By Jessie Moniz
A little 'piece' of Spain will this morning become a little 'piece' of Portugal in a ceremony righting a wrong hundreds of years old.
On a rock overlooking the shore at nature reserve Spittal Pond there is an inscription thought to say "RP 1543".
The inscription is actually a bronze cast of an inscription, because the real one was destroyed several decades ago.
For a long time, Bermudians assumed the letters were made by the Spanish who roamed the seas in the 1500s, and in fact, gave Bermuda its name.
Hence, they called it 'Spanish Rock'.
But today in a ceremony being attended by dignitaries from Bermuda and Portugal, the rock will officially change nationalities, becoming forever (or until new research refutes it) 'Portuguese Rock'.
"We are changing the name to indicate that research has shown that it really was a Portuguese sailor that was wrecked off Bermuda's reefs and carved the initials RP and the date," said Heather Whalen, senior community and cultural affairs officer.
Local historians have known since at least the 1960s that the rock was probably inscribed [or vandalised depending on your point of view] by the Portuguese rather than the Spanish.
Today's school of thought began back in 1962 through the research of Venezuelan historian J. Vidago. He interpreted the rock as bearing the letters: 'RP', a cross and the date '1543'. He felt that RP stood for 'Rex Portugualiae' referring to the King of Portugal, Joao III.
He thought the long-armed cross in the inscription represented to the Portuguese Order of Christ, led by King Joao III.
The Military Order of Christ was founded in 1318, and was responsible for sending Vasco da Gama sailing around the African cape to India in 1497. Mr. Vidago referred to work by Spanish historian Gonzalo Fernandes d'Oviedoy Valdes, known as Oviedo (1478 to 1557).
Oviedo, a Spanish historian who was based in Santo Domingo in the 1540s recorded that a convoy of ships left Santo Domingo in July 1543.
One ship, whose name has long been forgotten, was empty and sailing back to Portugal. It became caught up in a gale, was separated from its convoy, and wound up on the northern reefs of an uninhabited island.
Just as the Sea Venture survivors did six decades later, the crew built another ship using tools salvaged from their wrecked ship.
The surviving crew of 30 sailed back to Santo Domingo, after several months on the Island.
It is now thought that these were the people who left their mark in Bermuda. Edward Harris, executive director of the Bermuda Maritime Museum, thought that the rock at Spittal Pond would have been a good place to see any passing ships.
"The reef line is quite close there," he said. "Whereas somewhere like up in Dockyard, the reefs are quite far out."
At today's ceremony, a new sign will be unveiled to reflect the new name.
The sign included historic information, the Portuguese flag, and the 2009 Bermuda anniversary logo.
"The signage will also say that it is in honour of the contributions that the Portuguese community has made in Bermuda," said Mrs. Whalen. "The sign will not only be in English, but also in Portuguese to honour those of Portuguese descent."
A host of dignitaries and community leaders were scheduled to be present at the ceremony including the acting Premier Michael Scott, the Portuguese Ambassador in London, Antonio Nunes de Carvalho Santana Carlos, Bishop Robert Kurtz of the Roman Catholic Church in Bermuda, Culture and Social Rehabilitation Minister Neletha Butterfield, Mrs. Whalen, lawyer and United Bermuda Party deputy leader Trevor Moniz and Dr. Harris, among others.
Mr. Moniz and Dr. Harris have claimed both credit for the renaming. Dr. Harris first suggested the name change in a Mid-Ocean News column in 1997 and Mr. Moniz submitted a proposal to government for the name change about five years ago.
"I couldn't say why it took so long to change the name," said Mrs. Whalen. "But it was thought that the 400th anniversary was a wonderful opportunity to make the change.
"We are doing our part to educate people a little bit more. We are correcting some aspects of our history. It depends on the people to what extent they will embrace it. I think people will be pleased that this aspect of our heritage is being honoured, and a more accurate record of our history is being promoted."
She said so far, the feedback had been positive.
"Most people that we have approached have said they are pleased to hear that this change is taking place," said Mrs. Whalen.
Even the Spanish themselves don't seem bothered about losing a piece of the rock.
"We brought it to the attention of the Spanish Consulate A. C. J. Dean," said Mrs. Whalen. "She was very gracious that we let her know. There were no complaints."
Clarence Terceira former United Bermuda Party (UBP) government minister, suggested the name change in the 1980s during a Rotary Club lunch speech.
"I don't know why I didn't change it when I was minister," said Dr. Terceira. "I was busy with whatever ministry I had. In a way, it did not occur to me that it was possible to change it. I thought these things were set in stone, if you'll excuse the quip.
"In my naive approach, I didn't think it could be done. But I am pleased that it has turned out that it has been done."
The name change ceremony will be filmed and shown at a public reception tomorrow at the new World Heritage Centre in St. George's. Everyone is invited.
There will be Portuguese dancers, and local group Ilha Verde. There will also be a traditional Portuguese carpet of flowers, arranged by Carlos Amaral.
On Sunday, Portuguese pop star Jorge Ferreira will sing in St. George's Square from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. The event is free.
Mr. Ferreira is well known in the United States and Europe. Some of his many albums include 'êxitos' and 'E Bom E Bom'.
Eddie DeMello, owner of the Music Box, was in charge of organising entertainment for the name change celebrations.
Mr. DeMello said that Portuguese culture in Bermuda has been hard hit by regulations preventing guest workers from staying more than six years.
"The first-generation Portuguese community, the generation that would be under contract, is dwindling," said Mr. DeMello. "A lot of people have had to return to the Azores after six years.
"The Portuguese at the moment, are not allowed to bring their wives. That policy was stopped for a while, but it is now back."
He said in terms of young people who are second and third generation, they are sometimes less interested in Portuguese culture.
"They will come to a cocktail party, but they are less likely to come to a festa (a traditional Portuguese festival)."
But he said when singer Jorge Ferreira appeared in Bermuda 12 years ago, he was hugely popular.
We did a concert in St. George's Square, and there were many people there," he said.
Mr. Ferreira is well known in the United States and Europe. He does a small amount of traditional Portuguese fado music, but he mainly does a lot of "uptempo" stuff.
"He has some young musicians who play saxophone, trumpet, the works," said Mr. Ferreira. "It is quite a full group."
Mr. DeMello was somewhat reserved in whether the name change of a rock would make a big difference to the Portuguese community in Bermuda.
"There is always someone out there researching something," he said.
"A man contacted me recently who is writing a book about how explorer Christopher Columbus was really Portuguese instead of Italian, as was thought."
The Royal Gazette, aqui.