Onset's Cape Verdean Festival a celebration of food, family

Aug 11, 2018

Onset’s Cape Verdean Festival: Where thousands gather to celebrate their shared heritage, and everybody is welcome to the party.

“I love it because it’s not just about Cape Verdeans,” said Kurt Ayau, who is originally from Onset but now lives in Virginia. “With us, we want everybody to come and celebrate. This is a great mix of cultures.”

Held Saturday, Aug. 11, in Prospect Park, the annual event featured live music from Cape Verdean bands, plenty of traditional dishes, including gufong and jag, as well as an array of vendors.

People came from all over the country and world for the festival, which celebrates the small nation made up of 10 islands and eight islets off the coast of western Africa.

Ayau, whose great grandmother immigrated from Cape Verde to Onset, has been attending for years. He said the festival’s atmosphere is more akin to a family reunion.

“There’s no where else in the world, outside of Cape Verde, where you see so many of us in one place,” he said.

Onset’s Tiny Lopes, one of the festival’s organizers, said the event usually attracts around 20,000 people each year. With dark skies and rain, that figure was closer to 10,000, he said. But that didn’t dampen the festival’s mood, he noted.

“A little bit of rain isn’t going to stop our party,” said Lopes.

Bus loads of people from Connecticut and visitors from California, Ohio, Washington D.C. and all across New England made the trip to Onset for the event.

One visitor, Joe Paul of Stratford, Connecticut, makes the trip every year. In 2013, Paul was the first Cape Verdean to make a run for mayor in Stratford.

“Today we celebrate our heritage and camaraderie,” he said. “We want to see old friends, make new ones and invite people of all backgrounds to join us.”

Paul said visitors shouldn’t forget to get a taste of Cape Verde.

“It’s all about the food,” said Paul.

Among those serving up traditional dishes was Bob “Uncle Bob” Silvia of West Wareham. Out of his food truck (slogan: home cooking so good you’ll slap your mama) Silvia fed a steady stream of visitors, cooking up rice in huge batches behind the truck.

Others at the festival sold goods or brought awareness to issues, such as the difficulty Cape Verdes have in finding suitable candidates for bone marrow transplants.

Georgie Baptiste, a former of Wareham resident, promoted a scholarship named in her granddaughter’s honor and Be The Match: The National Marrow Donor Program.

Baptiste’s granddaughter, Christa Baptiste-Patterson, was diagnosed with leukemia in 1995 as a 3-year-old. A transplant would may have saved her life, but a donor wasn’t found in time before she passed in 1996. Since then, the family has continued to promote bone marrow drives. Be The Match encourages people to submit DNA samples, which are then stored in a national database.

Jackie McLoon, an assistant account executive with the Rhode Island Blood Center, said 70 percent of patients do not have a suitable match in their family. The more people who participate the more lives that can be saved, she said.

For Cape Verde families it’s especially difficult, said Baptiste, due to the small amount of suitable donors. She said she was grateful for the interest festival goers showed.

Also throughout the day, entertainment was available as several Cape Verdean bands took the stage. They included the Calu Bana Band, the Fantastic Trio Plus One, Gutty Duarte and Onset's own Teddy Mathews.

Lopes thanked all involved for another successful event.

“Good food, good friends, good music,” said Lopes. “What more do you need?”