The Portuguese arrive in Brazil

In history class, we Brazilians typically learn that our country was first “discovered” by the Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral, who first reached Brazil’s shores in April 1500. However, historians today know that Cabral was not the first Portuguese to arrive—because two years earlier, the warrior Duarte Pacheco Pereira led an expedition to explore the South American shore. The mission was kept under wraps by the Portuguese Crown in an attempt to prevent Spain, its biggest rival in the maritime race of the 15th century, from getting word of its plans.

</p> <p>But though he wasn’t the first, Cabral’s arrival marked the integration of the soon-to-be colony into the Portuguese mercantilist model of economic development. By 1531, then-King João III had decided that it was time to turn the new territory into a settlement, and sent a group of 400 troops across the Atlantic. The Portuguese had but one goal: to profit from the exploitation of <em>pau brasil</em>, a reddish-colored wood that was used as a red dye in Europe. Preoccupied with protecting Portugal’s land from rival colonizers, João III split Brazil into 15 sections and assigned them to his preferred noblemen.</p> <p>Although Brazil lacked the spices, ivory, gold, and silver coveted by its colonizers, it did well in satisfying another European craving: sugar. Brazil’s sugar age first began in the 1530s, using a native slave workforce. The appalling work conditions killed many indigenous people, while others fled. When the Portuguese arrived, there were roughly 8 million natives in the Amazon region alone – today, they’re numbered at 869,900 in the whole country.</p> <p>The colonizers quickly transitioned to the importation of African slaves. Sugar remained Brazil’s primary commodity until the 18th century, along with cotton and tobacco. As a consequence, Brazil imported around four times as many slaves as the U.S. from African countries during the colonial period – and its vast landscape, ample resources and enthusiastic participation in the slave trade made it covetable territory for the colonial rivals feared by João III.</p> <p>The first of these rivals washed up on the coast of Rio de Janeiro in the mid-1500s, and founded the city in the hopes of making an ‘Arctic France’ – only to be chased out by more Portuguese settlers years later. The same happened when they landed in the Northeast in 1612, founding the city of São Luis before being booted out again in 1615. The Dutch also <a href="">challenged</a> the Portuguese for ownership, spending 33 years battling for control over the Northeast and the state of Bahia. At the same time, however, Brazil faced a challenge from the country’s inland, as <em>bandeirantes</em> – groups of explorers – attempted to map the territory and claim more land.</p> <h3>Brazil’s (brief) colonial gold rush</h3> <p>The turn of the 18th century brought the discovery of a new commodity to our country, as well. Some 30,000 Portuguese explorers set off for Minas Gerais, where they found gold. Though the gold rush may have been short-lived, beginning its decline by 1750, it contributed to Brazil’s already hefty demand for slaves: an estimated two million African slaves were sent to the gold fields in that period alone.</p> <p>As gold supplies declined, so too did the money received by the colony from the Portuguese Crown. That led the then-province governor to order a forceful collection of all delayed tax payments, and many families lost everything they owned. Members of the local elites began to revolt against the Crown and plotted an independence movement for the Minas Gerais province. At that time, Brazil was a heavily divided territory, and the idea of a nation didn’t yet exist.</p> <p>The revolution, however, never took place. Three men betrayed the movement by naming everyone involved, in exchange for a pardon from the Crown. While all conspirators were sentenced to death, most were later pardoned. Authorities carried out only one execution, which was against the only non-wealthy leader, on April 21, 1792. The man, known as “Tiradentes” (‘the tooth-puller’), is now held as an icon of Brazilian resistance against Portuguese colonizers.</p> <h3>When Brazil became a state</h3> <p>In 1807, the Portuguese royal family was chased out of Lisbon by a French invasion. They relocated to Rio de Janeiro, which then became the new capital of the Portuguese Kingdom. Until that point, our territory was little more than a camp for troops and religious groups. In 1785, then-Queen Dona Maria, the Mad, issued a decree forbidding all types of industrial activity in Brazil – a decision that still impacts us today.</p> <p>But with the change of the Empire’s seat, Brazil also underwent drastic transformations, bringing about wide political, economic, scientific and cultural developments. It was no longer forbidden for Brazil to manufacture and export goods, and new laws opened the ports up to ships from all countries, rather than forcing exports to route through Portugal.</p> <p>Theatres, libraries, literary academies and centers for scientific study opened, not just to attend to the court’s needs but also the public’s. The 1816 French Artistic Mission saw some of France’s most highly-esteemed artists arrive in Rio to teach and develop their artwork. European scientists including John Mawe, Saint-Hilaire, Johann von Spinx and Karl Friedrich Philipp von Martius all spent time here, and contributed fundamentally important texts from their era to our cultural patrimony.</p> <div id="attachment_452" style="width: 640px" class="wp-caption aligncenter"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-452" class="size-full wp-image-452" src="" alt="São Paulo's Government building Jean-Baptiste Debret" width="630" height="331" data-wp-editing="1" srcset=" 630w, 300w" sizes="(max-width: 630px) 100vw, 630px" /><p id="caption-attachment-452" class="wp-caption-text">São Paulo&#8217;s Government building 1827. Painting by Jean-Baptiste Debret</p></div> <p>But despite the sweeping changes and rapid development, we were unable to compete with the British domination of international trade. By 1820, the country was facing a three-tiered crisis: politically, the monarchy and government organs were barely leading the country, while the military and the economy were both suffering from manipulation and domination at British hands. By the end of the year, the ‘Liberal Revolution’ had reached a demand: the return of the King to Lisbon, or else the loss of the throne. João VI consequentially left for Portugal, leaving his son Pedro in charge of Brazil.</p> <p>But as you&#8217;ll find out, our road to independence was far from over.

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BY The Brazilian Report

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