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History of Brazil

Early History

There is evidence suggesting possible human habitation in Brazil more than 30,000 years ago, and scholars have found artifacts, including cave paintings, that all agree date back at least 11,000 years. The origins of the first Brazilians, who were called "Indians" (índios) by the Portuguese, are still a matter of dispute among archaeologists. The traditional view is that they were part of the first wave of migrant hunters who came into the Americas from Siberia, across the Bering Strait. However some archaeologists see signs of a much older human population, morphologically distinct from the Asian hunters and more similar to African and Australian natives, who were displaced or absorbed by the Siberian hunters. The Andes and the mountain ranges of northern South America created a rather sharp cultural boundary between the settled agrarian civilizations of the west coast (which gave rise to urbanized city-states and the immense Inca Empire) and the semi-nomadic tribes of the east, who never developed written records or permanent monumental architecture. For this reason, very little is known about the history of Brazil before 1500. Archaeological remains (mainly pottery) indicate a complex pattern of regional cultural developments, internal migrations, and occasional large state-like federations. By the time Europeans arrived there was a relatively small indigenous population, but the archaeological record indicates that densely populated settlements had previously existed in some areas; smallpox and other European diseases are believed to have decimated these settlements prior to extensive European exploration. The indigenous peoples that survived can be classified into two main groups, a partially sedentary population that spoke the Tupian language and had similar cultural patterns, and those that moved from place to place in the vast land. It is estimated that approximately a million indigenous people were scattered throughout the territory.

The Coming of the Europeans

Whether or not Brazil was known to Portuguese navigators in the 15th century is still an unsolved problem, but the coast was visited by the Spanish mariner Vicente Yáñez Pinzón (see under Pinzón, Martín Alonso) before the Portuguese under Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500 claimed the land, which came within the Portuguese sphere as defined in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). Little was done to support the claim, but the name Brazil is thought to derive from the Portuguese word for the red colour of brazilwood (brasa=glowing coal), which the early visitors gathered. The indigenous people taught the explorers about the cultivation of corn, the construction of hammocks, and the use of dugout canoes. The first permanent settlement was not made until 1532, and that was at São Vicente in São Paulo. Development of the Northeast was begun about the same time under Martím Afonso de Sousa as first royal governor. Salvador was founded in 1539, and 12 captaincies were established, stretching inland from the Brazilian coast. Portuguese claims, somewhat lackadaisically administered, did not go unchallenged. French Huguenots established themselves (1555) on an island in Rio de Janeiro harbor and were routed in 1567 by a force under Mem de Sá, who then founded the city of Rio de Janeiro. The Dutch made their first attack on Salvador (Bahia) in 1624, and in 1633 the vigorous Dutch West India Company was able to capture and hold not only Salvador and Recife but the whole of the Northeast; the region was ably ruled by John Maurice of Nassau. No aid was forthcoming from Portugal, which had been united with Spain in 1580 and did not regain its independence until 1640. It was a naval expedition from Rio itself that drove out the Dutch in 1654. The success of the colonists helped to build their self-confidence. Farther south, the bandeirantes from São Paulo had been trekking westward since the beginning of the 17th century, thrusting far into Spanish territory and extending the western boundaries of Brazil, which were not delimited until the negotiations of the Brazilian diplomat Rio Branco in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Portuguese also had ambitions to control the Banda Oriental (present Uruguay) and in the 18th century came into conflict with the Spanish there; the matter was not completely settled even by the independence of Uruguay in 1828. The sugar culture came to full flower in the Northeast, where the plantations were furnishing most of the sugar demanded by Europe. Unsuccessful at exploiting the natives for the backbreaking labour of the cane fields and sugar refineries, European colonists imported Africans in large numbers as slaves. Dependence on a one-crop economy was lessened by the development of the mines in the interior, particularly those of Minas Gerais, where gold was discovered late in the 17th century. Mining towns sprang up, and Ouro Prêto became in the 18th century a major intellectual and artistic centre, boasting such artists as the sculptor Aleijadinho. The centre of development began to swing south, and Rio de Janeiro, increasingly important as an export centre, supplanted Salvador as the capital of Brazil in 1763. The most interesting feature in the history of Brazil is the fact that it was one of only two countries among the 'new worlds' that housed an effective legal monarchical state (the other was Mexico), for a period of almost 90 years; and for a period of 13 years was the metropolis of a European state. This was the case that Brazil's capital city — Rio de Janeiro — was from 1808 to 1821 the head of the Portuguese empire, which spread from Europe to Asia and Africa.
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