wear black for a whole year after death and are prohibited from dancing or playing music.

Secular celebrations

New Year’s Day is celebrated on January 1. Amílcar Cabral Day (January 24), commemorates the birthday of the liberator of Cape Verde, one of the leaders in the war of independence. Independence Day is celebrated on July 5.

Arts and Humanities

Arts support

There is a Cape Verdean cultural center in Praia, which puts on shows and exhibitions and sells books, music and artifacts.


There is a small but growing body of Cape Verdean literature. Most of it is written in Portuguese, but a movement to develop a standardized written form of Creole has seen several books published in this language as well.

Written literature is heavily influenced by the tradition of oral storytelling, which has its roots in both Africa and Europe. A predominant theme in both literature and music is saudade, a feeling of homesickness or homesickness, which is often the result of emigration and the resulting separation of families.

Graphic arts

The production of graphic art is limited. Crochet is popular among women. Textiles were traditionally produced on large looms in a time-consuming process, but this is rare today. The island of Boavista is known for its clay pottery; Fogo is known for its small carvings made from hardened lava.

There is also some basket weaving, embroidery, carpentry, and other craft production, but the preponderance of artifacts sold in the markets are imported from Africa.

Performing arts

Music and dance are a central point of Cape Verdean culture. Traditional forms of music include the funana, which is played on an accordion, and an iron bar that serves as a rhythm instrument.

Batuque is performed by a circle of women who beat rhythms on plastic bags held between their legs. Both types of music have a strong African influence and are particular to the island of Santiago.

Another traditional form of music is the morna, which is a slower, more Portuguese -influenced ballad. Each type of music has a specific dance that goes with it. Popular music has a very synthesized feel.

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