History of Brazil

Brazil was “discovered” officially in 1500, when Pedro Álvares Cabral commanded fleet, on its way to India, landed in Porto Seguro, between Salvador and Rio de Janeiro. Pedro Álvares Cabral was a Portuguese diplomat and quite surprisingly it is believed that some adventurers from his own country landed in Brazil before him. Duarte Pacheco Pereira has claimed in his book that he was present in Brazil in 1498.

First colonizers of Brazil were met by Tupinamba Indians, one group in the wide array of the continent’s native inhabitants. Lisbon’s initial goals were very simple: monopolize the highly lucrative trade of pau-brasil, the red wood (used for making dye) and establish permanent settlements. Pau-brasil trade gave the colony its name. There’s strong evidence that the Portuguese and native Indians initially worked together to harvest trees. Pau-brasil trade became far less desirable later on when need arose to head farther inland to find forested areas and instead the interest in establishing plantations on cleared lands increased. Plantation needed labour. The Portuguese attempted to enslave native Indians but failed as native Indians were not habituated to toiling long hours in fields and due to lack of immunity against European diseases were badly effected by them. Many natives opted to flee far inland and many died. When Cabral had landed indigenous population was more than 3 million but today the number has depleted to about 200,000. After failing to enslave native Indians Portuguese opted for African slave trade for labour.

For about two centuries after Cabral’s discovery, the Portuguese had to deal with foreign powers eying Brazil’s resources periodically. Although Spain and Portugal already had the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas – meant to set boundaries for each nation in their newly discovered lands — the guidelines were unclear, triggering the occasional territory dispute. Further, England, Holland and France didn’t recognize the treaty fully.
The new territory encountered internal as well as external challenges. Initially, the Portuguese Crown failed to establish a strong central government in the subcontinent. For most of the colonial period, it relied on captains, merchants and low ranking nobles. These people got authority over captaincies, slices of land often as vast as their motherland. By 1549 it became overtly evident that most of the captaincies were failing. Portugal’s monarch now sent a governor-general accompanied by soldiers, priests, and craftspeople, to oversee the captaincies and to establish a capital (present day Salvador) in the central captaincy of Bahia.

When 17th century was nearing its end, the news of discovery of emeralds, diamonds, and gold in Minas Gerais reached Lisbon. 30,000 pounds worth of gold a year started to be exported to Portugal from this region. In 1763, the capital was shifted to Rio de Janeiro because of multiple political and administrative reasons. The country staved off invasions by other European nations successfully. Cotton and tobacco were added to sugar, gold, and diamonds in the exports basket.

The Empire and the Republic

Dom João VI and his entourage started transforming the city immediately after arrival in Rio. Universities, a bank and a mint were founded, and investments were made in the field of arts. The ports were thrown open for trade with other nations, especially England. But after fall of Napoléon, Dom João VI returned to Portugal, leaving Pedro I, his young son, behind to govern. But Pedro proclaimed Brazil’s independence on September 7, 1822 establishing the Brazilian empire. Nine years later the emperor stepped aside in favor of Pedro II, his five-year-old son.

After Pedro II’s daughter, Princess Isabel officially ended slavery in 1888 disgruntled landowners united with the military to against the monarchy. The royal family was forced back to Portugal Brazil’s first republican government was founded on November 15, 1889. In 1930, after his running mate was assassinated, presidential candidate Getúlio Vargas grabbed power via a military coup rather than elections. In 1945 another coup ended his dictatorship. He returned to the political scene in 1951 and was elected president. He shot himself halfway through his term. Juscelino Kubitschek, the next president, founded Brasilia. He was followed by Jânio Quadros and João “Jango” Goulart. João “Jango” Goulart was overthrown by military on 31 March, 1964. After over 20 years of military rule power came back in civilian hands.

National Flag