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Colonization of Brazil

Colonization of Brazil

The colonization of Brazil was the result of the Portuguese desire to expand their maritime empire. Portuguese colonists were accompanied by an influx of disease, religious conflict, and the enslavement of natives. Later, large numbers of African slaves were brought to Brazil. All of this contributed to the making of modern Brazil's blend of culture. Learn about the colonization of Brazil, how it happened, and the effects of the colonization of Brazil here.

Colonization of Brazil Overview

The land that became known as Brazil was actually discovered mistakenly when explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral was blown off course while attempting to follow the route Vasco de Gama had completed earlier around the tip of Africa to India. The king of Portugal, Manuel I wanted to build upon the success of de Gama’s voyage.

Fun Fact

Cabral had very little to no naval experience, which most likely led to his drastic turn off-course. The assignment of Cabral to lead the expedition is believed to have been politically motivated.

Colonization of Brazil Beginning

At first, the Portuguese presence in Brazil consisted of nothing more than a few trading posts near the coast. The Treaty of Tordesillas settled the dispute between Spain and Portugal over claims to colonies in the Americas, allowing for the further colonization of Brazil by Portugal.

The area was first known as Veracruz, Porguguese for "true cross." However, soon the Portuguese began calling their new lands Brazil after the valuable Brazilwood they found there.

Did You Know?

In the colonial era, Brazilwood was used to make a red dye. It was prized especially for dying velvet, a favorite for the fashionable elite of Renaissance era Europe. Today, it is the main wood used to make bows for string instruments.

The Portuguese did not use wide-scale military action to gain control and resources. They traded with native Brazilians to form economic ties and collaborated in small military efforts against enemies of the native Brazilians. However, they gradually extended their control to larger and larger swaths of Brazil.

Effects of the Colonization of Brazil

There were many effects of the colonization of Brazil. The indigenous population was wiped out by disease, many were forced to convert to Catholicism, and eventually many African slaves were imported to work in the colony.

Disease

Disease from European explorers wiped out the majority of Indigenous Brazilians. As with other countries, upon first contact with Europeans, a large number of the native population died due to foreign diseases.

Smallpox

Smallpox was the disease that wreaked the most havoc on the indigenous peoples of Brazil and the Americas more generally. Europeans had a long history of exposure to the disease, and some built in immunity, but the populations of the Americas had never been in contact with it.

That meant that the years following the arrival of Europeans were devastating to the indigenous populations, especially those on the coast that had the most contact with Europeans. Estimates of the number that died vary. In Aztec Mexico, over 20 million, or over 90% of the population, may have died. In Brazil, smallpox spread rapidly, with a high mortality rate during the late 1500s.

Did You Know?

Naturally occurring smallpox was not eradicated worldwide until 1980. It is responsible for millions of deaths across the globe throughout history.

Colonization of Brazil Effects of the Colonization of Brazil Indigenous CaptivesFig. 1 - Painting depicting the capture and enslavement of indigenous peoples in Brazil.

Slavery

As with most colonies, slavery was a source of free labor for settlers during the colonization of Brazil.

Indigenous Brazilians were forced into a social position below the Portuguese settlers and Jesuit priests, who created large missions in coastal areas and the interior of Brazil. They were commonly forced to be slaves, and primarily were engaged in the cutting of Brazilwood.

The large-scale importation of African slaves in Brazil began as early as the late 16th century. African slaves were seen as a replacement to indigenous slave labor as indigenous populations declined.

Slavery in Brazil further expanded with the cultivation of sugar in the 1600s and the discovery of gold and diamond mines in the 1690s. Later in the 1700s and 1800s, slaves worked on cattle ranches and coffee farms. The Portuguese were highly involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and nearly 6 million slaves were stolen from Africa and brought to Brazil.

Did You Know?

More African slaves were imported to Brazil than any other colony or nation in the Americas, accounting by some estimates for up to 40% of the slaves brought to the Americas. Brazil was also the last country in the Western world to abolish slavery, not ending it until 1888.

Colonization of Brazil Effects of Colonization of Brazil Slave Beating StudySmarterFig, 2 - Painting showing the punishment of a slave in colonial Brazil by an overseer.

Religion

The spreading of Catholicism was a key justification for the colonization of Brazil. The Portuguese crown depicted its colonization of Brazil as a civilizing mission for the natives, regardless of the devastating consequences this colonization had on them.

The Jesuit Order was a key player in the colonization of Brazil, and they built an extensive network of missions in the colony. Often, these missions were effectively forced relocation camps for the indigenous peoples.

The Jesuits have a complicated legacy in the colonization of Brazil. On the one hand, they employed the indigenous peoples in what was akin to slave labor, and their underlying goal was to convert them to Catholicism, forcibly if necessary.

However, they also adopted some forms of indigenous culture and traditions, a reason they may have been largely successful in their conversion efforts. They also opposed the enslavement of indigenous peoples by settlers and in the late 1500s tried to protect them from being enslaved outside the missions (they did not object to or oppose African slavery).

By the 1700s, the Jesuits' privileged position as a major landowner and monopoly on indigenous labor had caused resentment by other wealthy landowners. Reforms instituted in the 1750s to make the colony more lucrative to the crown led to conflict with the Jesuits and their eventual expulsion from Brazil and the entire Portuguese Empire in 1759.

Still, their impact is felt in the dominance of Catholicism as the major religion in Brazil today.

Fun Fact

The religion known as Candomblé developed among the African slave population in Brazil. It is a syncretism of the Yoruba religion from West Africa and Catholicism with Catholic saints used as representations of the Yoruba gods and is similar to the Santeria religion that developed similarly in Cuba.

Colonization of Brazil Ending

The end of colonization in Brazil came about as a result of developments in Europe.

Portuguese Court Flees Napoleon to Brazil

In 1807, Napoleon invaded Portugal. As a result, the Portuguese King Dom John VI moved his court to Brazil.

Even after the expulsion of the French, John decided to stay in Brazil, and it was elevated to the status of a kingdom equal to that of Portugal.

However, in 1820, a Liberal Revolution broke out in Portugal, and John was forced to return. However, his son Pedro remained in Brazil.

The Independent Empire of Brazil

Eventually, reformers in Portugal demanded a return to a colonial and subservient status for Brazil and that Pedro must also return to Portugal.

Instead, Pedro decided to declare that Brazil would be his own empire. He declared Brazil independent on September 7, 1822 and was named emperor.

By 1824, Pedro's forces had defeated all remaining Portuguese royalist forces, and Portugal recognized the former colony's independence in 1825, formally ending the colonization of Brazil.

Did You Know?

During the other Latinax Creole Revolutions, most of Spain's colonies split into smaller, independent states after independence, but Brazil remained intact with the same administrative area of the colony.

Transition to Civilian Rule and Democracy

Pedro's son Pedro II was deposed in a coup in 1889. In 1894, the first civilian president of Brazil, Prudente de Morais was elected after several years of military rule.

Colonization of Brazil Ending Slaves on a Coffee Plantation StudySmarterFig. 3 - Slaves on a coffee plantation in 1885 just before the end of slavery and end of the monarchy in Brazil.

While this election did not lead to true democracy, it was the beginning of civilian rule and the first phase of movement towards democracy. Prudente de Morais was known as the first of the “coffee presidents” who mainly hailed from Sao Paulo. The “coffee presidents” were named for their main interests, which were exporting coffee and financial reform, and their governments largely served the interests of the wealthy elite.

Military governments ruled from 1930 to 1945 and 1964 to 1985 with a short period of democracy in between. In 1988, a new constitution restored democracy in Brazil.

Comparing Before and After the Colonization of Brazil

There were a number of larger effects of colonization in Brazil. See the chart below to see some before and after the colonization of Brazil effects.

Aspect of CultureBefore ColonizationAfter Colonization
PopulationAn indigenous population of different tribes.The indigenous population was decimated, but small numbers survived. Large numbers of African slaves were also brought to Brazil. Today, the country is very diverse with a large amount of interracial mixing.
LanguageA variety of indigenous languages.Jesuits during colonization created a standardized form of indigenous language, however, eventually, Portuguese became the dominant language for all people in Brazil.
SettlementMostly small, scattered communities.On the coasts, trading ports like Rio de Janiero and São Paulo developed into major cities. In rural areas, much of the indigenous population became more concentrated in Jesuit missions, paving the way for later expansion of cities and towns in the interior. Most of the population is urban today.
ReligionTraditional indigenous beliefs varied.Catholicism became the dominant religion among settlers, African slaves, and the remaining indigenous population during the colonial era.

Before and After the Colonization of Brazil Town in Brazil StudySmarterFig. 4 - A former mission town.

Colonization of Brazil - Key takeaways

  • Brazil was discovered and claimed by Portugal after Pedro Alvares Cabral was blown off course in 1500.
  • Brazil was named after the plentiful amount of Brazilwood that was used to make red dye and was the foundation of the early colonial economy.
  • Slavery and the conversion to Catholicism of the indigenous peoples were key characteristics of the colonization of Brazil.
  • Brazil became independent when the Portuguese heir Dom Pedro declared it as an independent empire to avoid reforms implemented in Portugal.

Frequently Asked Questions about Colonization of Brazil

Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese after they mistakenly landed on the coast of Brazil. They established relationships with native Brazilians through trade. The Portuguese also strengthened their claim by fighting against common enemies shared with the cooperative natives. 

Archeologists have found evidence of inhabitants from as early as 9000 BC. Native Brazilians existed in mixed communities of fishermen, farmers, and tradesmen. There was a population of between two and six million indigenous native Brazilians when Europeans arrived in 1500. 

Brazil has been colonized by Portugal, France & The Netherlands. Portugal has been the main colonizer of Brazil.

Exposed native Brazilians to different religions, and cultures. Brazil also became a major country for mining both diamonds and gold. Colonization also resulted in the spread of diseases from Europeans to the native population. Smallpox was especially devastating for the indigenous Brazilian population. 

The Portuguese did not intend to land in what became Brazil, but they took advantage of the valuable raw materials present. 

Final Colonization of Brazil Quiz

Question

Who led the expedition which discovered Brazil?

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Answer

Pedro Alvares Cabral

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Question

How was Brazil discovered?

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Answer

Cabral went drastically off course while attempting to reach India.

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Question

Why was Pedro Alavres Cabral chosen to head the expedition?

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Answer

The assignment was a political move, Cabral had ;little to no naval experience. 

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Question

What does brazilwood provide?

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Answer

Brazilwood produces a bright red dye.

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Question

What European disease caused the most damage to the native Brazilian population?

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Answer

Smallpox

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Question

Did the Portuguese bring any religious practices with them?

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Answer

Yes, Brazil is now a largely Catholic nation even in modern-day.

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Question

Who led the voyage that Cabral was intending to copy?

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Answer

Vasco de Gama

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Question

What year did Pedro Alvares Cabral arrive in Brazil?

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Answer

1500

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Question

What religious order played an important role in colonial Brazil?

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Answer

The Jesuits

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Question

Which of the following things were produced by African slave labor in Brazil? (check all that apply)

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Answer

Coffee

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Question

True or False: There was only a small number of African slaves brought to Brazil because there were so many indigenous slaves.

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Answer

False

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Question

What prompted the Portuguese royal family to move to Brazil?

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Answer

Napoleon's invasion

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Question

What was Brazil's political structure after independence?

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Answer

It was an empire under the former Portuguese heir

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