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Portuguese emigration from Madeira to British Guiana

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  • jebratt
    Since I am still trying to find out as much information as I can about my family history in Guyana (Cho-Yee family and the De La Para family) I thought I would
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 9, 2005
      Since I am still trying to find out as much information as I can about
      my family history in Guyana (Cho-Yee family and the De La Para family)
      I thought I would post an item that I recently across during my
      research... I hope that it provides some useful insights to anyone out
      there doing genealogical research... enjoy !!

      Some preliminary thoughts on Portuguese emigration from Madeira to
      British Guiana

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      On May 3, 1835, the first Portuguese landed in what was then British
      Guiana. In commemoration of that event, Sr M. Noel Menezes looks at
      the early Portuguese, and the skills they brought with them from Madeira.

      by Sr M. Noel Menezes, R.S.M - Stabroek May 7th. 2000

      In the 1830s and into the 1850s Portugal was undergoing a series of
      crises - recurring civil wars between the Constitutionalists and the
      Absolutists, the repercussions of which were felt in Madeira. Many
      young men jumped at the opportunity to get out of Madeira at any cost
      and thus evade compulsory military service which was necessary, as
      Madeira was considered part of metropolitan Portugal. Also, more and
      more, poverty was becoming a harsh reality of life on the thirty-four
      mile long, fourteen mile wide island of 100,000 inhabitants. During
      the first decade of the nineteenth century life for the peasant, the
      colono who worked the land for the lord of the manor, had become even

      Madeira had been discovered in 1419 by Joao Goncalves Zarco under the
      auspices of Prince Henry, the Navigator, and by 1425 it had been
      settled. Prince Henry, son of Joao 1 of Portugal and patron of
      exploration, an unusually far-seeing and intellectual prince of his
      age and of many centuries beyond, was responsible for the introduction
      of the sugar-cane from Sicily to Madeira. By 1456 the first shipment
      of sugar was sent to England, and by the end of the century the
      burgeoning sugar industry was helping Madeira to play a prominent role
      in the commerce of the period. Bentley Duncan claims:

      The Madeiran capital of Funchal

      "By 1500, when Madeira had reached only its seventy-fifth year of
      settlement the island had become the world's greatest producer of
      sugar, and with its complex European and African connections, was also
      an important centre for shipping and navigation."

      After 1570 the sugar trade began to decline as it faced competition
      from the cheaper and better-refined Brazilian product. Also the
      industry had been bedevilled by soil exhaustion, soil erosion,
      expensive irrigation measures, destruction by rats and insects, and
      ravaging by plant diseases.

      As sugar declined in international trade the wine trade took
      precedence. Here again Madeira owed its name as a famous
      wine-producing country to the enterprises of Prince Henry who
      introduced the vine from Cyprus and Crete. The 'Madeira' of Madeira
      took its place with the port of Oporto on the tables of the world. It
      was soon discovered that the rolling of the ship added to the rich
      quality of the wine, and in the 17th and 18th centuries no ship left
      the island without a large consignment of pipes of Madeira for the
      West Indies and England, the largest consumers. In the 19th century
      wine was being shipped from Madeira to the United States, England, the
      West Indies, the East Indies, France, Portugal, Denmark, Cuba,
      Gibraltar, Newfoundland, Brazil, Africa and Russia. By the late 19th
      century St Petersburg, Russia, vied with London in its consumption of
      Madeira. But as with the sugar industry so too with the viniculture.
      The vines were often demolished by diseases. In 1948 the oidium
      ravaged the plants, and by 1853 vine cultivation was almost totally
      abandoned. Twenty years later, the phylloxera, which also nearly
      ruined the French wine industry, crippled the vines.

      The Madeiran peasant, in particular, owed his existence and that of
      his family to his job as a sugar-worker, a vine-tender or a
      borracheiro (transporter of wines in skins). No wonder when
      catastrophe continuously hit those crops, "the peasant, descending
      from the sierra with his bundle of beech sticks for the beans, and
      occasionally stopping to rest at the turns in the paths, casts his
      glance at the sea horizon and, in spite of himself, begins to feel the
      winged impulse to disimprison himself in search of lands where life
      would be less harsh." (de Gouveia)

      Thus the Portuguese emigrant who came to British Guiana was the
      inheritor of a more than 300 year legacy of sugar production and
      viniculture. He was also a "thrifty husbandman of no small merit"
      (Koebel) utilising every inch of available space of the terraced
      hillsides to grow peas, beans, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes,
      carrots, spinach, pumpkin, onion and a vast variety of fruits. Thus it
      is surprising to read in Dalton's history that agriculture was not the
      forte of the Portuguese! What is even more surprising is the somewhat
      grudging concession made to the commercial enterprise of the
      emigrants. Significant among the reasons given for their meteoric rise
      to prominence in the retail, and later the wholesale trade in British
      Guiana, is the over-emphasis on the "preferential treatment" accorded
      them by the government of the day. It was "the patronage of the
      European elite [which] was the spark that ignited Portuguese
      initiative and secured ultimate success" (Wagner). To continue this
      train of thought -- the government and planters regarded the
      Portuguese as allies against the Creoles. Yet it seemed that this
      European patronage boomeranged as later one is told that as the
      commercial power of the Portuguese grew they "became a threat to
      European elite's dominion."

      One is left to conjecture whether the Portuguese in British Guiana
      would ever have risen in the mercantile trade had not the government
      and planters paved the way for them. Yet an investigation of
      Portuguese-Madeiran history indicates a long familiarity with trade
      and the tricks of trade. The Madeirans were heirs to a dynamic trade
      system that had its roots in 14th century Portugal when Lisbon was the
      important Atlantic seaport carrying on a vigorous trade with the
      Orient and Europe. Nineteenth century sources reveal an incidence of
      shopkeepers on the island with writers commenting caustically on those
      "wily creatures" (shopkeepers) imbued with the spirit of swindling.
      One observer on the island wrote: "They can work like horses when they
      see their interest in it, but they are cunning enough to understand
      the grand principle of commerce, to give as little, and receive as
      much as possible." A plethora of shops on the island, some of which
      date back to earlier centuries, attests to the fact that the Madeirans
      were no novices in business.

      The British presence in trade and industry was ubiquitous but by the
      eighteenth century native jealousy had become very overt. By 1826
      Madeirans were strongly objecting to "the almost monopoly of trade of
      the island in the hands of British merchants." (Koebel) Possibly then
      the Madeiran merchant in British Guiana might have argued that the
      British merchants there owed him patronage in return for the
      privileges their counterparts had been receiving in Madeira for over
      two centuries!

      The Madeiran emigrant then, did not arrive in British Guiana devoid of
      everything but his conical blue cloth cap, coarse jacket, short
      trousers and his rajao (banjo). As did all other immigrants he brought
      with him a background history in agriculture, a flair for business, as
      well as the culture and mores of his island home, a replica of the
      mother country, Portugal. He brought with him, not only his family,
      but in many cases his criado (servant), his deep faith, his love of
      festivals, his taste in food, the well-known pumpkin and cabbage soup,
      the celebrated moorish dish, cus-cus, the bacelhau (salted fish),
      cebolas (onions) and alho (garlic). These tastes and many other
      customs became incorporated into the life of the Guianese. Very early
      the Catholic faith was carried throughout the country and wherever the
      Portuguese settled churches were built; the major feast days were
      celebrated, as they were and still are in Madeira, with fireworks and
      processions. As the Register of Ships notes, throughout the nineteenth
      century ships plied between Madeira and British Guiana, ships
      chartered by the Portuguese themselves, bringing in their holds
      cargoes of bacelhau, cus-cus, cebolas, alho and wine, as well as new

      The success and prosperity of the Portuguese within a short span of
      time and out of proportion to their numbers (in a total population d
      278,328 in 1891 they numbered only 12,166 or 4.3 per cent), whether
      due to "preferential treatment" or not, brought in its train economic
      jealousy among the Creole population, erupting in violence within
      fifteen years of their arrival in the colony. Later, when the
      Portuguese began to oust the European merchant in the wholesale trade,
      they felt the brunt of European envy which manifested itself in many
      subtle and overt ways.

      Though the whites, grudgingly acknowledged the economic supremacy of
      the Portuguese, at no time did they accord them social supremacy or
      draw them into their privileged group. This attitude undoubtedly hurt
      and embittered the Portuguese who considered themselves Europeans. But
      this did not hamper them or cripple their expectations or ambitions.
      Although from the very outset the local authorities, both Church and
      State in Madeira, tried to dissuade their countrymen from leaving the
      island, the emigre returning with his earnings, on the other hand,
      encouraged his brethren to cross the Atlantic and find their E1 Dorado
      in Demerara.

      Today it seems that "the winged impulse" has again overtaken the
      Portuguese, and many have crossed the ocean in search of another E1
      Dorado - in the north. Maybe it is the resurgence of the spirit of the
      early Portuguese explorers who lived to the hilt the motto of their
      Prince: "Go farther."

      (Reprinted courtesy of Kyk-Over-Al, December 1984)
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