Take Kale and Add Heaps of Tradition for Portuguese Feast of Holy Ghost

By JIM HICKEY

They sopped up the sopa, boogied to the brinquinho and munched down the malasadas this weekend during the annual Portuguese-American Feast of the Holy Ghost.

Organizers of the two-day event said the turnout was excellent, as people of all nationalities converged under a canopy of clear blue skies to celebrate all things Portuguese.

Although the number of people of Portuguese descent on the Island is dwindling, it seemed everyone wanted to be Portuguese during the festival. At the very least, people immersed themselves in the Portuguese culture on display.

\"This is a great day to be Portuguese. Even if you aren\'t, you should be happy the Portuguese are here to have this great party,\" said David Araujo, a longtime member of the Portuguese-American Club who has served as auctioneer at the feast for more than 20 years.

The festival kicked off on Saturday evening, with the start of the feast and an auction that have become an Island tradition. \"There were no problems - it was as smooth as silk,\" said Dave Alton, one of the event\'s organizers.

Hundreds of people devoured hot dogs, hamburgers and the traditional sopa on long wooden benches. The highlight of the evening was the auction run by Mr. Araujo, who bantered with the crowd and cajoled them into buying lobsters, Portuguese sweet bread and other donated items.

\"He could sell ice to an Eskimo,\" marveled Mr. Alton.

Although one lobster didn\'t sell so easily.

\"I don\'t want to buy it for $40! I want it for $50!,\" yelled one potential buyer. Clearly, this was no typical auction. But that was the spirit of the night: giving freely to aid the club\'s scholarship fund and other charitable causes.

From its origins as an event solely for Portuguese men, the feast has grown to encompass the entire community, welcoming all to have a good time. The event is organized entirely by volunteers, many who have participated for decades.

\"We\'ve never had a problem finding volunteers. Someone whistles and five people come and clean up,\" Mr. Alton said.

The festival resumed on Sunday with the annual parade, which started at the Steamship Authority before pausing briefly at Our Lady Star of the Sea church. There, a Catholic priest blessed the crown carried each year by a young girl who has received first Communion. The young girl is dressed as Queen Isabel, the patron saint of the festival who is celebrated in Portuguese folklore for her charity and devotion to the poor.

This year, that honor went to Kaitlyn Marchand, who tirelessly carried the heavy crown despite suffocating temperatures Sunday. She was flanked by Taylor Ibarrondo and Amber Cappelli, who carried a plate and scepter during the parade.

The parade was led by a police escort, while a troupe of Portuguese folklore dancers from New Bedford twirled and circled. Bringing up the rear were a long line of town fire trucks and emergency vehicles. The loud horns and sirens prompted many parade spectators to block their ears.

On top of the vehicles, town EMTs, firefighters and other well-known residents and their children showered the crowd with candy.

The parade headed up Vineyard avenue and paused briefly at the cemetery where the club\'s oldest member, 96-year-old Joseph Nunes placed a wreath at the grave of club member Eric Bergeron MacLean.

The formerly rowdy parade fell silent as a color guard from the Oak Bluffs police department saluted and a pair of buglers played Taps.

The parade then resumed and headed toward the Portuguese American Club, where the focus shifted back to friends, food and fun.

In the club kitchen, Bill Kee stirred the third and final vat of sopa with a boat oar and throngs of customers lined up for the piping hot soup, despite the fact that temperatures were peaking in the mid-90s.

Mr. Kee said this was his first year helping to prepare the soup.

\"A lot of things go into the sopa. You have the kale. You have the beef. You have the linguica. But the most important things that goes in is the tradition,\" he said.

Mr. Kee joked with Lanie Bonito and Barbara Humver, who were in charge of pouring the soup into bowls.

\"Over there we have the kale sisters,\" he quipped.

Outside, the New Bedford Portuguese folk dancers circled around the Maypole. Male dancers wore hats that looked like a Hershey Kisses candy, while the women wore traditional wool skirts.

\"These dresses are traditional wear, but they weren\'t made for parades in July,\" said dancer Stephanie Escobar, sweat pouring off her brow.

Inside the food tent, Mr. Nunes sat in a folding lawn chair, taking an occasional sip from a cold beer. Every few seconds, people would approach to say hello and shake his hands. Mr. Nunes said it was an honor to be asked to march in the parade.

\"It\'s a great tradition. It feels good to be a part of it. When this started in 1931, there were only 50 members. And now look at all these people,\" he said.

Later, Abreu Jacques awarded the woman of the hour, Patricia Bergeron, with a large bottle of Madeiran Gold wine.

Ms. Bergeron, who has organized the feast for the past 18 years, immediately offered the wine to the auction in the charitable spirit of the Queen Isabel.

\"But I warn you. That stuff is strong. It\'s like liquid heroin,\" she warned Mr. Araujo before putting the wine on the auction block.

As the masses devoured plates of cacoila and fried dough, the folk dancers kicked it into a higher gear.

\"The audience will be participating in this dance. Or I warn you, we will come out there and get you,\" said a dancer into the microphone.

A number of brave souls joined the folk dancers in a spinning circle. The circle grew as more people found their courage and joined the fold.

\"This brings me back to my home. It is like stepping into the past,\" said Manny Rodrigues, a New Bedford resident who moved to Massachusetts from Madeira when he was a teenager.

Mr. Rodrigues said he attends the feast every year.

\"This is a way to preserve our folklore and culture. It shows that we have not forgotten our old ways or the old country,\" he said.

Gazette intern Ben Lurie contributed to this story.