History of Brazil/Printable version

History of Brazil

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The Brazilian Rainforest. Geography plays a large role in the history of Brazil.

Intention of this book edit

The intention of this book is to provide an open-content, concise textbook on the history of Brazil that is easy for anyone who is interested to read.

A Note to Authors edit

This book is a work in progress, so feel free to add content in places you see as unfinished or lacking in information. Please write impartially.


This is a book about the history of Brazil, designed to be read by almost anyone who wants to know more about the history of that country. The book includes history before Europeans, the discovery of Brazil, colonization, independence, regime change, the events of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Find out how historical events in Brazil shaped the way the country is today.

Pre-Cabraline period

It's called Pre-Cabraline period the moment for the history of Brazil before the arrival of the Portuguese navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral, in 1500.

Rock paintings in the Serra da Capivara National Park.

First humans in Brazil edit

The human presence in the territory now occupied by Brazil dates back to 12 thousand years, according to archaeological evidence.

At least two different migratory routes contributed to displacement in pre-Columbian America (before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492).

The first humans appeared in Africa 3.2 million years ago. Thus, it is correct to say that human beings came from that continent through migratory waves.

The most accepted current is migration through the crossing of the Bering Strait at different times. In this way, human beings arrived in Alaska and, from there, left for the rest of the continent.

Another route of displacement would be that of the Pacific. As the height of the sea was lower and there were more islands along the ocean, human beings were able to come sailing to Patagonia and the region that today corresponds to Brazil.

Characteristics of the first humans in Brazil edit

The inhabitants of Brazilian prehistory are divided into three groups: hunter-gatherers, farming peoples and coastal peoples.

Hunter-gathers edit

They lived in almost the entire national territory between 50 thousand and 2.5 thousand years. They occupied the South to the Northeast, inhabited caves and the forest, used bows and arrows, boleade and boomerangs made of stone.

They fed on game meat of small animals, fish, molluscs and fruits. In the Northeast it is possible to find examples of the rock art of these people who portrayed everyday life, war, dance and hunting.

In the South, the "men of Umbu" (in Portuguese, Homens de Umbu) who lived in the pampas of Rio Grande do Sul stand out. These were responsible for the use of the bow and arrow that was inherited by the indigenous Brazilians.

Coastal peoples or sambaquis edit

The coastal peoples occupied the Brazilian coast from Espírito Santo to Rio Grande do Sul 6 thousand years ago. They basically ate seafood, but they were also collectors.

The "middens men" (in Portuguese, Homens Sambaquis) were sedentary, as they had no need to travel to look for food.

The discarded shells with which they obtained the mollusks were piled up and thus were used to build houses. These are the main traces to study these people.

Graves were also located in which the bodies were buried with various objects and painted red. This means that the "middens men" performed funerary rites and believed in another life.

Farming peoples edit

They lived from 3,500 to 1,500 years ago. They lived in huts or underground houses and were knowledgeable in the technique of ceramics.

In Rio Grande do Sul they were called Itararés and in the Southeast and Northeast of Tupis. These peoples gave rise to the indigenous tribes of Brazil.

The Tupi knew agriculture and were therefore sedentary. Pottery was used to store food and as funeral urns when someone died.

Brazilian archaeological sites edit

Archaeological sites are places where the presence of human beings was detected in prehistory.

In Boqueirão da Pedra Furada, in Pernambuco, a group of archaeologists reported the presence of knives, axes and bonfires approximately 48 thousand years old.

In the region of Lagoa Santa, in Minas Gerais, the fossil Luzia, from 12,500 to 13,000 years old, was found. There, there was also found the Man from Lagoa Santa, who would have lived 12,000 years ago.

Other important archaeological sites in Brazil are Santana do Riacho, in Minas Gerais, Caatinga de Moura, in Bahia, and the Serra da Capivara National Park, in Piauí.

Indigenous peoples in Brazil

Tupinambá people, 16th century engraving

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.

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.