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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.

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More than 98 percent of the Brazilian population descend from people who arrived in the country, willingly or forced, during the last five centuries. French and Dutch Calvinists established colonies during the 1500s and 1600s. The Portuguese, including Jewish conversos, expelled these imperial rivals and, unlike in Portuguese India, managed to forge the Luso-Brazilian culture to which later arrivals would eventually assimilate. Close to four-tenths of the eleven million slaves trafficked across the Atlantic landed in Brazil, giving the country the largest Afro-descendant population in the world outside Nigeria. The large numbers, the traffic’s long temporal span, and the country’s close connection to Portuguese Africa infused Brazil with distinctively intense and varied African ethnic cultures that shaped both the slaves’ strategies of adaptation and resistance and the national ethos. Brazil also received over five million immigrants after its independence in 1822, most of them between the 1880s and the 1920s. Latin Europe accounted for four-fifths of the arrivals (1.8 million Portuguese, 1.5 million Italians, and 700,000 Spaniards). Others came from elsewhere in Europe and beyond, giving Brazil the largest population of Japanese descendants in the world outside Japan, the largest of Lebanese descendants outside Lebanon, and the second largest of German descendants outside Germany (after the United States). This engendered a strikingly multicultural society. Yet over a few generations, Brazil absorbed these new populations in a manner that resembles the experience of the rest of the New World. Economically, immigrants turned southern Brazil from a colonial backwater into the richest region of the country, but, in the process, they also brought racially embedded regional inequalities to the forefront.