On January 7, 1835 a group of landowners, artisans, soldiers, and peasants stormed Belém, the capital of the Amazon region. Now known as the Cabanagem, this rebellion occurred during a time of social upheaval in not just Pará but also Brazil. On that first day a prominent landowner, Felix Malcher, was released from prison and declared the new president by popular proclamation. The administration in Rio refused to recognize him, despite his statement of allegiance to the Empire of Brazil. Soon factions erupted, aligned with differences between the local elites and their poorer allies; Malcher and a subsequent president were killed. After battles with imperial forces the third rebel president, Eduardo Angelim, was adopted by a victorious crowd in August 1835. The capital reverted to imperial hands on May 13, 1836; however, the rebellion had not been quelled as the rest of the region became embroiled in conflict. As it developed, ethnic and class alliances changed, and the battles continued for four more years. While rebels gradually lost towns and fortified rural encampments, they were never defeated militarily. Organized attacks continued until a general amnesty was granted to all rebels by Emperor Pedro II in July 1840. The Cabanagem, which involved indigenous people, was a broad and fragile alliance composed of different interests with an international dimension. Radical liberal ideas brought together those living in rural and urban districts and appealed to long-standing animosities against distant control by outsiders, the inconsistent use of the law to protect all people, and compulsory labor regimes that took people away from their families and lands. Yet the regency administration feared the break-up of the newly independent Brazil. The violent pacification of the region was justified by portraying the movement as a race war, dominated by “people of color” incapable of ruling themselves.
Relations between the Dutch and the Indigenous peoples of North and South America can be divided into two periods. From 1621 to 1674, Dutch-Indigenous relations were shaped by the attempt of the West India Company to build a transatlantic empire. In Brazil, the Dutch established military alliances with multiple Indian groups. In Guiana (or Guyana), Suriname, the Caribbean, and New Netherland in North America, relations were also shaped by war and trade. From 1675 until 1815, the Dutch presence in the Americas was limited to Guiana (Essequibo, Berbice), Suriname, and a few small Caribbean islands. During this period, Dutch-Indigenous relations were largely shaped by the plantation-slavery system. Indigenous peoples were frequently employed by the Dutch as slave catchers. Christian missions played a limited role in the Dutch Atlantic, with the exception of the Calvinist mission in Dutch Brazil and the Moravian missions in 18th-century Suriname.
The native populations of Portuguese America were essential for the implementation of the Portuguese colonial project. Their labor was indispensable in constructing the colony, and political alliances with native peoples ensured the success of the conquest at several crucial moments, and only with the aid of native knowledge it was possible to occupy the land and advance the conquest of the immense territory that became known as Brazil. In this sense, peace was a necessity. Yet, in highlighting the centrality of Indians in the settlement of the Portuguese colony in the Americas, it must also be recognized that the relations established there between Portuguese conquerors and native populations were also historically marked by tension and violence. A war of extermination, often masquerading as a “just war,” and slavery became inseparable parts of colonial strategy. Moreover, access to land and the use of indigenous labor could both constitute secure indicators of success in the conquest of Portuguese America. In the process of colonization the Portuguese Crown was confronted by various forms of native resistance and by the differing interests of diverse colonial agents. During the 17th and 18th centuries the Crown faced tensions, disputes, and contradictions in relation to the slavery and freedom of Indians and the way it solved these conflicts revealed the configuration of its indigenist policy.
Seth W. Garfield
Over the course of the 20th century, Brazil’s Indigenous population underwent dramatic change. Frontier expansion, agricultural modernization, and natural resource extraction led to the invasion of Indigenous lands and interethnic conflict. Indigenous peoples that had once secured refuge through territorial dominion were besieged by settlers and epidemic disease. Communities with longer histories of integration confronted expulsion, social marginalization, and bigotry. Dominant ideologies tended to dichotomize Indigenous peoples as cultural isolates or degenerates. The Brazilian state played a key role in the social transformation of the countryside through the expansion of transportation infrastructure, the subsidization of large-scale agriculture, and the promotion of mineral extraction and hydroelectric power. Upholding developmentalism as an economic and geopolitical imperative, the Brazilian state sought to mediate ensuing social conflicts. The Indigenous Affairs bureau aspired to conciliate interethnic tension through adoption of a protectionist policy and “tutelage” of Native peoples, yet full-fledged Indigenous acculturation, deemed indispensable for nation-building and market integration, remained the endgame. Confronting the onslaught on their lifeways, Indigenous peoples mobilized in defense of their communities. With the support of domestic and foreign allies, Native peoples in Brazil made significant advances in demographic recovery, political organization, and legal recognition of their lands and cultures. Nevertheless, the Indigenous populations of Brazil continue to struggle against land invasion and poverty, violence, social prejudice, and challenges to their constitutional rights. The history of Indigenous policy and politics in 20th-century Brazil reflects not only a minority population’s fight for cultural survival and social inclusion but a battle over the soul of a nation.
Maria Regina Celestino de Almeida
A variety of indigenous peoples active in the backlands and villages of monarchic Brazil presented challenges to the policy of building a national state. The implementation of an indigenist policy that sought to assimilate and incorporate indigenous people as citizens and workers for the Empire was widely debated by politicians and intellectuals who developed different images and political projects for indigenous peoples in accordance with their varying degrees of sociocultural insertion in the various provinces of the Empire. Natives in the backlands were portrayed as savages for whom just wars and enslavement were an appropriate response to any who resisted being assigned to settlements or military bases, while it was proposed that natives in the settled areas be assimilated and their collective lands and aldeias (indigenous villages) be dissolved. Abuse, irregularities, violence, ill-treatment, illegal enslavement, and intensive exploitation of Indian labor by colonists, public authorities, and priests were widely denounced throughout the various regions of the Empire. Indians acted and reacted in a variety of ways, ranging from confrontation to collaboration: they resorted to both legal battles and armed conflict to defend their rights and their land. They fought vigorously in the non-Indians’ wars, both on the frontiers and in the political movements of the Empire, seeking to extract their own advantages from the alliances they formed. There was intense interaction among backlands Indians, aldeia Indians, and non-Indians, including African-descended slaves and quilombolas, and they circulated among both physical spaces and social categorizations, often crossing borders that separated one from another. Many settled Indians remained in their established aldeias, fighting to preserve them. They resorted to the courts in defense of their communal lives and land, affirming their indigenous identities and contradicting the discourse of politicians and intellectuals who considered them assimilated into the general population and civilized, and thus subject to having their aldeias legally abolished. Current ethnogenesis movements have revealed the fallacy of the belief that Indians disappeared in the 19th century.
Jonas Gregorio de Souza
Continuing advances in the archaeology of the Amazon have changed long-standing misconceptions about the rainforest as a homogeneous, nearly pristine environment occupied by small, scattered groups. Massive archaeological sites, deep deposits of anthropogenic soils, and earthworks found over thousands of kilometers now testify to the scale and intensity of past human impact in some parts of the Amazon. However, debate persists about the extent of such transformations, as distinct environments within the Amazon Basin (floodplains, savannas, seasonal forests) reveal different scales and intensities of pre-Columbian landscape modification. In that context, the discovery of hundreds of geometric earthen enclosures in the southern rim of the Amazon is proving that some areas that were previously considered virtually untouched forest may have been densely settled in the past. Although regional variations exist, most southern Amazonian enclosures appear to be defensive earthworks built at the turn of the second millennium ce, a period recognized by archaeologists as one of escalating population densities, migrations, and warfare across the Amazon Basin.