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The arrival of Christopher Columbus in the northern Caribbean with three Spanish ships in October 1492 marked the beginning of continuing European contact with the Americas. With his second voyage of 1493 permanent European occupation of the Caribbean began, with enormous consequences for the peoples and ecology of the region. Failing to encounter the wealthy trading societies that Columbus had hoped to find by reaching Asia, Europeans in the Caribbean soon realized that they would have to involve themselves directly in organizing profitable enterprises. Gold mining in the northern islands and pearl fishing in the islands off the coast of Tierra Firme (present-day Venezuela) for some years proved enormously profitable but depended on Spaniards’ ability to exploit indigenous labor on a large scale. The imposition of the Spanish encomienda system, which required indigenous communities to provide labor for mining and commercial agriculture, and the large-scale capture and transportation of Native Americans from one locale to another wrought havoc among the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and circum-Caribbean, resulting in high mortality and flight. Spaniards in the islands soon sought to supplement indigenous labor by importing African slaves who, in the early 16th century, became a significant if not always easily controlled presence in the region. From the earliest years the Spanish Caribbean was a complex, dynamic, and volatile region characterized by extensive interaction and conflict among diverse groups of people and by rapid economic and institutional development. Although the islands became the launching grounds for subsequent Spanish moves to the nearby mainland, throughout the 16th century and beyond they played a crucial role in sustaining Spain’s overseas empire and integrating it into the larger Atlantic system.

Article

Cartography in the administration of Portuguese America can be related to three major processes—first, to allow the exploration and occupation of territory from the coast to the interior; second, to improve the organization of the colonial administration system; and third, as a basis for diplomatic negotiations of territory with other European nations. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, during the Atlantic maritime expansion through which new lands and new worlds were unveiled to Europeans, the Portuguese constructed a solid cartographic mapping of Brazil—a process in which they were the pioneers. The objective was to allow their vessels to cross the ocean and afterward to guarantee their dominion over the newly discovered lands, which resulted in a progressive increase of geographic knowledge of the world that was being unveiled to the Europeans. For these reasons, maps produced during these two centuries showed the increasing expectations and knowledge of the New World and reflected the manner of how the Americas, particularly Brazil, were gaining visibility among the European public; the maps satisfied the public’s curiosity about the recently discovered lands, with information related to geography and nature. Initially, as Spanish, Portuguese, and even French explorers began to reach the west coast of the continent, parts of the coastline began to appear on Portolan charts, which were used at that time for maritime sailing and are very rare today. Later the cartographers started portraying the interior of Brazil. Representations of local geography began to progressively replace images of natives and local flora and fauna. It became common on 17th-century maps to design a chain of rivers that allowed Brazil to be portrayed as an island. It was not by chance that this representation appeared in Portuguese maps at the same time as the Spanish and Portuguese crowns were unified, from 1580 to 1640. In the 17th and 18th centuries administrative cartography was mostly performed and supervised from Portugal by the Portuguese Crown or the Overseas Council, which handled all colonial policy. Two features characterized this activity: the impact of Portuguese colonization as it moved toward the western and central regions of the continent; and technical changes to cartographic practice that began at this time, characterized by Enlightenment rationality. The discovery of gold in the southeastern and central-west regions of Brazil, the Portuguese exploration of the Amazon basin, and the incessant disputes between the Spanish and Portuguese over Colonia del Sacramento in the south demanded better definition of both internal and external frontiers. Internal frontiers included divisions between captaincies, comarcas (a subdivision of captaincies originally of an ecclesiastical nature), bishoprics, and various other administrative divisions. External frontiers, by contrast, usually represented borders with Spanish American colonies.

Article

Color and race are important references for assessing the privileges and barriers that sustained or impeded the social ascension of New Christians, Africans, Indians, and mestiços in the Portuguese world. Questions of race and color had profound links with the Catholic faith and with social exclusion, especially of Afro-descendants. The ideas of race and racism are not static, but were forged over time. Initially, they were strongly influenced by Catholicism and later were incorporated into the scientific knowledge of the 18th and 19th centuries. Therefore, the terms “race” and “racism,” based on 19th-century biological determinism, are not suitable for discussing social relations in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Article

Although it has received less scholarly attention than firearms, microbes, domestic animals and plants, market economy, and statecraft, alphabetic reading and writing was crucial in the European conquest and colonization of the Americas from the late 15th century on. Unlike the agrarian empires the Spaniards encountered in the Andes and the Mexican highlands, the Portuguese frontier advanced upon tribal peoples who relied exclusively on oral language, such as the Tupi of Atlantic Brazil. These were semi-sedentary horticultural villagers whose entire socio-ecology (myths and knowledge, territoriality, subsistence strategies, etc.) was conditioned by the face-to-faceness and fugacity of spoken words. In turn, their Portuguese colonizers—for a while rivaled by the French, who enjoyed short periods of stable settlement through the early 17th century—were urban-based, oceangoing merchants, bureaucrats, soldiers, and religious missionaries whose organization strictly depended on the durability and transferability of written texts. Even if most of the Portuguese who came to Brazil in the 16th century were themselves illiterate, colonization as a social enterprise framed their actions according to prescribed roles set down in writing (both handwriting and printed script). Thus, the Portuguese colonization of Brazilian native lands and human populations can be interpreted from the point of view of the imposition of an alphabetically organized way of life. Two major dimensions of this “letterscaping” can be discerned as to its impact on Amerindian bodies (human and nonhuman) and modes of understanding. Although the 16th century was only the introductory act in that drama, its historical record shows the basic outlines of the alphabetic colonization that would play out through the early 19th century: native decimation and enslavement, territory usurpation by sesmaria grants, forest recovery in former native croplands (then resignified as “virgin forest”), loss of native ecological knowledge not recorded in writing, disempowerment of native cultural attunement to the wild soundscape, among other processes.

Article

Portuguese colonists carried their conceptions of social organization to the Americas. Their ideal was to “live like a gentleman,” that is, to own land and command laborers in order to distance themselves from manual labor and exercise patriarchal authority over a large household. Their property also allowed them the time and resources to be active in local politics and serve the Crown. They intended to reproduce in the New World the lifestyle of the Portuguese provincial nobility. There were, however, huge differences, since in Brazil the elite lorded over enslaved persons instead of peasants. The first elite families made their fortunes through the conquest and enslavement of Native Americans in the second half of the 16th century, but many of them did not manage to maintain their position during the transition to enslaved African labor in the following decades. Especially in the most dynamic areas, such as Pernambuco and Bahia, the first half of the 17th century was a period of flux in elite composition. By mid-century, however, a small number of families controlled most local offices, slowly fashioning themselves into local nobilities and wielding these claims to negotiate with the Crown and its representatives. Planter elites also established broad patron-client networks that included even their enslaved property. Nevertheless, their preeminence was threatened by the rise of merchant power in the 18th century, boosted by the huge demographic and economic expansion derived from gold discoveries in the southeast and the development of the internal market. Nevertheless, the noble ideal did not lose its appeal, and many rich merchants linked themselves to old noble families through marriage and the adoption of an aristocratic lifestyle.

Article

Of the estimated 4.9 million African captives disembarked in Brazil, 70 % were shipped from Central Africa, 24 % from West Africa, and the remaining 6 % from the East Coast of the continent. Despite their diverse political and cultural backgrounds, Africans were classified by slavers with a discrete number of generic categories often referred to as “nations.” The enslaved appropriation of such external labels, like Mina and Angola—distinguishing Western and Central Africans respectively—resulted in the formation of new collective identities. The novel ways of colonial belonging and behavior shaped and expressed themselves as distinct forms of Afro-Brazilian culture when organized around social institutions such as Catholic lay brotherhoods or other African-inspired associative dynamics. Religious practice, including music, language, bodily performance, cooking and dress, became a privileged domain for African cultural production, subsequently irradiating into other secular manifestations. The colonial calundu, concerned with healing and oracular functionalities, greatly influenced by the Bantu-speaking people, coexisted and intermingled with the more ecclesiastical West-African traditions of initiatory ritual dedicated to the worship of multiple deities. Despite common elements of celebration, healing and mediumship, Afro-Brazilian religious pluralism was historically marked by an extraordinary eclecticism. Different local interactions with the hegemonic Iberian Catholicism, Amerindian healing practices and French Spiritism, together with the circulation of people and ideas between Africa and Brazil after the end of the Atlantic slave trade, led to a wide range of regional variation. This heterogeneous Afro-Brazilian religious field, prone to continuous discrimination and selective tolerance by the authorities, is stressed by a discursive contrast between the alleged traditional pure African forms and the mixed syncretic Brazilian ones, all claiming their share of legitimacy and ritual efficiency.

Article

The Portuguese occupied the northern region of South America in the early 17th century. It constituted a separate province of the Portuguese possessions in South America. This province comprised several landscapes, including the vast Amazonian forest in the west and plains in the east. It bordered the other administrative province in Portuguese America, the State of Brazil and also the Dutch, French, and Spanish colonies in the Amazon region. For most of the colonial period, the region became heavily dependent on Indian labor force for agriculture and especially for the exploitation of forest products gathered in the vast Amazonian backlands (the sertão). The role played by Indian laborers (both free and slave), by forest products (known as drogas do sertão), and by the expansion of agriculture and grazing in the eastern plains shaped a centrifugal society and economy. Moreover, the fact that the region bordered Dutch, Spanish, and French colonies transformed the frontier into a central issue of Portuguese policies towards the region.

Article

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.

Article

In early modern societies, the duty of enforcing justice was one of the principal tasks of the monarch. Judicial power could be exercised both directly by the monarch—the supreme magistrate—or by those he delegated it to—judges or his courts. In the vast territory of Portuguese America, different institutions were created to ensure access to justice, to help govern the people, to assist in long-distance administration, and to maintain control over the crown’s dominions. Ouvidorias-gerais, judges, and courts were established with their own institutional officials, intermixing lower- and higher-level jurisdictions and exercising justice over distinct territorial spaces. To understand the functioning of judicial institutions in colonial society, it is important to analyze the universe of magistrates, their careers, judicial practices, and complex relations in the social environment. Magistrates, as an important professional group recruited by the Portuguese monarchy, had multiple overseas possibilities. They could serve at the same time as representatives of royal power and allies of local groups. These men faced a colonial reality that allowed them a wide sphere of action, the exercise of a differentiated authority, and a privileged position as intermediaries between local elites and the king. Even though all magistrates were subject to the same rules of selection, recruitment, appointment, and promotion, the exercise of justice in the slaveholding society of Portuguese America demanded a great capacity for adaptation and negotiation, for the application of law in the mosaic of local judicial situations. Magistrates circulated in different spaces, creating and working in different judicial institutions in the difficult balance between theory and practice, between written law and customary law.