Brazil History

Historians and scientists have discovered that communities of people were living in what is now known as Brazil as long as 8 000 years ago. These first traceable human beings were nomadic and semi-nomadic people who are believed (although not proven) to have come from parts of Asia in search of abundant hunting grounds. They were called Indians by the Portuguese, when this European nation eventually arrived. To get to South America from Asia, they had to cross the Pacific Ocean and / or Bering Strait.

Eventually, the population could be divided into 1) agricultural settlements, which cultivated and lived off the land, and 2) semi-nomadic people, who moved around to find suitable food and water. These early societies hunted, fished and grew their own goods to survive. The farming folk lived to the west of the Andes Mountain Range and eventually became urbanised over time. The semi-nomadic travellers lived to the east of these mountains. Neither of these civilisations developed a significant written form of history or any major buildings. Therefore, little is known about Brazil’s earliest inhabitants.

Image of the Conquest of the Amazon on 5 Cruzerios 1962 Banknote from Brazil
Conquest of the Amazon on 5 Cruzerios 1962 Banknote from Brazil.

Individual indigenous tribes and settlements numbered around 2 000 when the Portuguese first discovered Brazil, as it came to be known. When these Europeans arrived in the 16th century, they found themselves amidst a people that practiced cannibalism, were involved in tribal warfare and would fight for the popular brazilwood tree for its valuable red dye. Therefore, these new arrivals felt it was necessary to ‘civilise’ the natives. They also immediately began to indulge in sexual relations with these ones, creating a very mixed culture, which remains one of the characteristics of the country to this day. They also brought with them many diseases from Europe, which wiped out vast numbers of the Brazilian natives. Although unintentional, this was responsible for the deaths of entire tribes as they swept through the country uncontrolled and untreated. The original population of these indigenous ones is estimated to be around 200 000 today, with most of these ones inhabiting the jungles.

Image of Indian children on 1000 Cruzeiros banknote from Brazil
Indian children on 1000 Cruzeiros banknote from Brazil.

Portugal was experiencing a massive economic crisis at this time, leading to a mass move of these people into South America, where they saw the potential to trade and to settle on safe, fertile land. However, they did not find much worth trading except the brazilwood trees. These settlers created their homes and communities mainly along the shore, where the ocean could provide them with food and a convenient transport route.

Slavery was a major trend in Brazil, although this was rarely recorded in the official annals of history. These slaves were brought to South America from Africa. Therefore, many of the modern-day people of Brazil have African genes too.

When gold was found in Brazil in the 1690’s, this country was finally recognised for its mineral and trading potential. Approximately a century later, though, it was clear that the gold deposits were limited and that the agricultural value of this country remained its main asset. Napoleon Bonaparte arrived in 1807 and the Prince Regent, Dom Joao, arrived shortly thereafter. When Dom Joao returned to Portugal in 1821, he left Brazil in the hands of his son, Dom Pedro. However, when the king tried to return to what was, essentially, his territory (Brazil), his son rebelled, declaring this country’s independence from Portugal.




Coffee and sugar became major products of Brazil, giving the locals work and establishing the country within the world’s economy. The 19th century coffee magnates cooperated with a military coup, removing imperialism from Brazil, and making these coffee planters the major Brazilian powers of the time. The economic abundance stopped, however, when the world experienced a major depression. This created a country that was politically, economically, socially and morally worn down and unstable.

Today, Brazil is a democracy, and boasts one of the world’s fastest growing economies. As such, it remains a formidable competitor for other such lands.

Here is the Timeline for the history of Brazil:
Timeline of the history of Brazil