A exploração dos recursos naturais da ínsua de caminha, nos séculos XV-XIX. Conflitos entre a comunidade franciscana, a câmara municipal, os moradores vizinhos e o comando da fortaleza ...

João Paulo Cabral


Ínsua is a small island located in the extreme northwest coast of continental Portugal, in the mouth of river Minho. In 1392 it was founded in the island a Franciscan monastery of the Observance, which remained active until the extinction of all religious orders in Portugal in the 19th century. From the study of several unpublished manuscripts housed in the Districtal Archive of Braga and the historical chronicles of the Order of Friars Minor in Portugal, it was realized that in the 15th-19th centuries, there was a continuous and very intense dispute over the natural resources of the island (namely the shells and the shellfish) between the Franciscan community, and the House of Caminha, the neighbours, and the fortress commander. Three hypotheses were presented to explain these disputes: A. Natural resources of the island were plentiful, and were valuable goods for the living of the people. Shells were used to make lime, the main ingredient of the mortars used for building. Lime was probably used in the re-building of the monastery carried out in the 15th century. B. The departure, in 1619, of most of the friars from the island to the convent of Saint António in Caminha, would give a sense of absence and emptiness in the island. It would seem therefore unjustified the maintenance of the right of possession of all natural resources of the island by such a small religious community. This possession was based in the right of the first occupant and in the antiquity of the occupation, and was always acknowledged by the House of Vila Real and by the Crown. The persistence of such an old right was difficult to accept by the neighbours, which certainly had few resources for the daily life. C. Natural resources were important for the survival of the Franciscan community of Ínsua, since especially from the 18th century on, the charity given by the Crown were scarce and paid with delay. Due to the low donations of the Crown, the Franciscans received charities from the neighbours in exchange of the permission given to fish, to shellfish, and to collect seaweeds in the island. In order to substantiate the first hypothesis, field work was carried out in the summer 2004, assessing the shell heaps and the living communities of molluscs of the island. It was found that Ínsua had huge accumulations of dead molluscan shells in excess of 15 tons, being the biggest heaps of shells in continental Portugal. Living mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) and limpets (Patella intermedia e Patella vulgata) reached exceptional size, being one of the most prosperous communities of the Portuguese continental coast. It was concluded that Ínsua in the past probably also had abundant accumulations of shells and shellfish resources, and this abundance was one of the causes for the permanent and intense disputes between the Franciscan community, the House of Caminha, the neighbours and the fortress commader.

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