Indian Tribes of Brazil

Success of the Portuguese against the Natives

To continue our narrative of Portuguese settlement and colonization, the efforts of the viceroy Mem da Sa, resulted in the reduction of the savage and turbulent Botocudos. In the desultory warfare of the time, the aid of such Indian allies as were attached to the royal cause was of signal advantage.

The immense extent of fruitful seacoast along the eastern shores of Brazil, invited adventurers from various European nations. The French, as we have seen, were repelled in their efforts to colonize the region of the La Plata, and the Portuguese were no less successful in expel ling intruders from other quarters. An English settlement had been commenced at Paraiba, to the northward of Pernambuco. The colonists at this place, says Southey, “connected themselves with the native women; and in another generation the Anglo-Tupi Mamalucos might have been found dangerous neighbors, if the governor of St. Sebastians, steadily pursuing the system of his court, had not, in the fifth year of their abode, attacked and exterminated them. They who escaped from the merciless war which the Portuguese waged against all interlopers, fled into the interior, and either they were eaten by the savages, as was believed, or lived and died among them, becoming savages themselves.”

Their Contests with Settlers from other Countries of Europe

Long and wearisome details of struggles for empire in the New World between the Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch, occupy the history of Brazil until the establishment in that country of the royal family of Portugal, in 1808. Few, except the Jesuits, seemed to have any care for the rights of the native population, or interest in their improvement. These missionaries zealous and devoted in whatever cause, whether for good or ill that they espoused drew upon themselves no trifling persecution by their efforts in behalf of the Indians. Upon a settlement of the limits of jurisdiction on the La Plata, in 1750, between the Spanish and Portuguese governments, thirty thousand of the Guarani tribe were compelled to abandon their homes. These Indians had been objects of especial care to the Jesuit missionaries, and in the resistance, which they naturally made to so summary a removal, they involved their spiritual guides in difficulties.

Expulsion of Guarani Tribes from their Country

“The Indians,” says Conder, “rose in all directions to oppose the mandate; but the short though vigorous resistance which they made, only left them more than ever in the power of their enemies. Great numbers were slaughtered, and those who refused to submit were compelled to leave the country. In the year 1761, when Carlos III acceded to the throne of Spain, the treaty of limits was annulled; the Guaranies who had been so wantonly and cruelly expelled were instructed to return to their dilapidated town and wasted country, and the Jesuits, resuming their benignant administration, exerted them selves to repair, as far as possible, the evils that had been done.”

The effects of the Catholic mission in Brazil are still visible among no small portion of the aboriginal inhabitants. Unfortunately in too many instances the religion which they now profess is but a graft upon their old superstitions.

The Indians of Brazil are divided into a great number of tribes, differing more in language than in general appearance and characteristics. The Tupis, who were the most extensively diffused over the coast country at the period of the first European discovery, are greatly reduced in numbers. The tribes of the far interior, where little or no intercourse is held with the whites, have changed but little from the habits and appearance of their ancestors. Dr. Von Martius has enumerated no less than two hundred and fifty distinct tribes or nations within the limits of Brazil; many of them, to be sure, consisting of but few families or individuals, and not sufficiently distinct one from an other to render a classification useful or interesting. This traveler has given a very lively picture of the life and daily routine of these denizens of the forest. The following sketch is selected from his “Travels,” and transcribed in an article upon the Brazilian Indians, to be found in that invaluable periodical, the “Penny Magazine:”

Daily Routine of Indian Life in the Forests

“As soon as the first rays of the sun beam on the hut of the Indian, he awakes, rises immediately, and goes to the door, where he generally spends some time in rubbing and stretching his limbs. Returning into the hut, he looks for the still live embers of the fire of the day before, or lights it afresh by means of two dry sticks, one of which he sets upon the other, twirling it like a mill till it kindles, and then he adds dry grass or straw. All the male inhabitants then take part in the business; some drag wood out of the forest; others heap up the fire between several large stones, and all of them seat themselves round it in a squatting attitude. Without looking at or speaking to each other, they often remain for hours together in this position, solely engaged in keeping in the fire, or roasting Spanish potatoes, bananas, ears of maize, &c., in the ashes for breakfast. A tame monkey, or some other of their numerous domestic animals with which they play, serves to amuse them. The first employment of the women, on leaving their hammocks, is to paint themselves and their children, on which each goes to her domestic occupation, stripping the threads from the palm-trees, manufacturing nets, making earthen-ware, rubbing mandioca, and pounding maize, from which they make a cooling beverage. Others go to their little plantations to fetch maize, mandioca, and beans; or into the forest to look for wild fruits and roots. When the men have finished their frugal breakfast, they prepare their bows, arrows, strings, &c.”

As the heat of the day increases, the Indian takes his bath, and then systematically sets about his day s hunt; “the tapir, monkeys, pigs, armadilloes, pascas, and agoutis, are his favorite dishes, but he readily eats deer, birds, turtles, and fish, and in case of need, contents himself with serpents, toads, and Iarva3 of large insects roasted.”

The general tenor of this savage life, as well as the construction of dwellings, implements, boats, &c., is not unlike what has already been described relating to the Indians of Guiana. The same rude huts of palm, open or closed upon the most exposed quarter by thatch or wicker-work, the hammocks, the simplest form of pottery and wooden vessels, and the almost invariable arms and weapons of the savage, suffice for their necessities, and for what they know of luxury and comfort.

Some of the remote tribes are said to be still addicted to the old national propensity for cannibalism. “Infanticide is still more common; and many tribes put the aged and infirm to death. Dr. Yon Martius states that the Guaicuru women never rear any children before their thirtieth year; the Guanas often bury their female children alive, and even the mothers expose their new-born infants; and parental affection is a thing unknown on the father’s side.”

Can we indulge any rational hope that these barbarous nations will ever be brought, as a distinct race, within the pale of civilization; or must the usual course of extinction or amalgamation be the only means by which the immense and luxuriantly fertile regions which they inhabit shall eventually be improved for the Support of the millions that they are capable of sustaining? The Iroquois within the state of New York, and the Cherokee settlements west of the Mississippi, are almost the only prosperous and civilized districts inhabited by American Indians. It will be a most gratifying result if the next generation shall witness the original proprietors of this vast country taking, in the persons of their representatives, an equal place among its European occupants. A right state of feeling, upon the subject of what is due to the Indian, seems to be upon the ascendant in the United States, except in those districts where there is still a conflict of interest between the different races.


Guarani, History, Tupis,

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864.

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