Madeirans - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Madeira has a cash economy centered on the export of agricultural commodities (sugar, tropical fruit, wine); internal commerce is heavily dependent on tourism, the major island revenue source. Despite constant emigration, population density is at a level to preclude subsistence on locally produced food; staples (wheat, corn, meat) are imported. Tourism provides Service jobs for 25,000 residents. Madeiran handicrafts ( artesanato )—wicker, embroidery, wood carving, wines—are major export commodities and an important adjunct to tourism.

Industrial Arts. Skilled, manual labor is integral to Madeiran artesanato developed over the years in tiny mountain enclaves. Wickerwork ( obra de vîmes ), hand embroidery ( bordados ), tapestry ( tapeçaria ), wood-and wrought-ironwork, porcelains, and viniculture ( vinhos ) are major folk industries founded on artisan tradition. Decorative tiles (azulejos) of Moorish provenience are widely used in design.

Trade. Funchal's Mercado dos Lavradores, market center for island produce and some crafts, is the "floating garden" in microcosm and sells fruits of land, sea, and skilled folk labor. Shops for specialty products (e.g., fish markets by the water's edge) are found throughout Madeira, and refreshment stands and cafés line Porto Santo's 7-kilometer beach. Primary trading partners are Portugal, the United States, and European nations.

Division of Labor. Tourism has shifted traditional labor allocations within the peasant household. Some members now commute daily from all parts of the island to service jobs. Women continue to perform the bulk of household chores and child care, for themselves and for urban employers. Men are responsible for poio maintainance, construction, bus and taxi driving, and fishing. Wickerwork and viniculture are largely gender-neutral; women do needlework, men woodwork.

Land Tenure. The term bemfeitoria (improvements) is mnemonic for a sharecropping system. Land and water rights are owned by a landlord. "Improvements" (walls, buildings, walkways, trees), which are reimbursable in event of eviction, are owned by the tenant. The landless 40 percent of farm workers has the lowest priority for water distribution, the sine qua non of land value. One-third to one-half of produce is taken by the proprietor.


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