PoWI Archives - Milne - On Behalf of the Portuguese

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by Anthony Milne
Trinidad Express
Thursday November 23, 1989
p. 24-25

As the debate on the Ethnic Question warms up (and before it gets completely out of hand), a small contribution on behalf of the Portuguese community, may I suggest, is in order.

According to some demographers, the Portuguese in the West Indies are neither fish nor fowl, neither black nor white, but simply Portuguese - and so, perhaps, might play the role of referee in this Great Debate. Not all Portuguese here were proprietors of dry goods stores and rum shops, though some started out in business in that way.

My great great grandfather, Antonio Camacho, went to the West Indian island of Antigua from Madeira in 1847. There is some uncertainty as to whether he went there as a labourer, like some Portuguese in the West Indies, or as a mere adventurer. At some point he went into business and eventually became wealthy, owning a number of sugar estates. One or two of his descendants ended up in Trinidad, though Antigua remains their home base. Most Camachos in Trinidad are only distantly related to those in Antigua, from Madeiran days.

Many of the Portuguese in the English-speaking West Indies came originally, like Antonio Camacho, from Madeira. Madeira is the name of the largest of a group of islands, the Madeira Islands, situated in the Atlantic, 400 miles west of Morocco, North Africa. Porto Santo, another of the islands, is, like Madeira, inhabited, though most of the other islands are said to have no human population at all.

The Madeira Islands are a political district of Portugal, and the district is known officially as Funchal, after the chief town, port, and capital, on the south coast of the island of Madeira. The Portuguese seaman, João Gonçalves Zarco reached Porto Santo in 1418 and visited Madeira in 1420. Both were uninhabited, but settlement of the islands began shortly afterwards with the blessings of Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator. The population of the islands is now said to be comprised mainly by the descendants of Portuguese, with a mixture of Moors and Africans.

Having set up in Antigua, Antonio Camacho spawned a large family. One of his sons, Martin Joseph Camacho, my great grandfather, born in 1860, was sent to school in England. He became a barrister, married an Englishwoman, and then rejoined his family in Antigua. Eventually, he was made a Judge, and died in Dominica while serving there in this capacity in 1910, at the age of 50.

Martin's son, Fabian Joseph Camacho, was born in Antigua in 1898, and was also sent to school in England. Fabian, who was my mother's father, also became a barrister, practised in Antigua, and then served as a Magistrate in Montserrat and Guyana, and as a Magistrate and then a Judge in Trinidad. He died in retirement here in 1966. Fabian's first-cousin, Sir Maurice Camacho, was Chief Justice of British Guiana.

The Portuguese, of course, were some of the earliest explorers of sea routes from Western Europe. Fernão de Magalhães (1480-1521), called Magellan by the English, was the first European to organise an expedition around the world by sea, though Magellan died en route in the Philippines. Vasco da Gama reached the Far East by sailing around the Cape of Good Hope.

Among well-known Portuguese Trinidad are Albert Gomes, the politician; Alfred Mendes, the writer; and George Cabral, a mayor of Port of Spain. One of the traditions brought to the West Indies by Portuguese from Madeira was a delicacy still eaten at Christmas-time, which is gaining ground in Trinidad. This is Garlic Pork, or Carne de Vinagre (sic) e Alhos.

Whatever the Portuguese may be faulted for, must pale in comparison with the pleasures of Garlic Pork - to which anyone who has tasted it can attest.


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