Did the Portuguese Spice Boys discover Australia?

Nagasaki School Scenes of traders at Nagasaki late 18th–early 19th century, Nagasaki, Japan, pair of hand scrolls (e maki): ink, colour and gold on paper; box: wood, paper and ink, scroll (a) 34.0 x 652.0 cm; (b) 34.0 x 652.0 cm; box 12.0 x 19.5 x 39.5 cm, M.J.M. Carter AO Collection through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2014, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide 20144P11 (a-c)

Nagasaki School Scenes of traders at Nagasaki late 18th–early 19th century, Nagasaki, Japan, pair of hand scrolls (e maki): ink, colour and gold on paper; box: wood, paper and ink, scroll (a) 34.0 x 652.0 cm; (b) 34.0 x 652.0 cm; box 12.0 x 19.5 x 39.5 cm, M.J.M. Carter AO Collection through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2014, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide 20144P11 (a-c)

If anyone is in Adelaide this weekend it’s your last chance to see the Treasure Ships: Art In The Age of Spices exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia. More than 300 exhibits are on display, and much of the focus is on Portugal’s “golden age of discoveries”. After Sunday the exhibits will go to the Art Gallery of Western Australia, where they will be on display from October 10 to January 31, 2016. Some of the highlights of the exhibition are covered in a previous post here.

Portugal’s history is fascinating – it’s said to have had the first global empire in history – but because it’s “golden age” was relatively short and its influence waned after the 16th Century, not much is known about it by the population at large today. I’ve got some great books on the topic …

Portugal books

I haven’t actually started reading A.R. Disney’s two-volume A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire, but when I have 60-plus free days to spare, I will. I am currently reading Nigel Cliff’s The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages Of Vasco Da Gama, but because of other time pressures it’s been a start-stop-go-back-and-start-again affair. Vasco’s ships never seem to leave the port! However, for an easy yet highly entertaining introduction to Portugal’s greatest historical hits, I would strongly recommend Martin Page’s The First Global Village. Page is a writer and journalist first and foremost rather than a historian, so he knows how to make his history sizzle. Some of the really dry historians should take note!

Why the fascination with spices?

Often when I sprinkle pepper on my food, I think of Vasco Da Gama. We take pepper and other spices for granted so much nowadays. So what was the big deal with spices in the spice age? Much of it, of course, was to do with trying to preserve meat, or to disguise the fact that it was rotting, on long sea journeys, but in the press release to the exhibition, co-curator James Bennett says the pre-refrigeration need for spices “takes little account of the complex reasons the condiments of luxury and status were so avidly sought”.

I asked his fellow curator, Russell Kelty, what were the other complex reasons.

“The most common assumption is that spices were used to preserve food but in fact Europe’s fascination and desire for spices was linked partially to the prestige associated with these luxury condiments which were transported vast distances over land and sea, prior to the establishment of maritime routes by the Portuguese, and as a result were extremely expensive,” Kelty says. “Spices were also connected to notions that illness was caused bodily imbalance in hot and cold humours which could be alleviated by certain spices. As with any commodity the more scarce and difficult to obtain the prestige it accumulates.”

India, Portrait of D. Francisco de Almeida, 16th century, Goa, oil and tempera on wood, 183.0 x 98.0 cm National Museum of Ancient Art (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga), Lisbon MNAA Inv 2145 Pint

India, Portrait of D. Francisco de Almeida, 16th century, Goa, oil and tempera on wood, 183.0 x 98.0 cm. National Museum of Ancient Art (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga), Lisbon
MNAA Inv 2145 Pint. 

 

(The image above is from the exhibition; it’s a portrait of an explorer I haven’t really heard much about, Francisco de Almeida. Wikipedia has this to say about him: Dom Francisco de Almeida, also known as “the Great Dom Francisco” (ca. 1450 – March 1, 1510), was a Portuguese nobleman, soldier and explorer. He distinguished himself as a counsellor to King John II of Portugal and later in the wars against the Moors and in the conquest of Granada in 1492. In 1503 he was appointed as the first governor and viceroy of the Portuguese State of India (Estado da Índia). Almeida is credited with establishing Portuguese hegemony in the Indian Ocean, with his victory at the naval Battle of Diu in 1509. Before Almeida could return to Portugal, he lost his life in 1510.)

The Australian Connection

beyond cap“Treasure Ships also examines the impact of the Age of Spices on the ‘discovery’ of the Australian continent”, says the exhibition’s media release. So what can we glean from the exhibition about Portuguese relations with Australia? There are some historians who believe that the Portuguese secretly knew a lot more about Australia than was officially revealed. (For example, Peter Trickett and his book Beyond Capricorn).

I was curious to know if the Treasure Ships exhibition added anything to that debate. Here’s  Russell Kelty view.

“Treasure ships does not touch on the Portuguese ‘discovery’ of Australia  – which I agree was highly likely –  as the exhibition is about art and cultural exchange. There is no evidence of any kind of aesthetic impact by the Portuguese on Indigenous Australian art, as was the case with Makassan trepang fishermen whose visits had a profound impact on northern Australian coastal Aboriginal cultures. The catalogue does briefly discuss [Malaysian-Portuguese cartographer Emanuel Godinho de Eredia (1563-1623)] Eredia’s belief in the existence of ‘New South India; (p.186).”

To see a summary of all the arguments about whether or not the Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover Australia, go here.

The Treasure Ships exhibition images here have been supplied courtesy of the Media section of the Art Gallery of South Australia and may not to be distributed to any other party. 

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Balkan Club meets Brazil as Romanian pop stars Andra and Naguale go to Rio de Janeiro

The Lisbon-Bucharest divide

The Lisbon-Bucharest divide

At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is not much connection between the Romanian and Portuguese languages. For one thing, Bucharest and Lisbon are more than 3800 kilometres apart, and if you were to make that road journey (pictured), you would hear many different languages along the route. I have been fortunate enough to have done summer language courses in both countries – in Portugal in 2011 and Romania in 2013. Of the two, the latter language was definitely new to me, so I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. Whenever I was asked a question by my Romanian teacher, if I couldn’t say a word in Romanian, I would say it in Portuguese (in my peculiar gringo Porto-Romanian accent), and often the answer would prove to be spot on. So if you are reasonably fluent in one of those languages, you should be comfortable holidaying in places where the other is spoken.

Even so, I was surprised to find that doing very well on the Romanian music charts at the moment is Falava, a song in Portuguese and English by Romanian singer Andra and a band by the name of Naguale. It’s catchy and has got a sort of Turkish/Arabic/Ottoman snake charmer cum bellydance-type feel to it (my belly gyrated while playing it). As a bonus, the video features colourful exotic scenes from Rio de Janeiro, including street life, mouth-watering tropical fruits and the obligatory long-legged beauties in skimpy costumes wiggling their bits (it’s a bit in your face at times).

Andra certainly sounds comfortable in the Portuguese language, and the radio studio version below shows this is so with live performances too.

The lyrics to the song can be found here.

Andra is very popular in Romania. Here’s her big summer hit from 2013, Inevitabil va fi bine (Inevitably everything will be fine) … happy memories for me!

BUFFED BODY ALERT!

I don’t know much about Naguale, but according to the band/musician’s Facebook page it’s a (one-man?) band led by Bucharest-based Ovidiu Baciu and the music genre is “Balkan Club”. Here he teams up with a couple of other heavy-hitters on the Romanian music scene, Glance and Elena Gheorghe. In this video, the naked flesh on display is of the big and buffed blokey type. There are subtitles in English.

Three of the best Italian songs – as chosen by an Italian, so don’t blame me haha

I haven’t played or listened to an Italian music for a while, so I asked an Italian friend to nominate his three favourite songs. This is what he came up with:

1. Caruso by the late Lucio Dalla

2. Vivo per lei by Andrea Bocelli (shown here with translations in Romanian, and there is some dispute in the comments on YouTube whether it’s actually Laura Pausini singing with him or someone else).

3. A far l’amore comincia tu  by Raffaella Carra

If anyone would like to nominate their favourite songs in my five Romance languages, please do!