September 12, 2011 - Cape Verde's National Day

The island nation of Cape Verde lies off the coast of Western Africa, in the Atlantic Ocean. Its name means “Green Cape,” and cape means a point of land jutting out into the water from (usually) a continent.

The islands aren't a cape, and they aren't particularly green. Three of the ten islands, as a matter of fact, are pretty much flat and dry and sandy.

You may well wonder how the islands got their name. Portuguese sailors sailing in little-known waters (the Atlantic Ocean near the equator) near an as-yet unexplored continent (Africa) spotted a well-vegetated bit of mainland jutting out into the sea. They named it (in Portuguese) “Green Cape.” Several years later, other Portuguese sailors discovered islands nearby, and they named the islands after the cape, probably as a hint about their location to later sailors. But all these centuries later, the not-very-apt name is still used for the island nation.

Because of some tough economic times, a lot of people left Cape Verde from the mid- to late-20th Century. There are more Cape Verdeans (and their descendants) living abroad than still living on the islands themselves. Still, the country is stable and democratic, and Cape Verde's tourism industry is one of the fastest growing in the world.

Why has the economy been tough? Well, Cape Verde doesn't have a lot of natural resources. The islands are made of volcanic rock, they don't get much rain and therefore don't have much fresh water, and there is no coal or oil for energy. One great resource for Cape Verde is wind. The islands lie in the Trade Winds belt, and a wind farm that opened last month will provide one-quarter of all Cape Verde's electrical needs. Plans for more wind farms should make the islands entirely wind-powered!

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