‘We were the inventors of bad policy to buy and sell free and peaceful men as if buying and selling beasts’
( Padre Fernando Oliveira, 1555 )

During the Moorish occupation (8th – 12th century) Jews, Muslims and Mozarabs (as Christians were called) in Lisbon lived peacefully together. The three religions were socially integrated and participated fully in the city’s economic life.

After conquering the capital in 1147, Portugal’s first Catholic King Afonso Henriques guaranteed rights and conferred duties on the Mudéjars (Muslims living under Christian domination) in order to integrate the Islamic community into the kingdom. Religious freedom (with permission to build mosques), protection from the crown (with the obligation to work the kings’ lands) and the guarantee not to be harassed by Christians or Jews.

This balance began to fall apart in the 14th century, when the trend to isolate the non-Christian communities intensified, resulting in segregation laws and Jewish and Moorish quarters. Discrimination against Jews and Muslims grew steadily culminating in the Edict of Expulsion – signed by King Manuel I in 1496 – obliging these communities to convert forcibly to Christianity (and become Conversos) or to be expelled from the kingdom.

Around the same time Manuel I decided to give the monopoly in slave trafficking in the Portuguese empire to Lisbon. For two and a half centuries, a substantial part of the population in the capital – circa 10% – consisted of African slaves, performing the hardest tasks.
Black slaves lived outside the urban center in one of the western districts – called Mocambo – currently Madragoa.

The dirtiest work practiced by enslaved African women was that of collecting and carrying human waste, because of the weight of the excrement pot, its filthy content and the long distances they had to travel with it on their head. Not only in ancient Lisbon was the black women the hand that cleaned, even in our modern society this phenomenon continues to be very persistent!

The slavery of millions of Africans was justified by the argument that the Catholic faith had to be disseminated. The attitude of the church was that of saving the souls, representing  a form of salvation through suffering.
When Portugal prohibited the slave trade in 1761, a consequence was the sale of African slaves to Brazil, resulting in a labour crisis in the country. It would take more than a century before slavery was also abolished on the other side of the ocean.

BOAS FESTAS               HAPPY HOLIDAYS               
(pic PalPimenta/Observer)


For about 70 years Madeira was the most important sugar producer in Europe

The introduction of sugar cane farming by the Portuguese into Madeira towards the first half of the 15th century – some decades before Columbus discovered America – meant that sugar could be exported, at first through Lisbon and then directly to the ports of Flanders (Antwerp and Bruges). In this way the consumption of the ‘white gold’ spread across the whole of Europe, altering people’s eating habits.

Although the archipelago of Madeira – geographically isolated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – had already been shown on earlier maps, it was only in 1418 that the first Portuguese navigators landed on the island of Porto Santo and subsequently discovered the much bigger island, Madeira.

The newly introduced sugar-based economy called for important innovations such as ‘sugar mills’ and ‘grinding stones’, together with the use of special moulds that gave rise to the famous ‘sugarloaves, the form in which refined sugar was produced and sold until granulated and cube sugars were introduced in the late 19th century. A tall cone with a rounded top was the end-product. The larger the loaf the lower the grade of sugar. A common size that time was 6.4 kg but the finest sugar from Madeira came in small loaves of only 1.4 to 1.8 kg.

From the very beginning of its origins in Madeira, production completely relied on the use of slave labour. Captives were taken along the coast of North and West Africa and brought to work at the sugar mills. When the sugar production in the much vaster territory of Brazil got underway in the 16th century, Madeira lost its privileged position. Sugar from South America was simply cheaper.

Sugarloaf mountain (Pão de Açucar) is the famous mountain in Rio de Janeiro at the mouth of Guanabara Bay in Brazil. Its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of the concentrated refined sugar loaf. The mountain became part of a World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO in 2012.

Bom fim de semana                                              Have a sweet weekend