History of Brazil/Indigenous peoples in Brazil

Historians claim that before Europeans arrived in America there were approximately 100 million Indians on the continent. In Brazilian territory alone, this number reached approximately 5 million natives.

Tupinambá people, 16th century engraving

These Brazilian Indians were divided into tribes, according to the linguistic trunk to which they belonged: Tupi-Guarani (coastal region), macro-jê or tapuias (Brazilian Highlands), Aruak and Caribbean or Karib (Amazon).

Currently, it is estimated that only 800 thousand Indians occupy Brazilian territory, mainly in indigenous reserves demarcated and protected by the government. There are about 305 indigenous ethnicities and 274 languages. However, many of them no longer live as they did before the arrival of the Portuguese. Contact with the white man caused many tribes to lose their cultural identity.

The indigenous society at the time of the arrival of the Portuguese edit

The first contact between Indians and Portuguese in 1500 was very strange for both parties. The two cultures were very different and belonged to completely different worlds. We know a lot about the Indians who lived at that time, thanks to the Letter of Pero Vaz de Caminha (notary of the expedition of Pedro Álvares Cabral) and also to the documents left by the Jesuit priests.

The indigenous people who inhabited Brazil in 1500 lived from hunting, fishing and agriculture of corn, peanuts, beans, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and mainly cassava. This agriculture was practiced in a very rudimentary way, as they used the technique of coivara (clearing of forest and burned to clean the soil for planting).

The Indians domesticated small animals, such as wild pig and capybara. They did not know the horse, the ox and the chicken. In the Letter of Caminha it is reported that the Indians were astonished when they first came into contact with a chicken.

The indigenous tribes had a relationship based on social, political and religious rules. The contact between the tribes took place during times of wars, weddings, burial ceremonies and also when establishing alliances against a common enemy.

The Indians made objects using raw materials from nature. It is worth remembering that the Indian respects the environment a lot, removing only what is necessary for his survival. From this wood, they built canoes, bows and arrows and their dwellings (hollow). Straw was used to make baskets, mats, nets and other objects. Ceramics were also widely used to make pots, pans and household items in general. Animal feathers and skins were used to make clothes or ornaments for the tribes' ceremonies. Annatto was widely used to make body paintings.