Eyes facing the ocean from Madeira

STARING OUT TO sea at Calheta on the Portuguese island of Madeira is a bronze bust of a man wearing 18th century clothing and a bow tie. The sculpture depicts Sebastián Francisco de Miranda y Rodríguez de Espinoza (1750-1816). Born in Caracas in what is now Venezuela, Miranda became a military leader and a revolutionary fighting for his country’s liberation from Spanish rule. Regarded by many as the forerunner of Simon Bolivar (1783-1830), the great liberator of several Spanish South American colonies and born in Caracas, Miranda ended his life in a Spanish prison in Cadiz.

The plaque below the bust in Calheta records (translated from the Portuguese on a website: https://statues.vanderkrogt.net/object.php?record=ptma108):

“The Sons of the municipality of Calheta in the lands of Venezuela at the bicentenary of the Independence in honour of its precursor ‘Generalisimo, Sebastian Francisco de Miranda’ ‘The most universal Venezuelan’”

I interpret this as meaning that the bust was erected by descendants of people from Calheta, who had emigrated to Venezuela.

The bust was created by the Venezuelan sculptor Julio César Briceño Andrade, who was born in Caracas in 1950. It was unveiled in Calheta by Lucas Rincón Romero, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Portugal, on the 5th  July 2011.

Miranda was the son of a man, who had migrated to Venezuela from the Spanish Canary Islands. His mother was born in Venezuela. Although, he crossed the Atlantic several times, I do not know whether Miranda ever set foot on the island of Madeira.

Like those from Calheta, who migrated to Venezuela, many others have migrated from Madeira to various parts of the world over the years. I have been told that many of the Portuguese speakers in South Africa had their roots in Madeira. Having seen the bust in Calheta, clearly Venezuela was another destination.

Now, with difficulties that Venezuela has been facing, some its citizens with Madeiran heritage are returning to the island as can be seen in an article published on-line (www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/madeira-an-island-of-refuge-for-venezuelans-of-portuguese-origin/):

“No one knows the exact figure but the authorities in Madeira consider that about 6,000 Venezuelans of Portuguese descent have taken refuge on their island, where they found themselves in an extremely precarious situation. “They arrive with nothing, many are sick, these are people lacking a great deal,” said the President of the Portuguese archipelago, Miguel Albuquerque. These people are second or third generation Portuguese, descendants of those who left Madeira decades ago in search of a better life in Venezuela. They are now making the opposite journey.”

Reading this made me think about South Africa, to which many Europeans, including my parents’ families, travelled in search of a better life. After the ending of apartheid, many of their descendants have left the country because they had become concerned about their futures in a land where Europeans no longer hold the upper hand.

Rum and cane in Madeira

CALHETA IS A COASTAL town in Madeira about 1.5 hours drive west of the capital, Funchal. We went there for an outing to see something of Madeira away from its capital. While there we saw an interesting factory-cum-museum.

The island of Madeira was once a major producer of sugar cane. Some of the work was performed by black slaves, but unlike other places such as Brazil, the slaves in Madeira tended to be ‘employed ‘ as domestics and builders. Today, sugar cane is till grown in Madeira,  but the workers are local Madeirans.

Cane pressing machinery in Calheta

In Calheta,there is an enterprise called Sociedad dos Enghennos da Calheta. This is a factory where sugar cane is crushed between rollers to extract the sugar cane juice.  The juice is fermented in the factory to produce rum. It is also processed to make molasses. The place also makes traditional Madeiran cake called Bolo de Mel and soecial biscuits. All of these products can be sampled and bought at the factory. Visitors are free to wander around the factory and its attached museum, which contains a fine collection of vintage industrial machinery.

As with other museums we have seen in Madeira, the exhibits are well displayed. Although the main attraction of Calheta is its sandy beach – the only one in Madeira: it is created using sand imported from North Africa, the rum and cane factory/museum is well worth a visit.