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Colonization of Brazil

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					Gordon Berta
HIST 2329
Mity Myhr
4/7/2009
                                           Colonization of Brazil


        The Portuguese were the first western European nation to begin to master sailing on the open

sea, however, they were not the first to set up colonies in the New World. Although they had

commissioned the Italian sailor Christopher Columbus in previously, they passed on his offer to find a

western route to Asia. They turned Columbus away for good reason; they already had a profitable land

connection with Asia, which allowed them to dominate the Spice Trade. But when Portugal learned of

Columbus’s New World they had to get a piece of the pie. Under the Treaty of Tordesillas the New

World was divided between the Catholic world by the Line of Demarcation, an imaginary line located

near the 48° longitude. (Tignor) In 1500 Pedro Alvares Cabral led an expedition that found the coast of

Brazil, which was on Portugal’s side of the line. (Anderson, 9) Portugal was occupied with trade in Africa

and India so they had no time to set up colonies or an administration in Brazil. (Anderson, 9) King

Manuel recognized the need to at least explore the land so he sent out parties to convert non-

Europeans and search for gold (not always in that order). (Anderson, 9)


        With military strength the Portuguese planned to go into Brazil, just as the Spanish had used

their military strength to crush the Empires of Mexico and Central America, and like the Spanish the

Portuguese were interested in the gold. Early Portuguese explorers like Pedro Alvares Cabral thought

that they would be able to find pearls in Brazil, because Christopher Columbus had reportedly found

pearls in the Caribbean. (Beeman, 613) Unlike the Spanish the Portuguese did not encounter large

empires, but rather small tribes of Indians, some of whom they regarded as friendly. While exploring

Brazil explorers relied on the help of Indians in order to survive, Indians like the ones that Cabral and his

men encountered when they first arrived. (Beeman, 613) However, these natives were misleading,

while staying with the Indians in Brazil, one of Cabral’s men was approached by “a group of Indians,

their faces beaming with friendly smiles, proceeded to beat on the head with clubs, and then eat, a

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Gordon Berta


member of Cabral’s advance scouting party. The whole scene occurred in full view of the ship’s crew.”

(Beeman, 613) This coupled with the discovery that there were no large stores of gold openly displayed

in the wild; the Portuguese found out that in order for them to find any returns on this land they must

invest “hard, sustained labor on the part of the European Colonists themselves.” (Beeman, 611) And for

this reason for about three decades the Portuguese ignored their holdings in Brazil, because the only

profits it had rendered were from brazilwood, which gathered a good price as a red dye, but was not

nearly as profitable as the Indian Spice Trade or trade with Africa. (Tignor) It was not until their trading

connections in other regions began to slow, in 1530, that Portugal once again remembered Brazil.

(Beeman, 615) They then made plans in order to go and harvest Brazilian cash crops.


        Early Portuguese settlements were set up on the Northeastern coast of Brazil, from were they

planned to harvest brazilwood and sugarcane. (Tignor) Sugar cane was a cash crop that had already

proven itself in the region in Portugal’s colonies in Azores and other islands. (Tignor) Portugal’s problem

was that unlike other European powers, the Portuguese lacked “the funds to launch a highly centralized,

state-sponsored colonizing effort,” instead they “parceled out grants of land to twelve private citizens.”

(Beeman, 622) These Portuguese businessmen had done very little planning as to where to get the

labor, in fact they still had plans to use Anglo labor. They soon learned this would not work and early

settlers formed systems of bartering and alliances with native populations, as a means to acquire cheap

labor. (Beeman, 625) Colonist bartered with the Indians by giving them such goods as firearms and axes,

“transforming two of the most difficult and time-consuming tasks, tree-felling and hunting.” (Schwartz,

48) Overtime the heavy dependence on native labor led to inflation on the cost of their services which

led to this system of bartering to break down. (Beeman, 625) This was a turning point for the

Portuguese settlers, because the Catholic Church condoned slavery but they needed some means of

production. (Tignor) “The single most important decision made by the Portuguese royal government

was to continue to attempt to exploit the land and the people of the New World to the fullest extent

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possible.” (Beeman, 629) Although King João III was opposed to slavery, he was swayed when he was

told that with “adequate labor Brazil could become one of the world’s leading sugar producers.”

(Beeman, 630) So Portugal started a system of selective slavery in Brazil, where any native that showed

opposition or hostility toward Portuguese rule was candidate for enslavement. (Beeman, 630) After

time it once again became difficult to continue to find adequate labor, so the rules began to bend and

the lines were stretched. Brazilian labor, although abundant, was not very dependable; under the harsh

demands of plantation labor some Brazilian slaves fought back against their Portuguese masters, but

most just fled back into the interior of the country. (Tignor) Not to mention that the use of Indian slave

labor in Brazil was only legal for a short period of time, from 1500 till 1570, but even long after this date

the Europeans had means of “coercion.” (Schwartz, 44) Because of this the Portuguese looked to their

holdings in Africa to provide them with adequate slave labor. This was a much safer and cheaper form

of labor for the Portuguese then for other Europeans because they were already present in Africa and

they had military forces already in position to guard their ships from threats, like the French. The

Portuguese began to ship thousands of African slaves to Brazil to work on their plantations along side

the natives.


        In 1549, there were only a few hundred slaves and perhaps only a dozen sugar mills in Brazil. In

        1580, there were probably 5000 slaves and 188 engenhos de açucar producing about 9,600,000

        pounds of sugar each year. By the 1620s, Brazil had roughly 40,000 slaves, with an additional

        15,000 being imported each year, and approximately 230 sugar mills producing 22,400,000

        pounds per year. (Beeman, 631)


        Although Brazil had taken off as on the world’s best sugar producer, still little was known about

the interior of this country. This was because Portugal had colonized Brazil, by forming enclaves along

the coast of Brazil. (Tignor) This allowed the Portuguese to set up small trading ports, but kept them



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from coming together to form large cities and it kept them from exploring the interior of the state.

(Tignor) That all started to change in the mid-17th Century when groups of men, called bandereiras,

from coastal cites such as Sao Paulo began to explore the interior of Brazil looking for gold and native

labor. (Anderson, 10) Although they failed to find sufficient Indians this failure was overshadowed by

their discovery of gold in the 1690s. (Anderson, 10) This discovery of gold spurred on the exploration

and population of much of the interior of Brazil. (Anderson, 10) Gold proved to be the “most important

endeavor in Brazil and the greatest income producer for Portugal.” (Anderson, 10)


        The Portuguese also attempted to grow tobacco on the coast of Brazil, just to add another cash

crop to its industry. This time the crop that had proven itself in North American colonies like Virginia fell

short. It started strong, by producing large harvests in its early years, but then tapered off. Tobacco was

far too devastating for the soil in Brazil, robbing the ground of its moisture and nutrition. (Tignor) Also

in order to efficiently harvest tobacco on a plantation a colonist would need the help of several hundred

slaves. Whereas Brazilian sugar plantations were often smaller than other plantation often using only

60 to 100 slaves, but the work was extremely hard and demanding. (Tignor) After time Brazilian

colonists figured out that it was more profitable to cultivate sugar then tobacco.


        Because of the success that Portugal had found in the Brazilian plantations, Brazil became the

crown jewel of the Portuguese Empire, so when French troops invaded Lisbon in 1807 the Portuguese

royal family fled to Brazil. (Tignor) In Brazil the royal Braganza family was met with little opposition by

the local population, which can mainly be attributed to their willingness to share control with locals.

However, when the king left to return home to Portugal, and he left the reigns in the hands of his son

Pedro, under Pedro things took a turn for the worse. (Tignor) This was not Pedro’s fault, but rather it

was the fault of strong class divisions in Brazil between the “Portuguese” and the “Brazilians,” who

according to Gladys Sabina Ribero drew the class divisions more from social standing then place of birth.



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(Chasteen, 3) “The Dominant class was trying to construct a certain national identity, [and] that

nationality was above all a political characterization.” (Chasteen, 3) When these men came to Brazil,

with the royal family, they never treated Brazil as a permanent home; instead it was more of a

temporary holding. (Chasteen, 3) With these new Portuguese elites dividing themselves from the

population; local Brazilian elites started to reject Portugal, which led to Pedro’s declaration of Brazil’s

independence from Portugal in 1822. Soon after Brazil formed a constitutional monarchy, other than a

few minor revolts the formation of this new government was relatively peaceful.


        Up until this time Brazil had survived peacefully thanks to the Portuguese racial boundaries

which were almost nonexistent, stemming from the Moorish Occupation of Portugal. (Goldstein, 568)

With a huge native population, many of whom had survived the Portuguese colonization by fleeing to

the interior of the country; many European settlers, who had come over to colonize Brazil; and a very

large African population, the second largest population of Africans outside of Africa (the United States of

America was number one). (Tignor) Even though Portuguese tradition does not condone intermarrying

of Portuguese and natives, there were few other choices. Portuguese colonists that came over to Brazil

were usually young men, because the Amazon was no place for a lady. So these young men had nothing

to do in their free time other then Indian women. This inter-racial mating created a new racial

classification in Brazil, the mulattoes who were of mixed descent, and as if the dividing lines were too

clear another wrench was thrown in the gears when the Portuguese brought over several thousand

slaves. (Tignor) Unlike in North America, where slaves had a variety of purposes, from cleaning the

house to working the fields, in Brazil they were only there for the back breaking labor of a plantation.

For this reason Brazilian plantation owners only brought over male slaves, which caused them to also

intermarry into to Indian population. This thick web of intermarriage led to the multiethnic culture that

exists today in Brazil, which has led to a diversification of both society and the arts. Although there is

not a perfect mutual respect in Brazil, they are able to integrate at a better rate then much of the world.

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It seems that all of this integration in modern Brazil can pay homage to the Portuguese who failed to

properly plan out the colonization of what became its greatest colony.




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