Flores, the Island of Many Secrets

Fazenda at sunrise

I was asked if the photograph that accompanied my previous post had been taken in the Azores. And yes, it was. The image in question is the tomb of Antonio de Freitas which is located in the idyllic village of Mosteiro. De Freitas, born in Mosteiro in 1792, left his homeland for Macau and made a fortune in opium trafficking and child slavery before returning to Flores in 1845. In an effort to relieve his conscience and atone for his sins, de Freitas established a church in Mosterio, the “poorest place of his island,” and set about decorating the Igreja da Santíssima Trindade (Holy Trinity Church) with religious ornaments and cloths brought back from China. He had also brought back with him a beautiful Chinese-Portuguese wife, Ana Pulcreana. Driven by jealousy, de Freitas often locked her in their home. Plagued by loneliness, Ana became ill and eventually died, along with her young daughter, several years after her arrival on Flores.  After his own death in 1864, de Freitas was buried in Mosteiro in the cemetery located behind the Holy Trinity Church.  His tomb is unusual in its sinister details: tiger paws support a coffin adorned with a sculpted skull among two crossed shin-bones.

The small village of Caveira (skull) on the southeastern coast of Flores is home to the Legend of the Luminous Skull and as recently as ten years ago was also home to a young and charismatic witch doctor, Carlos Medeiros. People from all over the island would travel to his residence in Caveira to learn about their future, acquire monetary gains or to have curses cast on their enemies. As it turns out, one of his sons works as a laborer for my husband’s sister in Fazenda. He was amused, or perhaps surprised, to discover I had heard of his father’s reputation by way of a book (Flores, Azores: Walking Through History by Pierluigi Bragaglia) but not as amused when I asked if he had inherited any special psychic powers.

On my last night in Flores, we drove around the island’s southwestern hills before heading back through the town of Lajes to visit the marina one last time. Slowing at a corner, I looked out the window upon an older home tucked behind a stone wall. In the garden, naked dolls with dark eyes and missing limbs were hanging from a clothesline over a garden of kale and fava beans. If this was the Florentines’ version of the North American scarecrow, it was certainly effective on a scaredy-bird like me.  The effect of the moon shining down upon this strangely unsettling vignette only served to cement my belief that the island—or rather, its inhabitants,  are cursed—or blessed?—with a sense of the macabre. Goodbye Flores, my freaky little friend, I thought. I’ll return one day. Maybe.

Many of the YouTube videos featuring the Azores seem to be accompanied by cheery or tranquil music which I find a touch misleading. The islands harbor far too many mysteries and complexities to ever be mistaken as typical tourist destinations but perhaps its those qualities that draw so many to visit the archipelago again and again.

Here is the Place

here is the place where sadness
has the depth of a well
and the face of absence
here where my shoulders
are submerged
coincidental with distance and permanence

let it be a poem where water
is always near
water and music of seaweed against rocks
let it only be an image in the mirrors
growing in silence against the bones

but if I write to you water
water liberates
it spells your name
it drinks your splendor
here on this page
the sea rises up
floods me dissolves me
in its furor

~Madalena Férin
Translation by John M. Kinsella, Voices From the Islands

8 thoughts on “Flores, the Island of Many Secrets

  1. My family is from Caveira and we have relatives still there who remember this witch doctor, who was originally from Terceira by the way. Cool post!

    1. James Rodrigues Henriques January 11, 2013 — 3:33 pm

      Hi Leana,

      I live in Sacramento, CA. My father’s side of the family is from Flores (mother’s side is from Faial). My dad’s family is from Mosteiro back several generation. However, we have many relatives from other villages in the area as well. I visited once; it was great. Actually, I was able to visit 6 of the 9 islands.

      I still have relatives in the Merced, Fresno, and Hanford areas of California and a few in Lovelock, Nevada. My last name is Henriques and my father’s mother’s sir-name was Mancebo.

      Do you keep in touch with any relatives from Flores? What village(s) is/are your family from on Flores?

      You can e-mail be directly at: sacjames@yahoo.com

      James Rodrigues Henriques

  2. Do your relatives back home ever mention the history or legend of Caveira? The village history is fascinating but so few of the islanders seemed familiar with the stories behind the name of the village nor had many heard of the legend of the skull…

  3. So happy to have found you again!!

    gera…. not in Steveston any more.

    1. Gera! So happy I’ve been found! I don’t have an email contact for you. Drop me a line at fernanda (at) shaw.ca. I would love to hear how you and your family are doing.

  4. Manuel Carvalho, Kitchener, Ontario June 5, 2013 — 3:39 pm

    Very good!

  5. I have family in Flores but they’ve never mentioned these stories. Where can I purchase Flores, Azores: Walking Through History by Pierluigi Bragaglia?

  6. Hello Roy,
    You can reach Pierluigi at argonaut(at)argonauta-flores.com>

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