The History of Brazil

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The History of Brazil

The first time Portuguese Admiral Pedro Alvarez Cabral anchored his fleet of 12 ships in the coasts of Brazil and stayed for 10 days was actually the beginning of Brazil’s discovery as a new found land. The official discovery of Brazil was made by accident on Cabral’s journey to India. Though Cabral did not stay long, but the initial contact was made and the precious cargo of brazil-wood laid the ground for Portuguese claim as within their sphere. Cabral and his men planned to tie this new land into the world of Portugal, India and Africa but could not further delay his voyage and left reluctantly.

He sought to describe how the land was full of giant trees, parrots and naked men who were savages. Vespucci who ventured to Brazil in 1501 after an encounter with the natives soon claimed that there was never any intent for peace, agreement or friendship in Brazil which later proved true as the Portuguese undermined the local culture and ultimately destroyed the native Indian society. The Portuguese explorers had come from a united kingdom and were less subjected to the upheavals and disputes while Spain, France, Italy and England were involved in wars and dynastic complications during that time.

The 15th century was the beginning of overseas expansion for the mighty Portuguese empire to serve the interest of its diverse classes and social groups. Likewise the king saw the deployment of his men as a time to create new sources of income and keep its nobles busy. It was likewise an opportunity to search for spices and gold! When the Portuguese explorers arrived, the Amazon territory was inhabited by semi-nomadic Indian tribes, who subsisted on a combination of hunting, fishing, gathering, and agriculture.

The population was quite low compared to the vast forest lands with nearly 7 million native inhabitants in a region where a variety of fish, caimans, manatees and turtles thrive. The Indian natives were quite wary of the foreigners and refused to interact with them. Sea captains soon devised strategies that worked well in Africa such as seizing indigenous boys and men to train as interpreters or leaving behind expendable men to learn the native language. By 1519, Brazil was exporting logs and Brazil-wood to Portugal which was a highly demanded commodity in Europe.

Portugal had every intention to possess this valuable commodity despite reports that the native Indians were cruel, savage while some engaged in cannibalism. Practical merchants became interested and understood the need to increase trading. Thus in 1519, Portugal spearheaded massive penetration in Brazil. Portuguese ships plied the triangular route between Europe, Africa and South America which enabled them to build settlements in Bahia, Brazil. Progress in the interaction with natives was still slow which posed as a problem to the Portuguese conquerors.

They had devised a “go-between” who could act as a mediator for their needs. They had resorted and employed slavery as a means to secure labor in cutting down logs. Yet the Indians were also learning to demand and prefer more expensive goods like pots and tools in exchange for work. The barter system was thriving between the Indians and the Portuguese yet some native Indians refused to the objective conditions of the market created by the Portuguese and production was influenced and quite dependent on the nature of the Indian community.

The Portuguese had to devise another plan specially when the time has come to develop a new crop essentially needed for trading, and sugar was decided upon as the best crop for Europe. The Jesuits came in 1549 as missionary priests and acted as a different kind of a “go-between”. By their own choice, the Jesuits offered to come to Brazil and create a means of spiritual salvation for the native Indians. Through persuasion, they were able to convert many to Catholicism acting at the same time as mediators for God, Portugal and the natives.

Through their religious dram, sermons and schools, they were able to shape the behavior of the Indians and colonists in Brazil. The Jesuits became the most powerful go-between of the 16th century along with other appointed interpreters as they tried to learn the local “tupi” language. In 1550, the Indian slaves belonging to the Tupi, Guarani and Arawak tribes cleared the first fields and planted them with sugar cane. The Indian natives also build the first mill and produced the first sugarcane harvest. Although the Jesuits experimented in Brazil, they were also dedicated in ministering to the needs of the local Brazilian population.

Yet many indigenous groups resisted the foreign invasion and retreated to the virgin forests. Other local population who were assailed from many directions from the foreign invasion had no other recourse but to submit and adapt to the ways of the Portuguese. Language was slowly changed as the Jesuit priests found ways to concoct a mixture of Indian, Portuguese and African words into the local dialect. People were soon loosing their native tongue and had to confer with the local Portuguese authorities or the clergy even when their customs and traditions were discouraged.

Europeanization which was the goal of the Portuguese was slowly seeping into the native society. Some form of dispute would arise every now and then as the natives felt the pressure of slave-labor and displacement. Yet many were absorbed into the Portuguese traditions created and influenced by the Jesuit missionaries as corporal forms of punishment were soon employed to those who refused to follow the new tradition introduced by the foreigners. Meanwhile trading prospered for the foreigners as logs and brazil-wood were exported by fleet into Europe.

Manioc flour was soon established for trading and Indian natives would resort to burning shrubs to accommodate growing another crop plantation. Sometimes the burning method would cause forest fires that would burn for days, yet the locals did not mind because of the vast expanse of its virgin forests. Minute resistance could be felt very now and then within the native groups against the Portuguese community that would resort to massacres but were no sooner eliminated after the success of interpreters and “go-betweens” to report any plans and prepare the Portuguese army for any subversive moves employed by the natives.

In effect, the native Brazilian population was forced to adapt to the ways and means of their colonizers. To the Indian native people in those times, any transition from their ordinary way of life was far less apparent. They might not have known that they were soon growing within a perimeter defined by foreign invaders who sacked their natural resources for their own gain. Even their own people were used as mediators and interpreters for the needs and wants of the Portuguese invaders.

The natives were actually held hostage in their own land to work as slaves to the Portuguese who established their own settlements. Their women were encouraged to bear more babies to accommodate to the growing demand for workers in the sugar cane fields. The Indians were also unluckily (or luckily? ) found highly unsuitable to fill in to the demand for slave trading and were thus permitted to remain and work in their own land instead along with the imported African slaves that the Portuguese brought along with them.

From the vantage point of the Portuguese, the period of Indian slavery was one in which the system of labor relation was worked out in detail. They have devised several ways and means to exploit the natural and cultural resources of the indigent communities. They have employed chattel slavery and resorted to indigenous peasantry employing divisive means relative to God and salvation to enable people to be pliant to their demands. They have slowly integrated the Native Indians into a system of capitalistic self-regulating market as individual wage laborers.

All these strategies were employed for the same goal: the Europeanization of native America. Bibliography Fausto, Boris. A Concise History of Brazil. Cambridge University, 1999. Metcalf, Alida. Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil 1500-1600. University of Texas Press, 2005. Levine, Robert. The History of Brazil. Greenwood Press, 1999. Pomeranz, Kenneth and Topik, Steven. A World that Trade Created: Society, Culture and the World Economy, 1400-Present. London: ME Sharpe, 1999. Schwartz, Stuart. Sugar Plantations in the Formation of Brazilian Society: Bahia 1550-1835. Cambridge University, 1986.


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