views updated May 29 2018


ETHNONYMS: Insular Portuguese, Madeirense


Identification. In about 1419 Portuguese mariners made landfall on the little Atlantic island (42 square kilometers) of Porto Santo (holy haven); 40 kilometers to the southwest they discovered Madeira (isle of timber), the most populous (260,000) and largest (741 square kilometers) island of the Madeiran Archipelago, Portuguese culture, with a strong British overlay, still permeates insular political, economic, and social life. The archipelago includes the uninhabited Ilhas Desertas (Deserta Grande, Châo, Bugio), just offshore southeastern Madeira, and the tiny Ilhas Selvagens (wild Islands) 270 kilometers south, on the northern fringe of the Canaries. Madeira owes its resort image to a benign climate, a profusion of scenic marvels, and world-renowned wines.

Location. The Madeiran archipelago lies between 33° and 30° N and 15° and 17° W on the eastern edge of the Atlantic Basin, 978 kilometers southwest of Lisbon. These islands are mountain peaks of seismic origin rising from the abyssal ocean floor; from an ocean depth of 5,000 meters its central massif rises to 1,861 meters (Pico Ruivo). The island's sheer, unapproachable coastline and convoluted terrain create multiple microclimatic and vegetation zones. Southern Madeira is warm (with a mean annual temperature of 18° C) and dry. The north receives heavy precipitation (up to 200 centimeters per year) and functions as an island watershed by virtue of an intricate water-control system (levadas, or conduits) dating from the sixteenth century. The high overall population density (440 persons per square kilometer) requires intense utilization of every type of econiche. Porto Santo is warm, dry, and largely flat, with a 7-kilometer-long beach along its southern fringe.

Demography. By 1427 three captain-proprietors (donatários ) were directing settlement (povoamento ) of Madeira's southern and northern halves and of Porto Santo. The Southern "captaincy," centered on Funchal (named for funcho, or fennel, a local aromatic herb), soon outpaced other regions. Today almost half of the island's population of 260,000 inhabitants live in greater Funchal. The original settlers were Portuguese; later genetic admixtures came from occupying pirate forces, British merchants, Spanish priests, and Africans, Moors, and Jews. Until recently most islanders lived in extreme geographical and social isolation. The small stature, darker skin, and inflected speaking of people from Madeira's remote northwest suggest protracted genetic drift. Rural Madeirans inhabit different linguistic, social, and economic worlds than city residents. The prevalence of absentee landholdings and high population density gives rise to frequent emigration, commonly to South America. Porto Santo's Population (3,500) is largely composed of retirees, airline personnel, and (permanent) tourists.

Linguistic Affiliation. The language of the Madeiras is Standard European Portuguese (SEP), which follows Romance Language Family conventions (inflective, synthetic, and stress-timed) and is the norm against which internal insular variations are evaluated. The most distinctive pronunciation feature is a characteristic shift of high front "i" (as in English "see ") to the diphthong "ei" (as in "they" ). A marked contrast between the speech of Madeira's urban elites and rural folk is a strong indicator of social status. English is the lingua franca in Funchal and other tourist centers. A richly diverse lexicon reflects a cosmopolitan cultural ambiance.

History and Cultural Relations

In about 1419 Prince Henry the Navigator incorporated the uninhabited Madeiras into Portugal's overseas territories. To three of his captains he delegated the task of settlement: Zarco and Teixeira in Madeira, Perestrelo in Porto Santo. Funchal's founder, Joâo Gonçalves Zarco, is prominently memorialized in the city. To make Madeira cultivable, forests were burned and mountainside terraces (poios ) were constructed. Despite harsh terrain, massive soil erosion, and difficult access to water, agriculture remains Madeira's lifeblood. In the late sixteenth century, wine replaced sugar as the Island's chief export commodity. Madeira was a nexus of Atlantic trade in the days of sailing ships, and a frequent target for pirate raids. Spain ruled the Madeiras, Azores, and mainland Portugal from 1580 to 1640. In 1660 the British, already influential in island viniculture, signed a commercial treaty with Portugal, and between 1807 and 1814 they occupied Madeira. Their shipping interests opened the island to nineteenthand twentieth-century British tourism. In the 1950s seaplanes linked Madeira to Portugal and England. Porto Santo's international terminal, a NATO emergency base, opened in 1960; Madeira's opened in 1965. Portugal granted limited local autonomy to the Madeiras in 1940 and regional autonomy in 1976.


Major Madeiran settlements lie below 700 meters and on, or accessible to, Madeira's crucial national coastal road (Estrada Nacional 101). EN101s last (1952) link was a tunnel through the rock precipice that is Madeira's north coast. Major EN101 towns average 3,000 to 4,000 inhabitants and range in size from Seixal (900 people), at the east end of the north coast tunnel, to Machico (11,000), landing site of the original settlers. Interior towns (2,000-8,000 residents) lie at the head of ribeiras at the edge of mountain heartland, are on main roads, are handicraft centers, and are of historical interest or scenic value. Strip settlements follow a twisting EN101 from Funchal west to Calheta (60 kilometers) along Madeira's populous south coast. In the sparsely settled north, villages cluster in valley bottoms away from the coast or on promontories above the sea. Many small farmsteads remain in remote mountain valleys, their isolation diminished by an ever-expanding island road network. The traditional peasant dwelling is low-lying and dark, with thick stone walls under crawling ivies, not much larger than nearby straw-thatched palheiros (cow huts). Pastel stuccoed exteriors with azulejo (glazed decorative tile) trim, russet tile roofing, shuttered windows, and multistory units have superseded older halftimbered, ridged-thatch, A-frame rural structures. By contrast, Funchal is an architectural mélange of palatial homes, malls, tessellated plazas, relic colonial buildings, former Country estates (quintas ) incorporated within city limits as museums, and high-rise glass and concrete hotels. The most striking is the Casino Park complex designed by Brazilian Oscar Neimeyer; the most elegant is Reid's, the former Blandy (British) estate, one of Europe's prime resort hotels. The cathedral (sé), center of Madeiran spiritual life, blends Moorish, Gothic, Romanesque, and Manueline design elements that echo formative historical forces. In old parts of the city, tiny artisan workshops line narrow cobbled alleys near the old customs house (alfândega ).


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Madeira has a cash economy centered on the export of agricultural commodities (sugar, tropical fruit, wine); internal commerce is heavily dependent on tourism, the major island revenue source. Despite constant emigration, population density is at a level to preclude subsistence on locally produced food; staples (wheat, corn, meat) are imported. Tourism provides Service jobs for 25,000 residents. Madeiran handicrafts (artesanato )wicker, embroidery, wood carving, winesare major export commodities and an important adjunct to tourism.

Industrial Arts. Skilled, manual labor is integral to Madeiran artesanato developed over the years in tiny mountain enclaves. Wickerwork (obra de vîmes ), hand embroidery (bordados ), tapestry (tapeçaria ), wood-and wrought-ironwork, porcelains, and viniculture (vinhos ) are major folk industries founded on artisan tradition. Decorative tiles (azulejos) of Moorish provenience are widely used in design.

Trade. Funchal's Mercado dos Lavradores, market center for island produce and some crafts, is the "floating garden" in microcosm and sells fruits of land, sea, and skilled folk labor. Shops for specialty products (e.g., fish markets by the water's edge) are found throughout Madeira, and refreshment stands and cafés line Porto Santo's 7-kilometer beach. Primary trading partners are Portugal, the United States, and European nations.

Division of Labor. Tourism has shifted traditional labor allocations within the peasant household. Some members now commute daily from all parts of the island to service jobs. Women continue to perform the bulk of household chores and child care, for themselves and for urban employers. Men are responsible for poio maintainance, construction, bus and taxi driving, and fishing. Wickerwork and viniculture are largely gender-neutral; women do needlework, men woodwork.

Land Tenure. The term bemfeitoria (improvements) is mnemonic for a sharecropping system. Land and water rights are owned by a landlord. "Improvements" (walls, buildings, walkways, trees), which are reimbursable in event of eviction, are owned by the tenant. The landless 40 percent of farm workers has the lowest priority for water distribution, the sine qua non of land value. One-third to one-half of produce is taken by the proprietor.


Kin Groups and Descent. Portuguese administrative practice and religious ideology stress the family as basic kin unit, a tenet historically reinforced in Madeira's isolated Uplands by extreme lack of peasant mobility. Kin relationships extend into mutual support networks among women and into cooperative labor pools for locally based farm or cottage industry. Emigrant remittances make manifest enduring kin ties; bilateral descent is culturally underlined by island endogamy. Urban Madeirans follow modern European familial conventions.

Kinship Terminology. Kin terminology is formally Eskimo, subject to generational and collateral extension in Domestic groups where elderly female kin customarily remain active. The padrinho/madrinha (godparent) role adds a spiRitual dimension to respectful acceptance of the aged.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage among the tiny population aggregates of remote mountain ravines can be assumed as historically endogamous to the point of inbreeding. Today there are few arranged marriages, and local exogamy and on-island Intermarriage among villagers are the norm. The peasant family household has been the core productive unit of Madeira's agricultural economy and now provides labor for its service economy. Access to Funchal and the employment alternatives of tourism have weakened the hold of the church in Marital affairs, but even city parishioners remain devout. Divorce is still rare, though philandering and abandonment (by Emigration) are not.

Domestic Unit. Outside metropolitan Funchal, the Domestic unit remains the basic subsistence unit, and (nuclear) family tasks are allocated by traditional sex roles. Farming and a variety of cottage industries are chief sources of support. At home or workshop, girls acquire needlework skills (embroidery, bordados, and tapestry, tapeçaria), while boys apprentice in viniculture, artisan trades, and construction until marriage.

Inheritance. Inheritance occurs without regard to gender, with slight preference going to the caretaker of elders. Traditional land tenure renders moot many meaningful rights of inheritance.

Socialization. Rural children are raised within a loosely extended family, and their labor is accessory to farm work from an early age. Preautonomy (1976), schooling was minimal: it is now compulsory through primary level (age 11). Further options, mostly vocational in nature, require moving to Funchal or off the islands. The parish church reinforces conformity to values such as the central role of family and respect for authority.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. In terms of economic, occupational, and legal norms, rural Madeirans have lived as if on a Medieval estate; that is, they have endured social and geographic immobility in a virtual caste system. Social inequality wasand, to some extent, still isvalidated by adherence to Religious orthodoxy. Its tourist-generated wealth, sophisticated ambiance, and educated citizenry make socially complex Funchal a subcultural anomaly within all of insular Portugal. Despite rural-urban interpenetration and growing economic interdependence, patron-client social distinctions remain largely in place.

Political Organization. Since 1976 the Madeiras have been an autonomous region (regiâo ) within greater Portugal, with their civil affairs administered under Portugal's constitution by a Lisbon-assigned minister of the republic who appoints the president of regional government. A locally elected regional assembly selects from among its deputies a president and presiding officer, who is second to the minister of the Republic in political power. Funchal is headquarters for six Regional secretariats, one for Porto Santo. Locally based political parties are illegal and expressly forbidden, but they continue to operate clandestinely in Funchal (e.g., FLAMA, Frente de Libertaçâo da Madeira). Widespread popular participation in local governance is inhibited by a long tradition of colonial dependence, by mass ignorance of political procedure, and by the parochialism and debilitation that centuries of choking authoritarianism have created.

Social Control. Portugal has been imperially proficient at control from afar, abetted on the parish level by the Catholic church and, in Madeira, by de facto British economic control. Conflict at any level has been traditionally suppressed.

Conflict. Madeira has been a passive participant in European warfare. Rural dwellers remain effectively hostage to basic human rights' suppression. Underlying political dissent is mainly confined to Funchal. Disputes over women, and more recently drugs, account for most interpersonal conflict.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Although Catholicism is the state Religion of Portugal and its insular extensions, on a village level the parish church controls spiritual affairs. The folk publicly mark their faith by ceremonial display and by ritual performance in the festa, as does the city dweller.

Religious Practitioners. The priest is the liturgical leader of his parish, the local agent of the church hierarchy and an earthly representative of divine intercession. The church's healing mission in Funchal has been superseded by modern medical practice and facilities. Outlying clinics with trained midwives have largely replaced rural "granny" healers.

Ceremonies. Madeira's festivals (festas) are traditional, most of them seasonal, and all are, in some measure, lures for the tourist dollar. The festival year begins in February with Carnaval; in spring there is Funchal's Festa da Flor (flowers) and Bachfest (music); in mid-August, the pilgrimage to the church of Madeira's patron saint (Nossa Senhora do Monte); wine harvest festivals during autumn; and Christmas and year's end festivals in Funchal (Festa de Sâo Silvestre). Local saints are celebrated in parishes all over Madeira. Folk dancers perform at Funchal's larger hotels on a regular schedule.

Arts. In addition to the crafts (artesanato) listed in Industrial Arts, Madeiran art includes religious design (intricately carved ceilings, balustrades, altars), gilded wood figurines (talhas douradas ), and monumental architecture in the Manueline tradition. Folk dancers (danças populares ) in Native costume (trajes ) use indigenous musical instruments (machête, braguinha, bringuinho). Tapestry (tapeçarias) objects include portraits, local landscapes, floral motifs, and copies of famous paintings. Madeira's most famous tapestry has 7 million stitches and is on permanent display at the Instituto do Bordado, Tapeçarias e Artesanato da Madeira.

Medicine. Medical and public health practice in Funchal is similar to that of western Europe; rural Madeira and Porto Santo have easy access (e.g., interisland flights with ambulance capability). Folk curers are the rural equivalent of the city pharmacy (farmácia ), which can diagnose illness, prescribe medication, and keep patient records. Heavy smoking and alcohol abuse account for many islander health problems.

Death and Afterlife. Beliefs are grounded in Catholic theology. Funerals are an important liturgical event, followed by a prescribed, but no longer protracted, period of mourning and diminishing restrictions on widow remarriage.


Brown, A. Samler (1901). Madeira and the Canary Islands, with the Azores. 6th ed. London: Marston.

Bryans, Robin (1959). Madeira, Pearl of the Atlantic. London: Robert Hale.

Duncan, T. Bentley (1972). Atlantic Islands, Madeira, the Azores and the Cape Verdes in the Seventeenth Century: Commerce and Navigation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ludtke, Jean (1989). Atlantic Peeks: Ethnographic Guide to the Portuguese-Speaking Atlantic Islands. Hanover, Mass.: Christopher Publishing House.

Rogers, Francis Millet (1979). Atlantic Islanders of the Azores and Madeiras. North Quincy, Mass.: Christopher Publishing House.

Serstevens, Albert t'. (1966). Le périple des îles Atlantides: Madère, Açores, Canaries. Paris: Arthaud.


Madeira Islands

views updated May 23 2018

Madeira Islands

Madeira Islands, Atlantic island group 400 miles west of Morocco. Madeira was unoccupied before its discovery by the Portuguese in 1420. João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz, lieutenants of Henry the Navigator, were the first to land on Madeira. Shortly after, colonies were established with financial support from the revenues of the military order of Christ. The capital was called Funchal, the Portuguese word for "fennel," which grew abundantly on the island. The island was ruled by Donatários until 1497, when the captaincies were abolished and the Portuguese crown took direct control of Madeira.

The Portuguese first established sugar plantations on Madeira, an experiment that introduced the islands to the African slave trade. During the late fifteenth century, Madeira was at the height of its prosperity as the world's largest producer of sugar. This condition changed, however, when the Madeira model for sugar production was introduced to Brazil. By 1620 the sugar industry on the island was in decline as the competition from Brazil proved overpowering. There was a brief respite while the island was under Spanish domination (1580–1640) during the Eighty Years' War, but when the Dutch were forced out of Brazil in 1654, Madeira's sugar industry gradually declined, in spite of strong protectionist legislation meant to save it.

Twice during the nineteenth century the island was occupied by the British, who developed a taste for the local wine. It was believed that the wine was improved by a visit to the tropics, so it was shipped first to Brazil before it was returned to Europe and sold in England.

See alsoExplorers and Exploration: Spanish America; Henry the Navigator; Sugar Industry.


Elizabeth Nicholas, Madeira and the Canaries (1953).

C. R. Boxer, Four Centuries of Portuguese Expansion, 1415–1825 (1969).

Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900 (1986).

Additional Bibliography

Brown, Samler A., González Cruz, Isabel, Pascua Febles, Isabel, and Bravo Utrera Sonia del Carmen. Madeira, Islas Canarias y Azores. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: Ediciones del Cabildo de Gran Canaria, 2000.

Hammick, Anne. Atlantic Islands: Azores, Madeira, Canary and Cape Verde Islands. St. Ives, Cambs.: Imray Laurie Norie and Wilson, 1994.

Hoe, Susanna. Madeira: Women, History, Books and Places. Oxford: Holo, 2004.

Silva, Donald J. An Annotated Bibliography and Internet Guide for the Madeira Islands. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005.

Touring Club, Anaya. Madeira (Guiarama). Madrid: Madrid ed., 2006.

Vieira, Alberto. O pú blico e o privado na história da Madeira. Funchal: Centro de Estudos de História do Atlântico, 1996.

                                           Sheila L. Hooker

Madeira Islands

views updated Jun 11 2018

Madeira Islands Archipelago and autonomous Portuguese region, off the nw African coast, c.420km (260mi) n of the Canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean; the capital and chief port is Funchal (on Madeira). Madeira, the largest, and Porto Santo are the only inhabited islands. The region's warm and stable climate makes it a popular tourist destination. Industries: production of Madeira (a fortified wine), sugar cane, fruit, embroidery. Area: 794sq km (307sq mi). Pop. (2001) 253,482.;