quarta-feira, 25 de julho de 2012

The portuguese Discoveries Era

Source: the fantastic book from Barry Hatton "The Portuguese"

A giant world map of inlaid marble, fifty metres across, lies flat on the ground in the riverside suburb of Belém, Lisbon. The map exhibits, in black, white, and ochre, the continents stamped with dates showing the year portuguese explorers arrive there, always one step ahead of other europeans. Small and cursed by a lack of natural resources, including good soil, portugal needed new lands to survive and flourish and its explorers radiated across the world until the the sixteenth-century empire ecompassed slices of Africa, asia and South America. Some million people a year walk over the Belém map, moving in crowds like 500 years ago when locals gathered here to behold the arrival of great ships heavy with the scent of spices, their cargoes worth millions of euros in today's money. You can watch the touurists milling around, looking down at their feet, trying to square now with then. They point at the dates when history was made and google at the portuguese empire. They look impressed, but it is hard to digest. Portuguese can find it hard too.

Perched on the riverbank, the Monument to the Discoveries is a majestic commemoration of that golden age. In pale stone, it justs out over the river, imitating the prow of a caravel - a pioneering type of sailing ship that Iberian explorers used for their unprecedented and perilous expedition across the Atlantic and beyond. Lined up on ledges along each side of the monument are about thirty bulky stone figures representing the heroes of the time. At the front stands Henry the Navigator, a prince who made the big push towards new frontiers at the end of the fifteenth century. Behind him, Bartolomeu Dias, who rounded Africa's southern trip; Vasco da Gama who pushed on to India; and Pedro Álvares Cabral, who claimed Brazil for the portuguese Crown. Ferdinand Magellan, a portuguese whose fleet was the first to circum-navigate the Earth, is there too though, inconveniently, he made that trip in Spain's name.

The Discoveries Era

In a giant collective journey, Portugal led Europe out of the Mediterranean into the Atlantic and brought Asia and Europe together.
After taking of Ceuta in North Africa in 1415, the empire was expanded steadily. The portuguese settled in Madeira and the Azores [two islands in the middle of the Atlantic ocean], then explored down Africa's west coast until they understood how to get to India by sea.  They knew there was a sea to the east and so, the thinking went, maybe if they edged their way down the west coast they might find a way through.
The portuguese Bartolomeu Dias foreshadowed the later prosperity by becoming one of the first European round what was aptly called the Cape of Storm (later the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa). Adam Smith, the eighteenth-century political economist, judged this milestone to be one of "the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind" - along with the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.
Vasco da Gama set sail on 8 July 1497 with four ships, then months later, on 20 May, Vasco da Gama anchored at Calicut, a major Indian trading port on the country's west coast. It may have been a great step for mankind but da Gama's goals were prosaic, as summed up in his famous phrase on stepping foot in the East: "we are looking for christians and spices". The portuguese came across a wonderful natural harbour on the Indian coast which they called bom baim, meaning "good little bay" in 16th century portuguese. They later gave  the settlement to the english who anglicized its name, making it Bombay.
Pedro Álvares Cabral, an expert seaman from a noble seafaring family, drew up at Brazil's shores in 1500. He was ostensibly sailing to India, and it is still not clear whether he was fortuitously blown off course or whether his stated destination was a feint to throw Castile off the scent. Either way, Brazil opened a new horizon for the portuguese, as if one they already had in the East was not enough. The initially named the new land Terra de Vera Cruz (land of the true Cross). The small group of europeans who first disembarked there was overwhelmed by the magical world overflowing with natural riches they encountered. 
Portugal, a tiny country of about one million people at the time, claimed a country that would end up being the size of western Europe.
The portuguese were the first westerns to disembark in Japan and start trading there, in 1543. The Japanese termed them namban, meaning "barbarians from the south", the direction they sailed in from. Words in both languages are still bear witness to that long-ago contact. In japanese, for example, there is pan, for bread (pão in portuguese) and shabon (soap, sabão); portuguese offers catana (katana) for a kind of machete and biombo (byoobu) for a screen. 
The portuguese began to appear all around the world. They planted their flag on islands that nowadays belong to Indonesia. They established a trading post in East Timor, though only began to take real advantage of the Asian territory from the late eighteenth century when they built its capital, Dili. The Portuguese built forts in faraway places, including two dozen around teh Red Sea and Persian Gulf. Some of the ruins can still be seen, including the forts at Hormuz, keshm and Lanak from the early sixteenth century which protected the entrance to the Persian Gulf. (Other forts may be chanced upon in Ethipia, Tanzania or Kenya). 
The country's military successes so far from home merit tribute. 
 The portuguese dominated the tremendously lucrative spice trade for most of the sixteenth century, conferring a new political and economic dimension on their tiny patch of the European continent.
The portuguese capital became a european depot for goods from around the world. The downtown district now called the Baixa was one of Europe's busiest mercantile spots. The narrow streets contained amber and rubies from Burma, diamonds from India, pearls from Ceylon, gold from Mozambique, spices and bolts of cloth from East.
Lisbon was a colourful, cosmopolitan emporium, a swanky, vibrant metropolis which invented its own architectural style called Manueline, named after King Manuel to show off the country's wealth. They were enthralling times indeed.
Spain initially lagged behind Portugal in its expansion, but in 1494 the iberian neighbours signed the treaty of Tordesillas, Carving up between them the spoils of the newly discovered - and to be discovered- world. The portuguese savour the possibility that the scope of the treaty was a clever ruse on their part. At a time when geographical knowledge was limited and precious, the land that would become Brazil fell inside the Tordesillas demarcation of Portugal's domain. Certainly there is room to speculate that the portuguese were unforthcoming, to put it politely, in their dealings with their bigger peninsular rival. Portuguese seafareres on their way back from the East tacked close to the South American continent to avoid the east Atlantic doldrums and there is a suspicion that they had already happened across what would become Brazil. Also, there is an intriguing ten-year gap between the 1488 voyage around the Cape of Good Hope by Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama's journey onwards to India. Were there other reconnaissance trips between those dates that the portuguese did not let on about? Were they really sitting on their hands during the white-hot period of maritime exploration which they had started and led? And why did the portuguese king turn dowm Columbu's offer to try and find a way to the Orient by sailing west? Did the king already know it was a way to Orient by sailing west? Did the king already know it was a wasted effort? While Columbus went one way, the king ordered a fleet of naus to be built and sent to the expedition south. Without doubt, there were plenty of skulduggery. Maps, especially, were hugely valuable and jealously guarded. And the portuguese, staking out land masses with their astrolabes, possessed some of the best available.What is for sure is the glee the portuguese feel at the prospect of outsmarting Spain - a possibility always guaranteed to bring joy to a portuguese heart. Cunning is also a valued attribute. The portuguese have had little choice in this respect: throughout history, as a small country, Portugal has been at the mercy of more powerful nations.
Not only were the noble seafarers bent on getting rich, they were also driven by religious prejudice against Islam. Like others, they saw themselves as agents of a biased God. There was pillage, plunder and slaughter in the name of Christianity and the king- and wealth. Success in the overseas enterprise required an uncompromising attitude, a killer instinct.Their actions were sometimes unscrupulous, sometimes consummated on the back of bloody rampages.

While a romantic spirit alloyed with toughness of character led the portuguese to conquer the merciless surf, their maritime endeavour also begat, or encouraged, unhelpful national characteristics that portended their demise.While England and Netherlands invested the money they made from the spice trade, the portuguese frittered it away. The Age of Discovery was a time of plenty, a cue to spend, spend, spend. Antero de Quental, a nineteenth-century writer, remarked: "Never has a people soaked up so much treasure and reminded so poor."
The Age of Discovery also brought complancency. In that sense, the portuguese were the architects of their own decline.
Undoubtedly, Portugal burned brightly during the Age os Discovery. Bursting out of a small country which offered them a few opportunities, the portuguese demonstrated audacity and mettle as they grabbed their chance and made the most of it before the door closed. Their achievements were staggering, few countries accomplished so much from so little.
Naturally there is a certain nostalgia for that period.
Mention of the Age of Discovery can evoke opposing ideas: Padre António Vieira, the 17th jesuit priest, considered one of the country's best ever prose writers, classified the portuguese world as the "Fifth Empire" - after the Assyrian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires but Fernando Pessoa (famous poet) contemplated the Then and Now and drew a gloomy conclusion: Portugal is nowadays, he said, " a drop of dry ink on the hand that wrote an Empire".

The portuguese were the first europeans to arrive in sub- Saharan Africa, and they were the last to leave.

There are layers of the imperial residue in the mundo lusófono - the portuguese-speaking world. Portugal, which was dwarfed by its giant overseas possessions, left its footprint where it went and came home with soil on its shoes.The at times enigmatic likenesses between the metropole and its former colonies are evidence of an enriching cultural overlap during half a millenium of colonial rule. 
Yet there is also a darker side to the account of Portugal's overseas adventures, and the question of to what extent the portuguese were saints or sinners has gone largely unaddressed.

The fall of the portuguese empire and a deep-felt kinsip with ex-colonies:
When Portugal's post- Carnation Revolution leaders handed africans the keys to their own countries , the new owners obtained no automatic freedom or justice. In fact, the former colonies paid a high price for Portugal«s scramble to get out Africa. The sudden exit cerated a power vacuum which coincided with the Cold War's ideological antagonism. Those african countries' new political leaders took sides and became proxies as East and West confrontedeach other on african soil.  Angola suffred the most, because its huge oil reserves made it a tempting prize - and proved to be a curse. Cuban soldiers and Moscow money backed Angola's Marxist government wjhile South African troops and CIA did their best to bring it down by helping the opposition with weapons and cash. Angola's civil war became Africa's longest post-colonial conflict. It killed hundreds of thousands of civilians before its end in 2002. Mozambique also succumbed to civil war, which lasted until 1992. All the former african colonies became saddled with single-party marxist governments for more than a decade, arresting their development.
Unproductive political feuding and other ills have dogged these countries ever since. 
The presentation of a 2009 Oxford University workshop on portugue-speaking nation put it thus"Features present in the politics of all countries, patronage and corruption are perhaps of greater public concern and more fundamental to the working of politics in Lusophone countries than in some other states". Angola, with its giant oil and diamond reserves, is guilty of corruption on a spectacular scale, human rights groups say.
East Timor fared even worse. While the africans turned on each other after the portuguese departure the timorese were invaded and subjected to a brutal occupation by indonesia, which annexed the nearvy territory of around one million mostly impoverished people. Thousands were jailed, tortured and murdered as the world mostly turned a blind eye. Portugal did not posses enough diplomatic strength to do much about it, and the major protagonists in the strategic equation - Australia and the United States - blamed Portugal for creating the problem in the first place by leaving so hastly. The indonesian atrocities continued until a particular appaling massacre in 1991 grabbed the world's attention. The outcry led, eventually, to a United Nations - sponsored referendum on independence which the timorese finally gained in 2002.
The portuguese felt terribly guilty about the timorese suffering. Leaving africans to fight each other over the post-continental spoils was one thing; throwing a helpless former colony to the wolves was another.Confronted with the carnage on their evening television news, and trying somehow to make amends, the portuguese amends staged mass protests not seen since the 1974 Revolution.  Traffic in towns and cities across the country stopped at a designated time, people climbing out of their vehicles and standing in the road to observe a one-minute silence. Tens of thousands of people used a free number to send fazes of protest to the United Nations in New York. A similar number of people lined up the streets of Lisbon and waved white handkerchiefs to welcome East Timor bishop Carlos Belo, by then a refugee and soon to be a nobel peace laureate, as he drove through the city from the airport. It was a sign of deep-felt kinship that would be hard to fathom without knowing the back-story that stretched 10 000 km and 500 years. In the aftermath of the struggle, east Timor's first independent government adopted portuguese as its official language - a gest that suggested a certain sentimentality, since that region's major languages are Indonesian and English and fewer than 10% of East Timorese speak portuguese fluently.
Goa (in India), still possesses reminders of its portuguese bloodline, even though its colonial zenith was in the 16th century when this city was nicknamed "the Rome of the East" due to the generous number of catholic churches the portuguese built in the jungle. Goa also preserved the house where Vasco da Gama lived and possesses other easily identifiable colonial buildings. Some among the locals still have portuguese surnmaes such as Fernandes, Pereira and gonçalves, though few speak portuguese..
Macau 8in China), where the portuguese began to put down roots in the mid-sixteenth century, was one of the rare European toeholds in China. It was also the first and the longest-lasting (as with sub- Saharian Africa and India, the portuguese were the first europeans to settle and the last to depart=. Macau spent 442 years under portuguese rule though largely overshadowed during that time by nearby Hong kong and Singapore. Chinese and portuguese, asian and western culture, mixed cheek-by-jowl in an unlikely blend, and still do: the downtown area is a UNESCO World heritage site because of the portuguese architecture. China and its language, however, were long dominated before 1999 when the portuguese flag was run down and power handed over. Still, amid Macau's Las Vegas-style casinos to which mainland Chinese enthusiastically flock there remain portuguese street names and shops signs and pavements, there is also the first western-style lighthouse in China, courtesy of the portuguese.
Portugal's colonial genealogy allows it to claim the broadest global spread of UNESCO world heritage sites of any country. Its most common physical legacy in its former possessions are forts and religious buildings, those symbols of the Cross and teh Crown. Portuguese built monuments crop up in the oddest places, unless you are familiar with portuguese history. There is a 16th century portuguese church, called Santa Cruz, in Bangkok, for instance: the portuguese were the first europeans to reach what is now Thailand.
Brazil is perhaps the most estranged of the portuguese offspring. It went its own way almost two centuries ago, long before the other colonies got to stand on their own two feet. Even so, Brazil was part of the empire for more than 300 years, and kinship is evident. Salvador da Bahia, Brazil's first capital looks like Macau's downtown, like a little bit of Portugal stranded on another continent, more 6000 km across the ocean. Portuguese who go there nowadays are astonished by the patent similarities. They, like the tourists who marvel the Monument of Discoveries in Lisbon, stare in disbelief at how far the empire extended.
A seminal event set Brazil apart. The portuguese royal family, the court, senior officials and soldiers - more than 10,000 people in all - fled there en masse in 1870 to escape a french army invading Portugal. Their arrival dictated an elevation in the colony's status. Portugal's capital was switched to Brazil, the territory essentially beccame self-governing, and public buildings of appropriate distinction had be put up. In 1822, chafing at Lisbon's insistent meddling, Brazil unilaterelly declared independence, an occasion synthesized in the moment when Pedro the Prince Regent [portuguese], by the Ipiranga river near São Paulo, is said to have shouted, "Independence or death". In modern portuguese, when someone is rebelling against unbearable circumstances they are metaphorically said to be expressing "the cry of Ipiranga". 
It is nowadays the orthodoxy of the countries' ruliing elites that Portugal and Brazil are siblings - not former colony and former colonial power. The portuguese refer to Brazil as their Grande Nação Irmã (Great Sister Nation) and segunda pátria (second homeland). 
Brazil features prominently in one of the unflattering threads of Portuguese history. A joint documentary by the BBC and the History Channel in 2000, coinciding with the 500 th anniversary of Brazil's discovery, was entitled "Brazil: an inconvenient History". It cas a light on a dark fact which many have been reluctant to confront: slavery.
 The portuguese transported to South America at least 4 million african captives - some ten times more than the number taken to North America by other European countries. 
The portuguese do not dwell on this aspect. School textbooks divulge pages and pages about the feats of Discoveries, but cover just the bare bone of the country's almost four centuries of slavery.
Surprisingly for a country viewed at the time as laggng behind progress made in the European Enlightenment, Portugal in 1761 became the first Western European country to ban slaving, at least partly. The Marquis of Pombal, a sometime modernizer then running the government for King José I, outlawed slaving in mainland Portugal and its possessions in India. In 1836 Portugal the transatlantic slave trade but only more than three decades later, in 1869, capitulated to international pressure and abolished slavery in its African colonies. 
The first words of Portugal's national anthem are, "Heroes of the sea, noble people, valiant nation". But the portuguese are largely unburdened by recollections of the more disagreeable aspects of the Age of Discovery and the ensuing colonial empire. They barely mention them, and are broadly unaware of them because they are absent from the school syllabus and general cultural discourse. The boilerplate version of history dates from the 20th century dictatorshipSalazar and his propagandists cynically crafted a political artifice that was so neat, so flattering, that has endured: Salazar's New State fabricated the myth that the portuguese empire was benevolent and laudable.
Ask just about any portuguese and they will tell you: portuguese colonialism was kindly and beneficial.
It does not require much effort, it must be said, to imagine the portuguese as relatively congenial colonialists. They are by nature so affable, so willing to get along with anybody, that their colonies were bound to be different in style from those of others. Pope John Paul II, on a trip to Angola in 1992, observed: "the portuguese settlers lived with africans; other settlers lived among africans", Their tolerant disposition probably also helps expalin how they lasted so long in Macau, despite being harassed by british and dutch forces looking for weaknesses in the portuguese empire. Lisbon's national archive holds a 1753 letter from chinese emperor Qianlong to king José I which is almost effusive in its diplomatic warmth. Written in chinese, portuguese and manchu on a roll of yellow silk almost four metres long, the letter exalts the kindly manner of the portuguese in their dealings with the emperor's father and grandfather. 
The british historian Charles Boxer, conceded in his Raleigh Lecture at the British Academy in 1961 that the portuguese "had,as a rule, less colour prejudice" than other western colonizers and "often earned themselves a friendly feeling", which the clipped coolness of their european rivals was unable to match. But Boxer assessed the "brute force" dimension of the conquests too. 
They were brutish times, and all sides committed atrocities.
The former colonies' view of their one-time ruler is not always flattering . While some brazilians regard Portugal as their cultural fountainhead, others- especially ameridians and blacks - perceive the portuguese arrival as an event heralding the the inequality and injustice which continued ever since. On the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama's landfall in goa also created controversy. Portugal put on a big celebration to mark the national hero Gama's breakthrough. But some in India, and especially Goan nationalists, were outraged. For them, Gama was a cruel and rapacious intruder and a harbinger of 450 years of colonial oppresion. They even accused him of genocide. Several Goan political parties united to form the Patriotic Citizens' Committee whose supporters marched in protest and burnt an effigy of Vasco da Gama at a rally. The Indian government, embarrassed, had to tell the portuguese that it was pulling out of the commemorations. 
The portuguese anthropologist Luis Quintais says: "We think of our colonization as having been soft, or mild, compared to other european countries. But it wasn't, it was the same".
As the british historian Edward Gibbon remarked (and he was not only thinking of the portuguese empire), "the history of empires is the history of human misery".

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