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Monday, March 18, 2013

Cape Verde: Global Crossroads

Southeastern Massachusetts is home not only to EarthView, but also to many thousands of people from the Atlantic island nation of Cape Verde. By some estimates, more Cape Verdeans live in Massachusetts than in Cape Verde itself, because the Cape Verdeans here include people who arrived last week, people whose ancestors arrived on whaling ships more than a century ago, and generations of arrivals in between. Many of those migrants arrived on a ship that can be found in New Bedford Harbor to this day, the Schooner Ernestina, a former whaling ship that became the last vessel to bring migrants to the United States under sail.
Map source: Sandgrains, a film about resource depletion in Cape Verde
This map is more accurate than the current
Google map of the islands, which includes a major error.
The connections between Cape Verde and our region are very strong, but Cape Verde's geographic situation has helped to make it a very cosmopolitan country, with connections in many parts of the world.

One interesting connection that we often mention to EarthView participants is also relevant to the life of Pope Francis, who was elected last week to lead the Roman Catholic church. He was born as Jorge Mario Borgoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1936. His father had been born in Italy, as were earlier generations on his mother's side.

How does this relate to Cape Verde? As with the new pope's family, many workers had migrated from Italy to Argentina in the early twentieth century to work in railroads, steel, and other industries. All of that migration, of course, was by ship, but by the 1930s Italy's dictator Mussolini was interested in an air connection and needed a convenient refueling stop. Cape Verde's first international airport was built by Italy on the island of Sal (meaning Salt) in 1939.

The location at Sal was chosen for several geographic reasons. First, Cape Verde is situated near the direct route from Rome to Buenos Aires (click to enlarge the map below, and you will see that Cape Verde is just to the northeast of the path). Second, the site characteristics of the island of Sal include flat topography in comparison to the other islands. Third, Cape Verde was a territory of Portugal, at that time headed by Mussolini's fellow dictator, Salazar.
Click to enlarge. Get more flight paths from
GPS Visualizer
The other line on this map shows a more personal connection for the EarthView team. Dr. Domingo is from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and when visiting home he flies from Boston to Johannesburg. That flight can be done in several ways, one of which is to stop for refueling in Cape Verde, as Sal is very close to the direct route -- even closer than it is to the Rome-Buenos Aires route. In addition to Dr. Domingo's layovers, the EarthView Experience includes Dr. Hayes-Bohanan's BSU study tour to Cape Verde in 2006, with another planned in 2014.

The Space Shuttle never landed in Cape Verde, but the long runway at
Sal was among its designated emergency landing strips.
One result of Cape Verde's many connections to other places is that Cape Verdeans are among the most polyglot people on the planet. We often meet children from Cape Verde who speak three, four, or even five languages. All Cape Verdeans speak Cape Verdean Creole and most speak Portuguese as well. Those from Sal may speak Italian, and connections to the Canary Islands and Senegal make Spanish and French common as well. And of course the Cape Verdeans we meet have learned English, either in school back home or when they arrive here.

Both of the routes shown on the Atlantic map above are Great Circle routes, which always represent the most direct route between two points. On a globe, such routes can be found by holding a string on both points, pulling it snug. Inside EarthView, we can represent them with our laser pointers. On most flat maps, these direct paths are represented as curves, sometimes with surprising results. Airline routes sometimes differ from great-circle paths because of prevailing winds or storms, but planning usually begins by calculating the shortest distance.

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