The exhibition of the Portuguese colonies, which is located in the pavilion on Avenue de Suffren, is worth a visit. The colonies that Portugal possesses today are the last remnants of the great power of the past. This small people, so intelligent, so active, so fearless, can say that at one time they almost held the world in their hands.
Let us quickly review this exhibition.
To the right and left of the entrance door of the pavilion, two fierce Indians, with spears in hand, look at the visitors with a terrible eye: one is reassured to note that these descendants of the Zamorin are perfectly harmless wooden dummies.
In showcases, there are very curious collections of Indian coins, woods and ivories worked with exquisite care. The central panel, at the back of the pavilion, is decorated with a panoply of pikes, spears, arrows, axes, kriss, daggers and weapons of all kinds.
The total area of the colonies currently owned by Portugal is 1,918,778 kilometres. They are each placed under the direct authority of a governor general, who has both civil and military functions.
The Cape Verde islands are amazingly fertile. Lichen and indigo are harvested in abundance. Coconut trees, date palms, pine nuts, dragon trees and tamarinds are found in abundance; they also produce senna, manioc, cotton, bananas, oranges, lemons and a wine that equals in quality that of Tenerife.
In Portuguese Guinea, rubber is the dominant crop.
The colony of St Thomas produces excellent coffee, manioc and cocoa. Cinnamon grows naturally everywhere, and Indian pepper and golden ginger are harvested. The main fruit trees are mango, coconut, palm, mahogany, banana and orange.
The colony of Angola, one of the most important of the Portuguese possessions, has a population of about 430,000. Its exports are high and consist mainly of cotton, palm oil, rubber, coffee, wax, ivory, gum-copal, etc.
The colony of Mozambique does much the same trade, but under lesser conditions.
The Portuguese territory of Macao is part of Hiang-Chan Island, in the south-east of the Chinese Empire, at the mouth of the Canton River. It has a surface area of 4 square kilometres and a population of 71,000 souls, mostly Chinese and the rest Moors, Parsis and Christians.
As for Madeira, which is fairly close to the metropolis and which was the first discovery of the Portuguese, it is located in the Atlantic, 690 kilometres from the west coast of Africa, which is bounded by Mount Atlas. Its population is about 13,000.
First seen in 1334 by an Englishman, Robert Macham, the island was not really discovered until 1419 by the Portuguese Joao Gonçalvez Largo. At that time, it was just a huge forest, hence its name (madeira in Portuguese means wood). It was set on fire,v and tradition has it that the fire lasted seven years. Madeira's climate is one of the most temperate in the world. Therefore, the island produces wines famous all over the world.
The way of pressing the wine is very primitive in Madeira. The grapes are thrown into large presses and trodden on so as to extract all the juice they contain.
The wines harvested on the northern and western slopes of the island arrive mostly in Funchal, the capital. As there are no docks in the port, the boats are anchored off the coast. The barrels are thrown overboard and each time a man from the crew jumps into the water and, leaning on a barrel with both hands, pushes it ashore. This elementary handling, whose procedures recall Virgilian descriptions, does not displease me. A few years ago, it was still practised in Menton, where a ship was unloaded near the shore. The deep blue of the sea, speckled here and there by the barrels thrown overboard; the comings and goings of the tanned sailors, dressed in brightly coloured rags, plunging into the sea and singing a shuffling melody, with a greater poetry than the velvet jackets of the postmen waiting for the English steamers from Dover or Calais. It was a picture in the style of Leopold Robert, which the sun was illuminating with its most beautiful rays, as if to give it more flavour and local colour.
The grape must, in Madeira, poured into goatskin or sheepskin skins, is carried on the backs of men by porters
of Herculean strength called borracheiros.
In 1876, the island exported 87,644 decalitres of wine worth nearly 2,500,000 francs.
©Les Merveilles de l'Exposition de 1878