The Ladino Moors: The Jews of Cape Verde, the Guinea Rivers and Gulf of Biafra Jide Uwechia

The Moor’s Head

The Decline of the Moors

The Moors of the Iberian pennisula suffered great and incalculable losses when their centuries old rule was brought to a violent end in Spain in 1492 following the loss of the Caliphate of Granada.

Beginning from that same 1492 in Spain and 1497 in Portugal, the exile of the original dark sons was inauguarated. The conquering European armies were filled with a strange blood lust and an incurable pathological jealousy of the Moors. It was their simple wish to dispossess the Moorish owners of the land, confisicate all their properties and enslave their bodies.

It was easy and simple for them because the fight for Iberia had been drawn across racial lines, so-called “white” Asiatic-Europeans versus so-called black n brown Africans and Afro-Arabians.

New World Order

The Moors occupied the land mass where Lisbon is currently situated and in their time they called it Alishbuna. They had ruled for 400 years since 700 AD only losing their grip on power in 1147 AD. From that date until 1249 when christian crusaders conquered Algarve, the Moors lost land and authority before the hordes of inner Europe.

Following the complete conquest of Portugal in 1249 (with the capture of Algarve), the crusaders gradually tighten the noose around the Moor’s neck, literally speaking. Discrimination got worse. Odinary folks were constantly harrassed. Moors were under unrelenting suspicion of disloyalty, insurrection, and rebellion.

They were imposed on with excessive taxes. Their cultural rights were abrigded, language was restricted, political and business space became increasing non-accessible.

Finally, with the conquest of Granada in 1492 by the Spanish branch of the crusaders, all hell was let loose on the hapless Moors living then in Spain and in Portugal.

The crusaders decided that the fact of being a Moor was criminal enough in itself and so Moors were required to symbolically renounce their heritage and culture. They were required to adopt a new identity as christians called “conversos.” Sometimes these new christians were called “marranoes” a racist term which connoted a “pig” or something unclean.

Conversos were like second class christians of Portugal. Those who would not convert and accept their official second class status as de-culturated animals were then forcibly expelled either as prisoners, slaves or refugees.

The notorious instuitition known as the inquisition, a system of spies, secret police, tortures, confessions and swift executions was established. It was responsible for the death of millions of Moors all over Europe but especially in the Iberian pennisula. It lasted for hundreds of years torturing, maiming and killing all real and suspected enemies of the new European royalty. Its bloodlust, sadism and cruelty are now live in infamy. Those Moors it did not kill or maim, it sold as slaves.

It so happened that in 1496-7 Portugese Kings Joao II and Manuel I horded hundreds of thousands of Jews sent them into exile on the West African coasts of Guinea and Biafra, and on the Islands of Cape Verde and Sao Tome, into a live of perpetual slavery. These peculiar branch of the Iberian moorish Hebrews were called the Ladinos.

Ladino means latinized negros. It was a racist term used for the black Jews of Iberia who were soon deported to African Islands and coastal settlements and used as the first slaves in the sugar plantations. See, Abu Alfa MUHAMMAD SHAREEF bin Farid, “A Continuity of the 19th Century Jihaad Movements of Western Sudan,” Sankore: Institute of Islamic-African Studies,”

According to Richard Lobban, in his article “Jews in Cape Verde and on the Guinea Coast” Paper presented at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, 11 February 1996:

“..Portugese or Iberian Jews sometimes use this term to note this social group which consitituted a portion of early migrants to the Cape Verde Islands. Some reference use this term for the people and language of 16th and 17th century Sephardic Jews from Iberian Pennisula. The term Ladino could also refer to baptized African slaves. In either case, the reference was often racist, and derogatory and implied a lying, wandering, sneaky, and thieving group which was particularly untrustworthy.”..

Exiled Moors, the Jews of Biafra:

The Portugese had followed the pursuit of their defeated Moorish foes right across the straits of Gibraltar. The objective was to defeat the Moors in all of their land and seize it as Iberia had been seized.

Following the path of the Moorish network, the Protugese had soon falled on Cape Verde off the coast of West Africa which they seized in the middle 15th century.

Cape Verde was a half-way restocking station for the ancient Phoenicians and their medieval Moorish successors on their voyages across the ocean towards the continent in the west which later came to be known as the Americas and the Carribeans.

Having seized these groups of Islands, the Portugese continued their raids on the Moorish lands off the Gulf of Guinea and Biafra. Many coastal communites were sacked and burnt. Strategic locations on the coast such as the Elmina castle area in Cape coast, Porto Novo area in Dahomey, were occupied and declared to be under the realm of the King of Portugal. Islands such as Lagos, Escarvos, Fernado Po, and Sao Tome were colonized that early in time.

States and Kingdoms of coast of Guinea and Biafra were harrassed by the marauding Portugese crusaders cum slave raiders. Their acts of depredations were vigorously challenged by many Kings and Queens of those coastal states. One of the more famous incidents involved the war between Protugese crusaders and Queen Nzinga over the former’s incessant slave-raiding activites.

The Portugese crown had soon declared a monopoly of trade over the rich Moorish territories newly aquired off the coast of Guinea and Biafra. The Crown viewed the unwanted Moorish Jews and Muslims as cheap and easy labour to develop these newly acquired territories. It was a master stroke, getting rid of the black-a-moors and getting rich while doing it.

Between 1450 and 1500, Portugese record detail the deportation and enslavement of more than 500,000 Moorish Jews to the Islands off the the Gulf of Guinea and Biafra. Many of these were children who had been stolen and separated from their parents.

According to an article in the New York Times, September 24, 2004 by Edward Rothstein:

“The Inquisition played a more central role in the later Jewish journeys… Jews entering Portugal after being expelled from Spain in 1492 were heavily taxed. If Jews could not pay, their sons ages 2 – 10 were enslaved and sent to Sao Tome, a Portugese outpost…and worked in sugar fields…” Sao Tome was one of the more infamous slave Islands of the Atlantic that grew fabulously rich off the sugar trade.

The Moorish Jews of Guinea and Biafra

By the middle of the fifteenth century the Portuguese had deepened their penetration of West Africa. Having nothing of value to provide the coastal Moors of Guinea and Biafra in exchange for what they desired, they resorted to selling firearms, and kidnapping, slave trading and plantation production.

On the island of São Tome in the Gulf of Guinea as well as at Elmina in Ghana where the Portuguese first settled during it’s colonization of Africa, the Portuguese had, for all intents and purposes, “gone native”.

They discarded their European fashions and clad themselves in native garb, and favored the African women and lived with many of them in concubinage.

In that peculiar colonial-plantation production slave society that was created, the several categories of persons are notable.

There were the capitaos, Portugese agents of the Crown who supervised the extraction of wealth and resources from this newly conquered land of the Moors on the coast of West Africa. They were the ruling elites of those societies.

They were the degrados, or the lancados Portugese. Lancados literally means “outcasts” or “throw-aways.” They were cast off of the Portuguese society, ex-convicts, debtors, murderers and thieves. These were allowed to trade as long as they stayed within the applicable restrictions imposed by the Portugese Crown including restriction on the sale of firearms, iron bars, navigational equipment, cloth currency known as Panos, and slaves which were the King’s monopoly.

Then there were the Iberian Jewish Moors – the Ladinos who had been disposessed of all they had and exiled or enslaved on the Islands of West Africa. Many of the Jews had fled the persecutions of the Portugese inquisition which ranged between 1496 and 1510, then had ramped up in 1536. Many came looking for their children who had been stolen by the authorities and enslaved along the coast of West Africa.

Muslim Moors who spoke Arabic were widespread in the area especially in Upper Guinea area. They were known as “Targomas” (a word that means “interpreters”).

The word “Lanados” connotes “Africanized” Portugeses Moorish Jews. Those had abondoned the Portugese outposts and had gone completely native. They lived together with the African communities of the interior, as Africans, intermarrying and interworshiping with them; having very little recollection of their Portugese connections. The synthesis that occurred between the lanados and the local Africans of the coast created the nuclues of the Creole culture, a vibrant cultural expression which defines modern West Africa, especially the coastal states.

Thus, as early as the later 15th century and through the 16th to the 17th centuries, a Jewish coastal presence was deeply established on the coast of West Africa. (See above). Jean Boulegue reports that in 1517, King Manuel I made reference to a group of deported Jews (lanadoes) on the coast of Senegambia.

In the early 1600s, lanados had established trade stations along the entire Senegambia coast encompassing such areas as Goree, Joal, Ziguinchor in Casamance, Cacheu, Bissau, Bolama.

Ladinos were living as migrants and trading in the kingdom of Benin (in today’s Nigeria), they were in Lagos, Forcados and Fernanda Po, as well. Benin oral traditions still recall the visit of Pierto de Nino a Moorish Jewish sailor who took Chritopher Columbus on his first trip to the Americas. Other Moorish Jews had made their way into the Ondo region where they still live today as the Beni Emphraim.

In 1622 the Cape Verdan Governor, Dom Francisco reported to the Portugese king that the coast of Guinea (..and Biafra) “was full of Jews who were masters of the local regions and were quite independent of the Crown (Portugal).”


The coastal areas of West Africa have this dominant culture which is known as creole culture. Creole culture is best exemplified in the beautiful musical expression of hi-life music a brand of music which combines jazz, with afro-latin fusion to create a pulsuating and vibrant intoxicating musical beat.

Creole culture is also obvious in the foods eaten across West Africa notable of which is the famous Spanish rice (Jollof rice) which is prepared and eated Iberian style right across the entire region. Jollof rice is very popular in Nigeria. It is viewed as indigenous Nigerian cusine but its ingredients and style of cooking is exactly the same as obtains in Spain.

Creole culture is the hypnotic rythymic drawl of sweet West African creole patios either in English (the Nigerian pidgin English) or the French. It is a combination of various European and African languages which created new dialects or sub-language groups that are still spoken and understood by virtually all the descendants of the Africans and the Moorish Jews that live in the cities of modern Africa.

The traditional African coastal city architectural style which combines the old Iberian Moorish pattern of building and 15th African motifs and notions are products of the creole culture. This architectural style is called the “Brazilian style” in memory of the Black Moorish builders of some of those early homes. Many came directly from Portugal and later moved to Brazil, many returned from Brazil to the coasts of West Africa.


The “Jewish danger” as it was described in Portugal was considered so seriously that the dreaded inquisition made a landfall in Africa, in Cape Verde in 1672. This establishment of this notorious instuition was followed as usual by excesses and outrages committed in the name of religious chauvinism.

Jewish property was wantonly siezed from them. They were jailed and repressed for the lest suspected misdemeanour. They were enslave for any imagined infraction and sent to one penal slave Island or the other, anywhere from Africa to the South American Brazil.

In light of this renewal of persecution, many Moorish Jews who were already “natives” by all imaginable standards, melted away into the deeper recesses of the interior where they knew the Portugese would not dare come.


This article has argued that the Moorish Jews who took refuge in West africa went “native” due to the similarity of culture and the sameness of the physical structure. There were no racial hang-ups. It has been shown how many lanados and ladinos simply took wives from local communities and became one with them.

Combined with the later pressures and depredations of the Portugese inquisition which sought to uproot the Jewish competition, as well as pressures from the upstream Muslim communities to convert, the influence of the Moorish Jews may not be as pronounced as it once was on the coast of West Africa. But it yet remains, easily discernable to any modern day inquirer.

In Cabo Verde, the presence of Moorish Jews can still be traced in their earliest settlments in Sao Tiago which they fled to as degraded and dis-enfranchised refugees returning home to the bosom of the the continent of Africa.

Jewish historical presence remains on Santo Antao, traceable in the name of a little village of that domain, Sinagogs. There is a dated Jewish cemetary at the town of Ponta da Sol.Other Jewish cemetaries can be found in Brava (Cova da Judeu), Boa Vista (in Praia and Cidade Velha) in Sinagoga, Fogo, and other places.

Many Moorish Jewish families can still be traced by their surnames in Boa Vista, Cabo Verde such as Auday, Benros, Ben David, DaGama, Seruya, Salomao Ben Oliel. According to Ricahrd Lobban, supra, “the family names of Cohn (priest) and Wahnon are prominent in Santo Antao.”

In Nigeria, in Lagos, Badagry, Warri, one finds names such as Cardoso, Gomez, DAcosta, and Gonsalis as the remenants of the Moorish Jewish families who retained their Portugese or Spanish names up to the present times. They are mistaken called “the Brazilian” returnees by those who do not know any better.

Tribal Jews

Those that returned to the African tribes simple adopted their new identities and commenced a life of relative peace and security. They intermarried and interworshipped with the nations that adopted them.

Yet, some of those Moorish Jews retained enough of their cultural traits, names, books or oral traditions that provide indications of their origins.

For example, it has been reported that “The Bnai Ephraim (”Children of Ephraim”) from Nigeria, live among the Yoruba tribe. Their oral history tells that the Bnai Ephraim people came from Morocco after the Jews were banished from Spain sometime after 1492.”

“They speak a creole language that is a mixture of Moroccan Arabic, Yoruba, and Aramaic. They are known by the Yoruba tribe as the Emo Yo Quaim, or “strange people”. This community has solid proof of its historical origins because unlike other African Israelite communities in Nigeria, they have portions of the Torah which they keep in their sanctuaries.”

Some segments of the Efik ethnicity of Nigeria (related to the Igbos and Ibibios) and the Ishan ethnicity as well do claim descent from some Jewish migration that might have probably occurred in the 15th century.

Other segments of the Igbos of Nigeria have a particularly well documented and increasingly validated claim of descent from some Moorish Jews. Ladino names like Ben-de, Elili, Aro, Edda, Nssuka, Abo, Dey, Oliel, etc are still found in Igbo language bearing the same meaning as in old Ladino. See Iroabuchi@


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