TODAY marks the 185th anniversary of the arrival of Portugese people in TT. The Stralhista sailed from Madeira with 28 passengers (25 males and three women) from Funchal, Machico, Santa Cruz, Calheta and Porto Santo, and arrived in Trinidad on December 7, 1834.
Dr Jo-Anne Ferreira, Tracey Alonzo, Roger Camacho and their friends and family of Portuguese parentage started a Facebook group to raise awareness of the contributions to this country made by their foreparents, and of Madeira, Portugal.
Ferreira told Newsday the Facebook group wants to promote the modern aspects of Madeira. But for the 185th anniversary the group wants to start raising awareness of the Portuguese segment of the population, not to be segregationists or separatists, but so that people will know about this interesting strand of TT’s history.
She said: “The group is interested in a balanced approach to our history and a recognition of Portuguese pioneers, whether they were born here or not. We want the next generation to know that this country is truly multicultural. There are aspects of our history that are not known or promoted, and we just figure that if we are going to be a real pelau, callaloo or rainbow country, every strand of the rainbow needs to be seen.”
Historically, she said in the 1830s when there was a desire for a better life, after disease that attacked the famous Madeiran wine industry and potato farming in Portugal, the Portuguese started leaving Madeira on British ships and heading towards the West Indies. Ferreira said the 1846 migration was more of a combination of economic refugees and the religious refugees.
She wrote in her book The Portuguese of Trinidad that the first Portuguese immigrants were drawn from the Portuguese Atlantic provinces of the Azores, Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands. By far the largest group hailed from the Madeira Islands, a small archipelago off the west coast of Morocco. The migration period (1834-1975) saw some 2,000 Portuguese arrive in TT.
“They started off as contract (not indentured) labourers, and opened the first shop in 1846. They were shopkeepers – rum shops and dry goods shops. Some were barbers, gardeners, bakers, soft drink manufacturers, rum manufacturers and insurance agents. Others became the big merchants of Port of Spain. Some of the ladies were seamstresses.” Some of the well known merchants of the late 19th century-early 20th century are listed below.