Portuguese Colonisation Of Brazil

Although long inhabited by prehistoric tribes and settlements, Brazil underwent an entirely new kind of habitation during the 16th century. In April 1500, the Portuguese arrived on the Bahian shores of Rio Buranhém, under the direction of Pedro Alvares Cabral. These ones documented seeing indigenous inhabitants upon landing on the beach, who greeted them with peace offerings of headdresses made from parrot feathers.

Although the Portuguese sailors stayed for only nine days, the indigenous people soon became fascinated by the iron tools used, the Catholic mass service observance and the alcoholic beverages that they observed. Because of this perceived interest in the Roman Catholic religion, the Portuguese assumed that these ones would quickly convert to Christianity once educated.

Cabral sent a ship back to Portugal carrying various kinds of timber and a report on the area for the king. The rest of the 12 ships in the fleet left Brazil for the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, leaving behind two convicts. These men, otherwise bound for execution, were then given the opportunity to learn the local language and live with the indigenous people, procreating with them and introducing the Portuguese culture to the gene pool.

Still, Portugal did not really appreciate the value of Brazil, since their imports came mainly from India and the Far East. It was only the New Christian (who were converted Jews) investors that were scouting and defending the coast. These ones traded in brazilwood and would share their monopoly contracts with the Portuguese king. The king would then allow private investors to conquer certain areas for their own benefit, but at their own costs. This led to a combination of royal and private ownership.

Image of Portuguese possessions in North America, from Reinel-Lopo Homem 1519's Miller Atlas.

Portuguese possessions in North America, from Reinel-Lopo Homem 1519's Miller Atlas.

It was not long before other European nations wanted the opportunity to conquer and occupy parts of Brazil. Brazilwood provided a rich red dye, which was valuable in the colouring of textiles and clothing. The French and Spanish made repeated efforts at entering Brazil. The Portuguese fought determinedly against their invasion, dispatching strong fleets to clear the coast. Another one of its efforts was to establish permanent settlements. The first of these was São Vicente, established in 1532.

Investors were required for portions of land as well as for sugar mills, and so on. Portuguese colonisers also needed to establish and maintain positive working relationships with the locals. Centuries later, sugar would become the agricultural and financial pillar of Brazil.

The Portuguese had established a management culture of violent domination and abuse in India. However, this did not go down well with Brazilian locals, who captured and ate their Portuguese ‘owners’ in complex ceremonies. This forced the Portuguese king to listen to the warnings of the indigenous folk and assume direct control.

Tomé de Sousa was made the first Governor General of Brazil in 1549 and reigned as such until 1553. By order of the king, Sousa declared Salvador the capital city. Sousa then went about declaring war on the indigenous people to decrease the threat posed upon the country by the French (who planned to cooperate with the locals for increased power). This Governor General was an integral motivator for building towns, sugar mills and important buildings. By 1511, the crown had ordered Sousa to treat the locals well, with the aim of converting them to Christianity. Anyone that did not convert was likened to a Muslim and could, rightfully, be enslaved.

As the groups began to intermingle, so did the cultures and genes. Colonists adopted as much of the Brazilian culture as the indigenous ones did the European culture. As the crown and bishop of Portugal underwent renewal, the concept of slavery was no longer approved of, and the numbers of slaves in Brazil dropped drastically.

Then, in 1562 and 1563, smallpox, measles and the flu struck the local people, annihilating huge proportions of their population numbers. This was followed by a famine. The locals were desperate for food and any sort of income, which led them to sell themselves as slaves, rather than to die of starvation.

Towards the end of the 1500’s, the ‘Indians’ fled to the interior parts of Brazils to escape the colonial elements. So, the European settlers imported slaves from Africa. It is largely due to this mass introduction of African men and women that Brazil boasts a culture and heritage based very much on those found in Africa.

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