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Island Oddities

The strange case of the Principality of Pontinha.

Due to their isolated nature, island nations tend to exhibit a heightened sense of the bizarre. I am well aware of this from my home country, with its Byzantine cultural norms and eccentric Monarchy. Madeira is no different, a notable example being the existence of the Principality of Pontinha.

Founded by the now Dom Renato Barros I, a former art teacher, Pontinha is a micronation based around an islet on Funchal’s harbour. It was purchased for just shy of £20,000 from the Blandy family, who had themselves purchased the land from the city of Funchal in order to fund a redevelopment of the port in 1903. Barros himself has speculated that if his son, or maybe anyone rational for that matter, had been responsible for this money he would have bought a Ferrari.

In a recent and equally strange twist perennial candidate and infamous oddball Assembly member José Manuel Coelho successfully sought asylum on Pontinha in 2017. It seems fitting that two of the most outlandish inhabitants of the island in Barros and Coelho would end up cohabiting, of sorts.

Pontinha was one of the first places I visited upon arriving in Madeira, and I was dismayed by the weirdness of it, the blending of a very limited vanity project with legitimate state-building, such as Coelho’s asylum and the introduction of Bitcoin as the official currency. However the typical reaction of Madeiran’s when I mentioned Pontinha, a deflated sigh and a knowing roll of the eyes, reminded me very strongly of the reaction of the British when our stranger curiosities are raised in conversation.

Short Bio of the volunteer:

Josef Butler is a volunteer from London. History and Politics graduate from the University of Leicester. Currently living in Funchal and collaborating with AAUMa as part of the History Tellers programme.


Erasmus+ is a programme of the European Commission embracing the fields of education, training, youth and sports during the period 2014-2020. One of the major aspects is the cooperation between the different fields where the programme acts, hence contributing for a diverse and rich Europe.

Amongst the several goals of the programme, the following are prioritised: the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, including the headline education target; the aims of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020), including the corresponding benchmarks; the sustainable development of Partner Countries in the field of higher education; the overall goals of the renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010-2018); the objective of developing the European dimension in sport, in particular grassroots sport, in line with the EU work plan for sport and the promotion of European values in accordance with Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union.

In order to achieve these goals, the Erasmus+ has several action policies. The Key Action 1 (KA1) is directed towards the mobility of people; Key Action 2 (KA2) for the cooperation for innovation and the interchange of good experiences; and Key Action 3, which is for the support of reformation policies.

European Voluntary Service

Since 1991 the University of Madeira Students’ Union has developed a wide incentive policy for voluntary work. In 2013 the Students’ Union started the process to receive, send and coordinate Erasmus+ projects of the European Voluntary Service, in order to have a larger influence in the volunteering field. The Union received its first volunteer withing the ambit of a KA1 project in 2014. Many efforts have been done to allow young people from Madeira to take part in several initiatives in Europe, as well as propose several projects allowing young people from several countries to work in the projects of the Students’ Union of the University of Madeira. The main goal of the voluntary work is the contribution of the volunteers to the communities and places they will be staying, being their work not rewarded with payment.

We believe that the European Voluntary Service is a mechanism full of experiences, allowing the approved candidates to have the privilege of taking part in these projects and benefit the places and communities where these volunteers will be staying.

Since 2013, the University of Madeira Students’ Union has received volunteers that have collaborated in several activities and initiatives. Besides being able to enjoy a wonderful experience which will contribute to their personal and professional growth, they are able to contribute in a unique way to the community in which they are inserted and to join dozens of volunteers from the University of Madeira.