The Story Must Be Told.
A Story of Cape Verdeans

A story about the forgotten cranberry bog workers,
the Cape Verdean men and women who helped to build the cranberry industry.

 
© 1994,1999, Querino Kenneth J. Semedo
ulna@verizon.net
 

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Table of Contents

Introduction

Part 1 - Working the Cranberry Bogs

Part 2 - The Soul and Social Life of the Cape Verdean People Who Worked in the Cranberry Bogs.

Conclusion - Keeping the Past Alive.

Further Reading and Resources

 


 

Introduction

 
My name is Querino Kenneth Joseph Semedo. I have been married to Henrietta Rita Semedo for 43 years and we have two daughters, Susan Lynne Semedo and Ruth Anne Minnie Semedo. I was born in West Wareham, Massachusetts. My mother, assisted by a midwife, gave birth to me in our home on June 1, 1927. My father, Antonio Cabral Semedo, was born in the city of Praia on the island of Santiago in the Cape Verde Islands on March 17, 1885. At a young age he left Praia to live on the island of Fogo. On May 25, 1907, at the age of 22 years, he left from Fogo on a ship named the SS Luzo, bound for America, and arrived in the port of New Bedford, Massachusetts on June 26, 1907. My mother, Guilhermina Minnie Lopes Semedo, was born on July 7, 1896, on the island of Brava in the Cape Verde Islands, and lived in the village of Cova Rodella. On May 10, 1920, at the age of 24, she left Brava, departing on the SS Edith M. Prior, arriving in New Bedford on June 8, 1920. I have one brother, Antone Semedo, born Sept. 12, 1923 in the same house that I was born in. He had the same midwife that I had. Births in those days were mostly at home. I had a brother, John Semedo, who died of pneumonia as an infant. My father died picking cranberries on one of A.D. Makepeace's cranberry bogs, one half mile from his home, on October 11, 1955. My mother died on January 19, 1965.

A Period of Observation

After retiring in 1989, I spent many hours visiting many cranberry bogs. My main purpose was to observe and compare the methods used by the present day cranberry workers to those used by my father and the early Cape Verdean cranberry workers decades ago. It is quite obvious to me that mechanical equipment has replaced most of the manual labor jobs that the early Cape Verdean workers performed. This story will cover the period from 1907, when my father came to America, to 1997.

The changing face of Cranberry workers

Looking at the cranberry industry as it is in 1997, one could ask what is the big deal about the contribution of the Cape Verdean people to the cranberry industry? The story must be told about the hard work that the Cape Verdeans did to help build and maintain the cranberry industry in its formative years.

Who knows about the contribution the Cape Verdeans made to the Cranberry Industry ?

Let me preface this story by saying that the vast majority of people involved in the cranberry industry today do not have the faintest knowledge of the contribution the Cape Verdean people made in helping to build that industry. The period from 1910 to 1933 was a period in which Cape Verdeans performed some of the most arduous tasks required to build the cranberry bogs. This was a period without bulldozers and heavy equipment. The modern day cranberry workers were not around in the early nineteen hundreds to understand how difficult working in the cranberry industry was in these formative years. This story is also written to enlighten the young Cape Verdeans who have never stepped foot on a cranberry bog and who are unaware of their forefathers' contribution to the cranberry industry.

One Cape Verdean's Point of View

This is a story of the Cape Verdeans' contribution to the cranberry industry from one Cape Verdeans' point of view. Neither the Cape Verdean community nor I am claiming that the Cape Verdeans were the only ethnic group that performed the difficult and backbreaking jobs of the early years. Other white ethnics, in particular the Finns, worked in the bogs, but this is not a story about them. I have found many writings about the white ethnics, but very little about the Cape Verdeans. Placing blame at this time is of short-term value. We as Cape Verdeans must continue to enlighten and tell our story, the story of the early Cape Verdean people who, through their hard work, helped to build an industry.

I am going to describe these backbreaking jobs in the next few chapters. In the early nineteen hundreds, things were very difficult for people of color. It is fair to say that many of the most undesirable jobs on the cranberry bogs were relegated to the Cape Verdeans. This historical period of the cranberry

In the Fields
industries has not been properly addressed with respect to the Cape Verdeans' contribution to the cranberry industry. I tried to shed some light on the various contributions of the Cape Verdean people in this country at the
Cape Verdean Folklife Festival sponsored by the Smithsonian in DC in 1995 . That was my original intention and reason for writing and presenting this story to the Smithsonian, but I feel that what I was trying to do was not completed there.


Part 1 - Working the Cranberry Bogs
Living Quarters

The buildings that the Cape Verdean cranberry bog workers lived in were called shanties. Built close to the bogs and owned by the cranberry growers, they were mostly one-room buildings that served as bedroom, kitchen and living room area all in one. Their roofs and sides were covered with tarpaper, and the construction of these buildings left much to be desired. I remember my father telling me about his days living in these shanties. The summer was durable, but come the winter things were very, very difficult. I remember my father telling me that there were times when he woke up in the morning and the bed blankets would have frost on them. This happened when the wood stoves went out at night. This was in the period around 1912, before World War I. It is hard for people to believe how difficult it was then. There are very few Cape Verdeans living today that went through this time.

I remember as late as 1947/48 visiting some of the Cape Verdeans who lived in some shanties in Rochester, Ma. There were about 5 of these shanties in a place that we fondly referred to as Riverside, because it was near a reservoir, and owned by the Cape Cod Cranberry Company. These Cape Verdeans were proud people. They would tell me stories about what happened on the cranberry bogs, and then they would stray to stories about the "old country," this being the Cape Verde Islands.

These men were great storytellers. They would offer me some "grogo," a Cape Verdean whiskey, if they had some on hand. They were also great cooks. Sometimes they would offer us Cachupa, a thick soup made from dried corn with some kind of meat like pork in it, a Cape Verdean delicacy. There are many ways to cook it. Cape Verdeans take pride in having their own special version.

One of the many Cranberry Bog workers
My Father-in-law, a cranberry worker for over 45 years

My Father-in-law, John Lopes, lived on Ryder Road in Rochester, Ma. He was a worker and then a supervisor for the Cape Cod Cranberry Company in Rochester. He worked for this company for over 45 years. I remember going out with him 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning to "watch the frost." The year was 1957. Watching the frost entailed my father-in-law getting a call that a frost was imminent. It could be 2,3,4 a.m., time to tend the water pumps. His job was to start the pumps and pump the water from the reservoir onto the cranberry bog, raising the level just enough to cover the vines. The water protected the vines and berries from deadly frost. Water was at a premium so using just enough water to maintain the correct water level was important. The importance of what my Father-in-law was doing cannot be overstated. His job was to maintain the correct height of the water in the bogs by regulating the planks on the flumes. To prevent too much water from flowing in he would add a plank. Conversely, if too little water were coming through he would remove a plank to increase the flow of the water. Usually the water was removed from the bog the next morning. John Lopes had to be on the job early in the next morning to remove the water from the bog even though he had lost a lot of sleep. A bad decision by my Father-in-law could mean sometimes losing a crop of berries. Today thermostatically-controlled sprinkler systems, tunneled throughout the bogs, automatically turn-on when the temperature drops to about 29 degrees.


Spraying the Bogs
I also remember my father in law inspecting the cranberry vines with a magnifying glass to see if there were any
fruit worm eggs on the cranberries. This is how he determined if it was necessary to spray the vines with an pesticide. You had to spray to kill the eggs before they produced fruit worms. Fruit worms could ruin a whole crop. Random samples of the berries are gathered from several areas of the bog and examined.

Many of these tasks that my father-in-law performed have been made much easier with new technology.

The backbreaking work that the Cape Verdean people did in the early years has been largely eliminated by the introduction of modern machinery and equipment.

However, as I will point out throughout this story, a few small cranberry bog owners are still doing many of these tasks the old-fashioned way.

John Lopes performed these tasks after having to leave school, at age 14, to help support his widowed mother and siblings. His story has never been told. You may never hear or see the name of John Lopes in the Cranberry Museum. That is why the story has to be told.

 

BUILDING THE BOGS

Building a cranberry bog was done mostly by hand. The first thing that had to be done was to clear the area of trees and then to remove the tree stumps. There were no chain saws to cut down the trees or bulldozers to remove the tree stumps. Stumps were removed by hand using a prying device, a 1st-class lever. You would dig an area around the stump, then 3 or 4 persons would keep pushing down on the long pry. Over a time, and after many "heave hoes," the stump would begin to loosen. Let's compound this from one stump to 10 or 20 acres of land with stumps to be removed. You will then begin to get an idea of how much backbreaking work went into the making of a 20-acre or more bog. There were bogs built that were 100 acres in area. Hundred of trees were cut with saws and axes to clear the swamps. The blood and sweat of many of the Cape Verdeans were left in the cranberry bogs that you see today in your travels. Looking at the workers on the cranberry bogs today would lead you to believe that a Cape Verdean never stepped foot on a cranberry bog. As a young boy growing up, I worked along with my father mother and my brother in the building of several cranberry bogs in Rochester and one small bog in West Wareham. I have first hand-knowledge of what it was like to work in a muddy swamp and how hard this work was. Cape Verdeans largely did the building and maintenance of these bogs that you see today. That is why I am trying to portray, not only to the present cranberry growers, but to the young Cape Verdeans who never worked in a cranberry bog, just how much these Cape Verdeans contributed to the building of the cranberry industry. In many instances Cape Verdeans built cranberry bogs on property they owned close to their homes. What these Cape Verdean men and women did is something to be proud of. Their hard honest work is not something to be ignored as if it never happened. Most of the younger generation is unaware of this part of their heritage. This was backbreaking work done for minimal pay. It was an honest living, something that my parents and all the early Cape Verdeans instilled in their children. This was a great period, one that led to great things for the Cape Verdeans that followed. These Cape Verdeans went on to build their homes something that Cape Verdeans took great pride in. This is especially true of Cape Verdeans that were brought up in the Cape area. I could go on about the great accomplishments of the younger Cape Verdean, but this story is about the older, hard-working Cape Verdean cranberry workers of yesteryear who are really the forgotten cranberry workers.

 

SANDING THE BOGS
Sanding promotes vine growth

Wheeling sand is how my father referred to this task. In the early years wheelbarrows had steel wheels, unlike the present-day wheelbarrow which has rubber wheels that reduce friction and which are much easier to control and keep on the planks. These planks were made of mostly hard pine about 10 to 12 feet long. You had to have planks because you had to have a hard surface to roll the wheelbarrows on. My father told me that one person was given a few pennies more an hour to be a pusher. I am using the term pusher, but I believe the other Cape Verdeans of those days had another name for these individuals. Taller men with long stride were placed as leader going out with the loaded wheelbarrows and as leader returning with the empty wheelbarrows. These tall men with long stride set the fast pace that all the other individuals had to follow. "Pa" said that there were always persons standing on the "shore" (the borders of the bog) ready to take over if an individual tired and started to slow down. The pace was ferocious. If you are having a problem relating to these incidents, remember that this was the early 1900's and the time of the Great Depression. Imagine for a moment what kind of shape you had to be in to keep up this pace for an 8-hour day.


Wheeling Sand

You started out parked in what was called a sandhole. This is where you loaded your wheelbarrow from with a hand shovel. You had to load your wheelbarrow with a high heap because you had to make sure you are giving the bosses a full load. You had to make sure that you loaded the wheelbarrow properly. That heap of sand had to be right over the wheelbarrow wheel. Otherwise if your load was more to the wheelbarrow handle, the imbalance of the load would do you in, in no time. Experienced workers would help each other with these various techniques. When I started wheeling sand my father taught me this technique.

You had to keep up with the person next to you who was keeping up with the pusher that was leading the pace. When the pusher's wheelbarrow is full you had better have yours full because he was not going to wait for you. Remember there were replacements standing around just waiting to take over for the slow workers. After the wheelbarrows were full the pusher is the leadoff person and he would travel at a fast pace on this 10-inch plank. If a person is going off the plank and is dumping a load he was not going to be around for long. After the individuals had traveled the distance that could be 10, 30, 40 planks' times 12 feet each you're a tired individual. Again the pusher starts unloading his wheelbarrow with his shovel at a fast pace.

The last person to arrive the distance has to work even faster than the persons who arrived first because they had a head start in unloading. Of course the pusher is there waiting for the last person to arrive to unload and start back. Unloading a wheelbarrow full of sand sounds like a routine task, but let me describe to you what is involved. Once the workers have reached their destination on the cranberry bog he starts to unload the sand using this method. He has to spread the sand over the vines with a thin enough layer that the sands settle down into the vines. The swing of the shovel is made in a semi circular sweeping motion. Now you can see how fast these individuals had to work with great precision on how they handled the shovel. All this is being done under the close supervision of a company boss and within a time constraint set up by the company pusher. What I have just described was told to me by my father. I know first hand just how hard this work was because I did some wheeling of these wheelbarrows myself in the Forties.

I also did sanding on ice. Sanding on ice was done with a very light, stripped-down pickup truck called a jalopy. I never knew why it had this name. You would travel on the ice onto the bog and spread the sand on the ice. In the springtime the ice would melt and the sand would settle down into the vines.

I was also involved in another method of sanding bogs. I remember carrying heavy railroad tracks and laying these tracks in the bog so that heavy V-shaped carts full of sand could be pushed on this track. A motorized engine similar to a miniature railroad engine pulled these carts. We would be waiting for these V-shaped carts ready to empty and spread the sand in the bogs. At this time around 1947 I was working for a company called Sales Company that took care of various bogs. The owner was Raymond Morse. The way bogs were sanded became increasingly mechanical as time went by.

Let us compare the methods I have just described with today's methods. One of the methods used today involves special platform boats, designed to float, and resembling the propelled air-boats used in the Everglades in Florida. These platforms are loaded with sand. In the center of this floating platform there is an area that an operator stands in and operates various hydraulic levers that release and control the flow of the sand from a hopper. The hopper forms a V shape. When the sand is released from the hopper it settles down into the water and into the cranberry vines. There is very little backbreaking work today. It is hard for most present-day cranberry workers to identify with the old backbreaking way of sanding acres and acres of cranberry bogs. The above method of sanding bogs is done during mild winters when ice sanding is impossible.

However, there are still some small cranberry bog owners, with one to three acres, who are still using the old-fashioned method. But the large bogs are no longer done this way.

SCYTHING

A tool called a scythe is used to cut down brushes and tall weeds in and around the cranberry bogs and dikes. The scythe is shaped in the form of an L with a curved handle about 5 feet long, and a 3-foot sharp, single-edged metal blade at the end of the handle. The 5-foot handle has two smaller handles that you grasp with the right and left hand to swing the scythe in a semi-circular motion to cut the weeds and brushes. The scythe is designed for a right-handed swinger. Recently, while I was looking at one of my father's old scythes that I still have in my possession, I made the observation that when I played baseball, and now that I play golf, I always swing from the left side. Because all scythes are made to be swung from the right side I automatically swung it from the right side without thinking left or right swinging. Because I swung at a baseball from the left side, now I am wondering if I could have been a switch hitter in baseball.

Today, special tractors with a specially-designed side sickle mows all the shore area, including the dikes. I was observing this just a few days ago on one of my recent visits to a cranberry bog and thinking about how much easier it is today, though, again, some small owners may still be using the old-fashioned method.

DITCH CLEANING

A cranberry bog is criss-crossed with irrigation ditches. These ditches had to be cleaned at least once a year of the accumulation of weeds and mud which would retard the flow of water needed to irrigate and nourish the cranberry vines. There were hundreds of feet of ditches needing cleaning. The mud and weeds were shoveled from the ditches onto the bog. Then other workers would shovel the mud and weeds into a wheelbarrow. The heavy load was then wheeled over a 10-inch plank, with water dripping all over the place as the workers made their way to the shore to unload their wheelbarrow. Sometimes boots were available to the men. Most of the time they weren't.

Another method of carrying the mud and weeds was to use a carrier that we called parballar. That is the only term that I ever heard used by the Cape Verdeans to describe this. The parballar had 4 handles 2 front and 2 in back, with a loading area screened to let the water flow through.. One person would hold the two handles in front and one person would grasp the two handles in the rear and walk in unison to spill the heavy load on the shore. One can only imagine how tired these men were after an 8-hour day? Think about it for a moment.

Contrast this with the way it is done today in 1994. A special designed tractor with a side shovel is used. The heavy equipment scoops the mud and weeds onto a 10-foot by 10-foot canvas. The canvas is loaded with the mud and weeds removed from the ditch. Another man now brings the four corners of the canvas to a central point and attaches it to a large hook, preparing the load to be picked up. A helicopter flyer is now summoned. The helicopter hovers over the readied hook, the man in the bog attaches it to the helicopter and away he flies to shore releases his load and starts back for another load. Some of the people with smaller bogs still do it the old-fashioned way.

WEEDING THE BOGS

Weeding the cranberry bogs was something that was done predominately by women although men also did it. This was a backbreaking job. During the hot summer months you could feel the heat rushing up from the bog. You were in every conceivable position with your body squatting, kneeling and bending from the hips. During the day you have tortured your body in many ways. This was to me the most undesirable job I did on a cranberry bog. I would volunteer to do scything rather than weed the bog. Weeding is a delicate job. The tool used for weeding is called a weeding hook. It is shaped like an L with a wooden handle. I still have one in my possession that was used by my parents. The reason for using a weeding hook is to be sure that you reach down deep enough to get at the roots of the weeds. Some of the weeds can be removed just by hand. I remember one of the weeds that we called "cut grass." If you handled this cut grass carelessly you could receive a razor sharp cut. The hardest part of weeding is trying to find a comfortable position to take so that you would not get too fatigued.

Kneeling on your knees is the most comfortable position. However, depending on the time of the year, you could not kneel on the bog because you would damage the bloom or the green berries. This is when you have to stoop over to weed the bogs. This is a very fatiguing position.

Today most cranberry growers use weed killers.

PICKING CRANBERRIES

There were two old-fashioned cranberry picking tools. One was the scoop and the other is was what some called a snapping machine. It was not a machine at all. The dimension of the snap is 10 inches by 9 inches and it has 26 steel teeth that are 7 inches long. The main body in made of wood. The snap was used on very young cranberry vines. The snap was more gentle to the young vines that have not embedded itself sufficiently to survive the more violent motion of the scoop that can uproot the young vines. The snap was a very

Men Picking
difficult tool to manipulate. The technique of using a snap is to slide the 7-inch teeth into the vines. You then had to close the hinged top part of the snap and at the same time pull back to catch and detach the berries from the vines. This took much coordination because these motions had to be repeated rapidly. A less skilled person could fool around with a snap and use it at a very slow rate, but in the mean time you are going to starve. You are not going to be productive enough to make any money. My father told me that there was a man that was so good at it that he used two snaps' one in each hand. Now that is coordination.

When the snap is full it is placed into a bucket that was called a measure. These buckets called a measure had one quart markings on them. The measure's capacity is 6 quarts. In the early years you received about 10 cents per measure. The other picking tool that was used is called a scoop. The dimension of a small scoop is 19 inches by 20 inches and it has 17 teeth about 10.5 inches long. These are the dimensions of the scoop that I have in my possession that belonged to my parents. The scoop was used on the more mature cranberry vines. A bog is divided into sections surrounded by a ditch for irrigation. An acre of bog is divided in many sections. Before picking starts, the sections are divided into rows about 6 ft wide with heavy-duty string. Each picker must remain in his or her row. If a man or women wanted to make a little more money per box he would choose to pick the side of the ditches. This was harder to do because you were scooping upright and not on your knees and at close to 90 degree angle. The reason that whoever was picking the ditches got more money per box is because you were going to pick fewer boxes per hour because of the difficulty and angle that you are scooping. If you look at a scoop from the side view you will notice that the rear part of the scoop has a quarter round radius. The reason for the quarter round radius is so that when you are scooping you will be able to rock the scoop as you lift the front handle of the scoop. The motion used to scoop cranberries is this. You begin on you knees placing the scoop in the vines and then sliding the teeth of the scoop into the vines. You then start lifting the forward handle of the scoop and holding down the rear handle of the scoop, causing rocking motion. By lifting the front handle of the scoop and

Mother and children in the fields
holding down the rear handle of the scoop you are now pulling the cranberries off the vines. This is a motion that the average Cape Verdean cranberry picker performed hundreds of time during the picking season that lasted from the 2nd week of September to the 2nd week of November. When your scoop is full of berries you then dump the berries into a cranberry box. You have to continue to advance the box as you move forward scooping. When the box is over half full and too heavy to drag along, you now have to get up and go back to the box to empty the scoop. During picking time you would see these boxes piled in military precision on the shore of the cranberry bogs. My mother told me that when I was a little baby she had placed me into a cranberry box while she was scooping. My mother said that during a shortage of empty boxes a man came along dumped me out of the box took the box and took off to his picking site. My mother said this man received a lot of razzing from the other workers. Mother I believe had some not too kind words for this person. You can see how competitive every one was because the largest income that the Cape Verdean people made in Wareham and other areas of Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod, in those days, was during the cranberry-picking season.

My brother Tony and I got special permission by the school superintendent to go to school one week or more after school started so that we could help increase the family income. Many, many Cape Verdean Children who were of age did the same thing. Some of the Cape Verdeans developed bad backs and arthritis for working on the cranberry bog. Cape Verdeans picked acres and acres of cranberry bogs all over Wareham, Rochester and Carver. The major cranberry growers were A.D. Makepeace, Beaton Co., Cape Cod Cranberry in Rochester, in later years Decas Cranberry, Sales Company and others.


Scooping Cranberries

I have a vague image of some Cape Verdean cranberry pickers engaging in a dispute against each other in a cranberry bog owned by Slocum Gibbs off of Route 58, about 2 miles from where I live today. My brother Tony, who was 10 years old at the time, remembers it well. You see, this was the first attempted strike by the Cape Verdeans in 1933. The strike was for better wages and living conditions. Although the strike was not successful, the cranberry growers took heed and started to better things in order to avert a bigger strike in the future. This was the first agricultural strike in the Massachusetts. In a small way the Cape Verdeans helped to better the working conditions of other cranberry workers.

After the picking season was over, around the 2nd week of November, it was now time to for my mother and father to pick up their cranberry season's earnings. There was so much to do with this small amount of money. It is now time to travel to New Bedford to stock up on food products for the long winter ahead.

The most important produce they stocked up with were 100-pound bags of rice, sugar, and beans. This was complemented by lard, corn meal and plenty of canned goods. This was to prepare for the long winter ahead. Before we returned home, my mother and father would go to a travel agency called Guilherme M. Luiz & Co., Inc., Bankers on Rivet Street in the South End of New Bedford, where they would make arrangements to send money to their family in the Cape Verde Islands. Mother had 4 sisters in Brava, Cape Verde. My father had a sister in Praia, Cape Verde.

This was really a labor of love, because it was really hard work picking those cranberries and now they are sharing their small earnings with their family in Cape Verde. I remember my mother telling my father that they have to continue sending money and clothes to their family in Cape Verde as long as they have breath.

In 1956 my mother visited her family in Brava, Cape Verde. I remember my mother telling me that her sisters said to her that they could tell that she must have worked very hard in America, just by looking at her hands. It is amazing how people can make observations like that because it was so true my mother did work very hard on the cranberry bogs. Not only on the company bogs, but also on the small bog that my father had built and we all had to maintain. They would put in 8-hour days Monday through Friday on a company bog. After those hours they would work evenings and Saturdays on the family bog. This left them with very little time for recreation. Sunday was one day that they rested and went to church. My mother was never the same after she returned from the Cape Verde Islands. The poverty that she saw in the Cape Verde Islands never left her mind. While in Brava in 1956, my mother paid the fare of her nephew, Rufino "King" DaSilva, so that he could travel to Dakar, Senegal on the West Coast of Africa. Mom did this so that King could make money there and send some back to his family in Brava. King, as we called him, surprised me by paying us a visit in America in 1970. With tears in his eyes he told me how grateful he was for what my mother had done for him. My mother had died in 1965. He wanted to visit the grave site.

All this ties in with the backbreaking work that the Cape Verdeans did and shared with their families in Cape Verde Island. In 1993 I was again surprised when King brought his sister Bevinda, my mother's niece, to visit me. She was a little girl when mom visited them in Brava, Cape Verde in 1955. She talked with tears in her eyes also about how my mother and father had helped them to survive with the money they sent them while she was growing up in Brava, Cape Verde. Now it became clear to me why what my mother and father were doing was so important when, after receiving their picking-money, they would go to the Luiz agency to send a portion of their cranberry picking money to their family in the Cape Verde Islands. This was really a labor of love.

Cranberry Picking the Modern Way

This is one of several methods used to pick cranberries today.

The bogs are flooded with water using a special machine that is designed with several hoops in front of it. The rapidly spinning hoops are used to knock the berries from the vine. These boats or floating platforms remind you of the flat boats used in the everglades in Florida. When the special designed hoops have knocked the berries off the vines the berries rise to the surface. The reason the berries rise to the top is that the berries have air in the center. Now a special crew comes into the bog and corrals all the berries to one corner of the bog. This is done with special built planks. The berries are then loaded onto the truck by a special conveyer belt with buckets attached to it. Some of the larger bogs even have equipment similar to a giant vacuum cleaner that sucks the berries onto the truck. I saw this being done this year at the Cranberry Festival in Carver, Ma. After the trucks are loaded the berries are delivered to places like Ocean Spray in Middleboro, Ma. At Ocean Spray the berries are made into juices, jelly and other food products. This is really mass production.

MY FATHER

My father died picking cranberries on one of A.D. Makepeace's cranberry bogs off of County Road in West Wareham, one half mile from his home on October 11, 1955. Travelling home from Boston that day, I was devastated at the news that my father had died. I was angry because I had learned that the last day of my father's life on this earth was spent on a cranberry bog. In time it became clear to me that my father would much rather have had things happen as they did than to spend his final days incapacitated.

My Mother

My mother also worked very hard on the cranberry bogs. When she visited the Cape Verde Islands in 1955, I remember her telling me that her sisters said to her "Mina," as they called her, "you worked very hard in America." My mother said "Yes, I have worked very hard in America. How can you tell?" They said they could tell just by looking at her hands. This brought tears to my eyes because I knew just how hard Ma worked. My mother died in Jan. 1965, 10 years after Pa died.

The history of the contribution of the Cape Verdean people should be more visible in the cranberry museums. This history is needed in places like the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. I hope that the story of these hard working Cape Verdeans will continue to be told. It is our duty as young Cape Verdeans to keep the story alive.


Capeverdean Cranberry Grower
© Ron Barboza
THE NEW BREED OF CAPE VERDEAN CRANBERRY GROWERS

Today most of the Cape Verdeans who are working on the bogs are owners of the bog. I am going to mention a few that I am aware of. This of course is not a complete list.

- Joey Barboza of West Wareham worked his way into the Cranberry business via the construction field. He owns several acres.

- Ed Silva living in Carver owns several acres. Ed Silva was the one who made "A bog goes to Wash., D.C." a reality. "A bog goes to Wash.; D.C. " was a front-page article by Gil Bliss in the Brockton Enterprise on June 25, 1995. Ed designed the bog and went to the Mall in Wash., D.C. to construct and instruct how to maintain the bog. During the Cape Verdean Connection of the Folklife Festival in 1995.

- Domingo Fernandes owns several acres of bogs in Carver, Ma. He helped Ed Silva with the "A Bog goes to Wash., D.C." project.

- Peter Lopes (deceased), formerly from Wareham, Ma, owned several acres in Freetown. Ma.

- Sidney "Peachy" Pires owns a few acres in W.Wareham, Ma.

- Mr. DeBurgo from Middleboro owns several acres of bogs.

- Antone "Groovey" Pina of Marion at the age of 70 years built and now maintains a small bog in Marion, Ma.


PART 2 - The Soul and Social Life of the Cape Verdean People
Who Worked in the Cranberry Bogs.

I would be remiss if I only wrote about what the Cape Verdean people did on the cranberry bog from the point of view of work. I have covered the following areas in Part 1: living quarters, the building of the bogs, ditch digging and cleaning, weeding the bogs, and the picking of the cranberries. These were jobs that were very hard on the back and soul. I must say though that I never felt or saw more of a coming together of the Cape Verdean people then when I was working side-by-side on the cranberry bogs with my people.

BACK TO THE THIRTIES

My parents and I are a product of the Great Depression. The lines of men standing around on the "shore," waiting to get a job, as described in the paragraph "Sanding Bogs," took place during this period. I always heard the expression "hard as things were in '32." When the economy was very bad, I remember my father going to work for the WPA, the Work Project Administration. This was one of the great projects set up by President Roosevelt under the New Deal to get people back to work by building things like roads, parks, and libraries. I remember some of my friends joining the CCC. I was too young at the time to join. CCC is an acronym for Civilian Conservation Corps that was set up to put teenagers to work planting trees in the forest.

Prior to the depression, Dad built a western bungalow around 1920. That was a smart move because it preceded the Great Depression. I always had food, shelter and clothing because my parents were hard working and industrious people. I must say that, even through the darkest shadows of the depression, I never remember going to bed hungry. There was always some kind of food on the table.

I have lived in the same neighborhood among the Cape Verdeans all my life. Every New Years Day I walk down the street and visit and wish every one of my neighbors a Happy New Year. I have continued what my mother did 60 years ago in the same neighborhood. I am keeping the tradition alive.

HOW WE SURVIVED THE THIRTIES.

Farming was always in the soul of the Cape Verdean people. One of the ways that Cape Verdeans survived the Great Depression was by raising vegetable gardens. My father and mother planted a garden. We had all kinds of vegetables - beans, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, onions, beets and many other vegetables. My father experimented by planting peanuts one year and things worked out well. The potatoes and onions harvested were stored in a storage cellar that my father had made. My mother did all the canning of vegetable and fruit. We called it canning, but the vegetables and fruits were preserved in bottling jars. I remember that they all had the imprint on them, BALL. I remember my mother boiling all the bottling jars to sterilize them before putting the fruits and vegetables into them. Sometimes she would use some kind of wax to seal the jars. We also raised chickens for meat and eggs. Every family in the neighborhood had a chicken coop. We never had a cow for milk, though our neighbors did. We did have a goat. My mother was the one that milked the goat. Goat milk was known to have great value in treating the sickly kids. I remember mother giving a quart of milk here or there to a neighbor who had a child that was not feeling well. Raising a pig was another popular endeavor. We never raised a pig, but I can remember we always received a chunk of meat when one of our neighbors slaughtered a pig. There is nothing like fresh pork for taste.

CAPE VERDEAN WAKES

Another intricate part of the Cape Verdean soul was the way they rallied to the help of a Cape Verdean that had lost a loved one. I can remember going to these wakes in the home of my mother and father's friends as a little boy. Ma and pa believed that children should witness the bad times as well as the good times. Back in the 1930's the body was always waked in the homes. In those days it was frowned upon for a family to send their loved ones to a funeral home. Because I knew this meant so much to my mother and father I waked my father in 1955 in his home and my mother, as late as 1965, in her home. By this time it had almost become an odd thing to wake someone in a private home. Today in 1994 I guess it may even be illegal. I remember my father and mother saying that you do not leave a bereaved family alone for at least one week. The respect and support the Cape Verdeans gave to each other during a person's bereavement is to be admired.

I recall my mother telling me when she lost her first born, John Semedo, in 1922 from complications of pneumonia, her good friend and neighbor Kate Camacho never left her alone for weeks on end. Kate was a woman who could talk for hours at a time. My mother never forgot what she did for her, and she would mention it often.

It is now 1994, a period when I am losing many of my friends that I was brought up with as a kid. I am glad to say that the young Cape Verdeans are keeping up the tradition of supporting the bereaved family.

KITCHEN DANCES

On a lighter side, another soul and social activity that the Cape Verdeans did in the thirties were called kitchen dances, which would take place in someone's home. I do not know why they were called this, because the dancing could take place throughout the house. Because money was a scarce commodity, these kitchen dances were a way to have great entertainment at little cost. Everyone brought food and drinks, so the expense was shared by all. These dances would take place at various homes. Eventually, one home would become more popular than the others. I know of one Cape Verdean Club in East Providence, Rhode Island that had its beginning from the kitchen dances that took place in one particular home for years. This Cape Verdean Club is still going on in 1994. Many of the Cape Verdeans could play a musical instrument. The most popular was a veola, a 12-stringed guitar. Other popular instruments were the violin, the accordion and the maracas. This was the composition of most of these Cape Verdean kitchen dance quartets. The dances would go on into the early hours of the morning. I have heard it said that someone would pull down the window shades so that nobody would know that it was daylight. This kind of social event did a lot to keep the Cape Verdeans together.

CANTA REIS - a Cape Verdean form of Christmas Caroling

Another wonderful tradition of the Cape Verdeans during the thirties was called Canta Reis. Canta Reis is the Cape Verdeans' version of Christmas caroling. The only difference was that Cape Verdean tunes were played and sung instead of Christmas carols. As children, my brother and I would wait to hear the Cape Verdean musicians on New Year's Eve This was the height of this evening for us. These men would walk down County Road, where I lived then and where I live now, and come into each Cape Verdean home, playing their violins, veolas, accordions and maracas, and wishing everyone a Happy New Year. This was a very special evening for my brother and I. Mom and Dad would send us to bed early telling us they will call when the musicians arrived. Little did my brother Tony and I sleep. We could hear the musicians long before they arrived at our house. We could hear the musicians getting closer and closer. When the music was sounding very loud we now knew the musicians were at our front door. My brother and I would rush down the stairs. The musicians would come into the house, play a few tunes and say a prayer for a Happy New Year for everyone. There is a unique tradition here. There is one man that is a carrier of a burlap bag. He goes into a song that tells the household to please place some goodies into the bag. The musicians will then share these goodies at the end of their long evening of playing. Everyone exchanges good wishes and a Happy New Year. The musicians would then leave, walking and playing until they reached the next home. My brother and I would stay up and listen until the sound of music has completely disappeared. It was such a wonderful tradition, the CANTA REIS. It is not performed nowadays.

BACK TO THE FORTIES

I remember some of the good times like being picked up in front of my house by a big truck to go to work in the cranberry bogs. We all greeted each other in the morning as friends talking about what happened the night before telling stories and singing along the way. I also had the privilege to work with some of the New Bedford City boys. When times were hard in New Bedford, the Cape Verdean city boys would come to be with us country boys in the bogs. This was one of the best experiences that happened to us country boys. They would tell us stories about city life. Working side by side with these city boys, we developed a tight bond. This bond was very valuable because, as we became teenagers and started going to dances in New Bedford, this country boy had a friend in the city. I remember meeting a fellow named Semedo, the same surname as mine. In those days Semedo was a very rare name. I became a close friend with this Semedo fellow. The cranberry bog helped to overcome a dividing line between country boys and city boys. At the age of 67 years I am still meeting some of these very same guys in New Bedford and we are still friends. We always reminisce about the good old days on the cranberry bog. I was brought up working on the cranberry bogs so I was of tremendous help to my new found city boys helping them to adjust to laboring in the cranberry bog.

SAINT JOHN'S DAY (MASTRO)

Another important Cape Verdean event is called MASTRO or ST. JOHN'S DAY. My spouse Henrietta's family has been involved with Mastro Saint John's Day for over 64 years.

The tradition was started by Roy "Rodea" Roderick, who was a member my wife's family. My spouse Henrietta's Aunt Benvina Pina, who is 88 years old, told me that this is how St. John's Day was started in Rochester. Roy Roderick, the founder, had very bad asthma. One day in 1935 he could not catch his breath. He prayed to St. John to give him his breath and promised that he would do something in his memory. Miraculously he felt his breathing easing. Roy kept his word. He started St. John's Day that we have kept going to the present day. St. John's Day was held at the home of my wife's grandmother, Dominga Lopes. A mastro was set up on a flagpole in front of grandmother's house. The mastro or "mast" is a structure that looks like a mast on a sailing boat. The mast is covered with cedar branches that are gathered in a swamp in Rochester. My brother-in-law Andrew Mendes and his brother Nicholas have gathered the branches for the last few years. Henrietta's nephew Keith and I gathered the cedar branches this year. After the branches have been tied to the mast that is attached to a rope and pulling so that you can raise and lower the mast. Fruits and small bottles of soda are tied to the branches.

I met my future spouse Henrietta in 1954 at the St. John Day festival. That is why St. John's Day means so much to me.

 

St. John's Day, June 27, 1941

Left of flag: Roy "Rodea" Roderick; right of flag: Bertha Lopes, Ken Semedo's mother-in-law; with drum: Henry Thimas, president of the club for many years; front row, extreme left: Adeline Nunes, Henrietta Lopes Semedo at age 3, Amado Monteiro, Henry Thimas, Thimas' children;
 

St. John's Day begins with many of the members attending Mass at St. Rose of Lima Church in Rochester. A flag that is well over 50 years old is brought to the church and blessed. After church our next stop is to attend breakfast at the home of whomever volunteered at the last year's celebration to host it this year. We take the flag into the home and then a small prayer is said, and a moment of silence is held, for our passed love ones.

After breakfast we return to the picnic ground to start the barbecue. People begin to arrive around 2:00pm. Dinner is served around 2:30pm. We now dance to creolo music and the kids play games. Every one moves around, socializing and talking to people, many of whom we see only once a year, at the St. John's Day festivities.

The grand finale is the lowering of the MASTRO. The children are gathered around the Mastro and someone plays a drum as the children march around the Mastro. After three passes are made around the mastro the children are lined up in front of the mastro with the youngest first and the older children in the rear.

Now a few of the younger boys prepare to lower and raise the mastro. I remember when I was younger I used to help handle the rope. Now the younger boys have moved in and are keeping the tradition alive. The mastro is lowered and raised several times as the children scamper to grab the fruit and small soda bottles. It is like teasing them. The fruit that most kids consider the big prize is the pineapple. Most people begin to leave after the mastro has been stripped and lowered. My spouse and her sisters and cousins plan this day one month before St. John's Day. It is now time to return to our homes and look forward to St. John's Day next year.


Conclusion - Keeping the Past Alive

THE FUTURE OF CAPE VERDEAN FOLKLIFE

The time is running out when we will be able to gather stories directly from the old timers. The Cape Verdeans that came to this country as early as 1910 have all passed away. The children of these early Cape Verdeans are now the old timers that still have some knowledge of these stories. I have relied mostly from what I have heard from my mother and father, and the many elders that I knew growing up, to write about life in the Thirties. I believe that these stories have to be told and passed on to the younger Cape Verdeans.

Many of the younger Cape Verdeans have made great strides in our society today. However, no matter what upward mobility that these young Cape Verdeans obtain, eventually they will start to ask themselves questions like "Who am I?", "Where did my grandparents come from?", "What did they do when they arrived in America?" There is always a great human need of belonging and of knowing about one's heritage. It is essential that we do what can be done to record the stories of those who went before us, and to make these stories accessible to people of Cape Verdean ancestry and to all who wish to know about our heritage.

HOW CAN WE PRESERVE OUR CAPE VERDEAN HERITAGE?

One of the best ways to preserve our Cape Verdean heritage is through computer technology called CD ROM. This is a disk similar to the CD music disk that is viewed through a computer. I have one disk that includes a 23-volume encyclopedia. This CD ROM disk has text, speeches, and animation of all kind. You could document the whole history of the Cape Verdean people on a single disk. A lot of information is being made available to the Smithsonian Institute at the Cape Verdean Folklife Festival. I hope they will record this history of the Cape Verdean people on a CD ROM disk, to be made available to scholars, schools, libraries, and all the young Cape Verdeans. That is what education is all about. Let us tell and keep the story alive.

This is a story that many Cape Verdeans can identify with because most of us did the same things for our families in this country and for our families in Cape Verde. I would like to end by saying again - THE STORY MUST BE TOLD. About the Forgotten Cranberry workers - The Cape Verdeans.

- Querino Kenneth J. Semedo - ulna@verizon.net
West Wareham, Massachusetts
November 25, 1999


Further Reading and Resources


I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Richard Leary in converting this document to web-publishable format, and in providing the section on further reading and resources. - Ken Semedo