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Santa Maria History

Salt mining by Slaves

The Village of Santa Maria was founded in 1830 by Manuel Antonio Martins. who established "salinas" or salt flats near the town. The small wooden houses were built withAmerican timber. Slaves from Guinea carried away sand until bed rock was reached to make "salt pans". Slaves built the original wooden wind pumps which lifted seawater into the salinas, the iron "railway" and the dock. Up to 30,000 tons of salt was exported each year from the port of Santa Maria. Until 1887, the mainl market for Santa Maria salt was Brazil. But Brazil imposed high duties on imported salt as a protectionist measure.. This depressed the economy of Ilha do Sal.

In 1903 Santa Maria producers joined with a French company to organize Societe Salines Sal or SSS. and constructed a large factory employing the most advanced technology. This extracted excess magnesium but the company went into bankruptcy in 1907. Several Santa Maria salt producers ssociated with a German company in 1914. War ended this arrangement and people of Ilha do Sal were forced to migrate to other islands.. Those few who stayed behind made a living from salting fish and selling it in Cape Verde or Sao Tome.

In 1920 thePortuguese Compania do Fomento, bought most of the salinas in Santa Maria and in 1927 started exporting to the Congo. This brought prosperity to Santa Maria and villagers began to invest in permanent homes. With independence in Congo andn Cape Verde (1975), Santa Maria again lost a market. High freight rates and maintenace cost in this very corrosive industrial operation were untenable and the salinas plunged into decay. The Santa Maria salt trade had ended.

In 1930, a Portugues company established a tuna cannery in Santa Maria for export to Italy, Portugal and the USA. This employed a big work force on what is now Porto Antigo. Despite antiquated machinery, the quality of the fresh tunat caught and canned in the same day.kept it alive until recently when the tuna supply ran out..