Indian Tribes of Brazil

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Physical Characteristics

There is a certain degree of resemblance in form and feature between the Guarani tribes of Brazil with those of other provinces farther south, and the races north of the Amazon, described in a former chapter. The obliquity of the eye, and the yellowish tinge of the complexion, with other peculiarities, give them somewhat the appearance of the Eastern Asiatic races. “The Eastern Guarani,” according to Prichard, “are the Tupi, or native inhabitants of the Brazils. The general language of Brazil, says Hervas, “called Tupi, from the name of the first Indians who were converted to the holy faith, is not more different from the Guarani, viz: of Paraguay, than the Portuguese from the Spanish. The same writer enumerates, from in formation derived from ecclesiastics, the following tribes who speak the Tupi, with little variety of dialect, viz: the Cariyi, southward of the Tupi proper, reaching as far towards the south as the Rio Grande del Sud or S. Pietro, the Tamoyi, Tupinaqui, Timmiminos, Tobayari, Tupinambi, Apanti, Tapigoas, and several other tribes, occupying all the maritime countries as far north as the river Maragnon.”

Pinzon’s Discoveries

The first information obtained by Europeans concerning Brazil and its inhabitants, was from the report of Vicente Pinzon, the associate of Columbus upon his first voyage to America. On the 26th of January 1500, Pinzon, who, with several vessels, was bound upon an exploring expedition, made the present Cape St. Augustine, at the eastern extremity of the southern continent. He took formal possession of the country, and coasted thence as far north as the mouth of the Amazon, of which he was the discoverer. The voyage was in some respects disastrous, as three of the vessels were lost, and several men perished in encounters with the ferocious natives. Upon one occasion, a single Spaniard was sent forward to conciliate and parley with a group of Indians who stood upon a hill watching the movements of the strangers. “The Spaniard,” says Southey, in his history of Brazil, “made all the friendly signs he could devise, and threw to them a hawks-bell, for which they threw down something which was supposed to be a piece of gold; he stooped for it, and they sprang forward to seize him.” He defended himself with great valor and skill, until his comrades hastened to his assistance. “The savages, with their deadly archery, slew eight, wounded many more, and pursued them to their boats. They rushed on like wild beasts, despising wounds and death; followed the boats even when they had put off, dived after them, and fairly won one of them, having slain its captain and driven out the crew.”

From this incident it will plainly appear that the Spanish adventurers had an enemy to deal with very different from the gentle and luxurious natives of the islands. That the aborigines of some portions of Brazil were a warlike and fierce race of cannibals cannot be doubted from the accounts given by early voyagers, although some have affected to doubt whether they were actually accustomed to devour human flesh.

Landing of Pedro Alvarez Cabral upon the Brazilian Coast

During the spring following Pinzon’s discovery, Pedro Alvarez Cabral accidentally came upon the Brazilian coast, as he was steering westward to avoid the terrible calms which prevail west of the tropical regions of Africa. He landed at the spot afterwards the site of Cabralia, about seventeen degrees south of Cape St. Augustine. Cabral was much more successful than his predecessor in gaining the confidence of the natives. The tribe with whom he first held intercourse was, indeed, of a more tractable and kindly disposition than those met with by Pinzon: the usual expedient of securing a prisoner, and then dismissing him with caresses and presents, brought the natives in ad miring crowds about the vessel.

Cabral took possession, in behalf of the crown of Portugal, and, erecting a crucifix, ordered the ceremonials of the church to be performed, the Indians joining readily in the attitude of devotion assumed by the company.

Expedition Under Vespucius

The next Portuguese expedition, under Amerigo Vespucci, sailed from Europe in May, 1501. Land was made somewhere in the vicinity of Cape St. Roque, in five degrees south latitude, where the voyagers were horror-stricken at the discovery of the cannibal propensities of the native inhabitants. Two sailors were missing, who had been allowed to go on shore to reconnoiter, and the crew landed in the boats to ascertain their fate. A young Portuguese imprudently went forward alone to communicate with the natives, when, in plain sight of his comrades, he was set upon by the women, knocked down with a club from behind, and dragged off. An attack upon the boats immediately followed, and, although the savages were easily driven off by the firearms, they only retired to dismember, broil, and feast upon the body of the man they had secured. By unmistakable gestures, they made known to the crew that the other two Portuguese had met with the same fate.

No settlement in the country was attempted until the year 1503, when twenty-four men were left at the port of All Saints. Private adventurers commenced colonies at various points upon the coast during the ensuing years, making the collection of the wood from which the country derives its name, the principal object of their efforts. A most bloody and savage warfare soon broke out between these settlers and the native inhabitants, in which either party seemed to strive for preeminence in cruelty. A system of transporting criminals from the old country to Brazil served to debase the character of the colonies. In warfare with the Indians, on the one hand, the prisoners were slain and eaten; and on the other, all were put to death except such as would be valuable for slaves.

Colonization of the Country, and Wars with the Natives

Meantime, the rage for discovery brought out divers adventurers from the Old World. In 1509, Don Juan de Solis, accompanied by Vicente Pinzon, and commissioned by the king of Castile, coasted as far south as the mouth of the La Plata, entering upon his route the magnificent harbor of Rio Janeiro. The tragic fate of this commander is thus described by Southey: While in the immense estuary of the river, “the natives invited him to shore, and he landed with a boat’s crew, intending to catch one of them and carry him to Spain. Their intention was worse than his, and better executed. They had stationed a party in ambush, who rose suddenly upon the crew, seized the boat, broke it to pieces in an instant, and slew every man with clubs; then they took the bodies upon their shoulders, carried them to a spot which was out of the reach of the Spaniards, but within sight, and there dismembered, roasted, and devoured them. The scene of this tragedy was on the north shore, between Monte Video and Maldonado, near a rivulet, which still bears the name of Soils.”

Settlement of Bahia De Todos Santos by Diogo Alvarez.

The circumstances connected with the first settlement of Bahia de Todos Santos, the province of which St. Salvador was afterwards the capital, are singularly striking. A young man, from Viana, named Diogo Alvarez, was one of a Chip’s company who had been cast away upon the neighboring shoals. Of those who reached the shore in safety, Diogo was the only one fortunate enough to escape being devoured. He managed to gain the good-will of the Indians by his services, and more especially commanded their respect and reverence by his management of a musket, which, with a store of ammunition, he had saved from the wreck. They denominated him Caramuru, “the man of fire,” and exalted him to the rank of a great chief and captain. In wars against the nation of the Tapuyas, the terror of Diogo s wonderful weapon gained the most signal victories for his associates: in reward for his services, the principal men of the country gave him their daughters for wives, and he lived like a sovereign surrounded by reverential attendants. According to Southey, “He fixed his abode where Villa Velha was afterwards erected; and soon saw as numerous a progeny as an old patriarch’s rising around him. The best families in Bahia trace their origin to him.”

Diogo took advantage of the arrival of a French vessel upon the coast to return to Europe, taking with him one of his wives, named Paraguaza. As the ship got under weigh, several of his other consorts gave proof of their affection by swimming after it, and one of them persisted in the hopeless endeavor to follow until so exhausted that she perished before being able to return to shore. The king and queen of France showed great attention to Diogo and his wife, and by their directions the latter was baptized with much ceremony, and joined to her husband by a legal marriage according to the rules of the church.

By the assistance of a rich merchant, Diogo afterwards returned to Bahia with many conveniences for establishing himself in security and comfort, and for the arrangement of a regular system of traffic in the productions of the country. He proved of inestimable service, in after years, when an extensive colonization of that region took place, in keeping up friendly relations with the Indians. From this central point, where St. Salvador was built, commenced that wonderful influence exerted by the Jesuit missionaries over the native population.

These enthusiastic devotees found their proselytes not unapt in acquiring the Portuguese language, and by the attractions of music, of which they were passionately fond, together with kind treatment and virtuous example, they won over great numbers to a conformation to the outward requisitions of their faith, if not to an understanding of its abstractions. One thing, however, seemed almost impracticable, and that was to eradicate the inordinate propensity to cannibalism, so universally diffused among the Brazilian aborigines. An anecdote upon this point, related by Mr. Southey, has been often told, but will bear repetition: “A Jesuit one day found a Brazilian woman in extreme old age, and almost at the point of death. Having catechized her, instructed her, as he conceived, in the nature of Christianity, and completely taken care of her soul, he began to inquire whether there was any kind of food which she could take? (“Grandam, said he, “if I were to get you a little sugar now, or a mouthful of some of our nice things which we bring from beyond sea, do you think you could eat it? Ah, my grandson, said the old convert, my stomach goes against every thing. There is but one thing which I fancy I could touch. If I had the little hand of a little tender Tapuya boy, I think I could pick the little bones; but, woe is me, there is nobody to go out and shoot one for me!

The Jesuits

In addition to the instructions and persuasions of the Jesuits, the Portuguese colonial authorities lent their aid to enforce the regulations prohibiting this unnatural custom, but it was long a bone of contention between them and their Indian dependents, who were willing to give up any other of their national usages rather than this. Purchas gives the following description of some of the ceremonies attendant upon the disposal of prisoners taken in battle:

Particulars Of The Cannibal Propensities Of The Natives

“Their captives they convey in the midst of their army home to their territories, and thereunto the men will not stick to give their sisters or daughters to perform all the duties of a wife, and feed them with the best till they re-demand the same out of their flesh. When that dismal day approached, knowledge is given, and the men, women, and children assemble to the place appointed, and there pass the morning in drinking, and the captive (although he knoweth the dreadful issue) danceth, drinketh, and frolics it with the best.”

They then lead him about the town by a rope: “Neither doth he, for all this, hang down his head, as men here going to be hanged, but with incredible courage emblazoneth his own worthiness.” Like the North American Indians, the victim boasts of his former exploits against his captors, with every species of taunt and provocation. He recounts those whom he has assisted to devour, and predicts a terrible retribution for his own destruction. “Then they bring him stones, and bid him revenge his death. He hurleth them at those that stand about him, whereof there are some four thousand, and hurteth divers.”

When he is finally dispatched, his temporary wife ” comes to the carcass, and spends a little time and passion in mourning; but her crocodile’s tears are soon dried, and the humor falls into her teeth, which water for the first morsel.” The whole process of dressing and devouring is minutely described.

The Botocudos

Bahia was settled about the year 1550, and ten years later Rio Janeiro was founded by the Portuguese governor, after the expulsion of the French, who had attempted to gain possession of that region of country. The coast settlements were steadily increasing in stability and power, but not without further contests with the native inhabitants. Of these, the most savage and dangerous were the Botocudos, dwelling in the interior, and between the rivers Doce and Pardo, from the fifteenth to the twentieth degree of south latitude. They have always been considered as being among the most repulsive and brutish of the human race. They are supposed to be the same race as the Aymores, once the most dangerous enemies of the Portuguese settlers. Their natural figure and the conformation of their features seem, from most accounts, to be by no means unpleasing. Dwelling in a forest country, their complex ion is fairer than that of many of the South American Indians; it is of a light yellowish copper color, and sufficiently transparent for a blush to be perfectly obvious. The stories of their frightful and hideous appearance may all be referred to one most barbarous custom of mutilation and deformity, prevalent among them from the earliest times. This is the insertion of a large wooden plug or button, called the “botoque,” into a slit in the under lip: similar appendages are worn at the ears.

This botoque is of such a size that its pressure generally causes the lower teeth eventually to fall out, and its projection gives the most hideously uncouth and brutish appearance to the countenance. The slit is made and the plug is inserted during childhood, and as the opening enlarges with time, the size of the botoque is increased until it has reached the full measure of deformity and inconvenience. It interferes with mastication, and is every way disgusting and troublesome, but, like many scarcely less irrational and absurd customs among enlightened communities, it retains its hold to the present day.

When the botoque is removed, which operation is as easily effected as the unbuttoning a coat, a disgusting aperture is disclosed, through which the loosened and distorted teeth distinctly appear. Purchas says of some of those wild tribes of the interior, generally called Tapuyas, that on their travels, “they do carry great store of tobacco with them; and continually they have a leaf laid along their mouth, between the lip and the teeth; and, as they go, the same runneth out of the hole that they have in their lips.”

The Botocudos are of an indolent disposition, but withal capable of enduring the greatest fatigue when occasion requires. Their muscular development is remarkably fine, and a life of exposure so hardens their skin that, without clothing, they can with perfect ease make their way through tangled brakes, which would effectually impede the progress of a European. Their huts, implements, and manner of life are not unlike those of the other Eastern nations of the tropical portion of South America, with the exception of their sleeping accommodations. The hammock is not in use among them, but rude couches of bark, &c., laid upon the ground, are all that they require. They have no boats or canoes, and it has been said of them that they were entirely ignorant of the art of swimming. This appears to be an error.

The character of the Botocudos as cannibals, combined with the repulsive appearance caused by the botoque, has given them a worse reputation perhaps than they deserve. Many desirable traits are observable in their natural character, and their intellectual capacity does not seem to be inferior to the generality of South American Indians.

Their aversion to labor does not result in apathy, nor do we perceive in them that gloomy, morose, and reserved demeanor common among some of the Western Aborigines. They are spoken of as “gay, facetious, and ready to converse.”

Some praiseworthy efforts have been made for the improvement and civilization of this race, the effects of which have been very satisfactory. Mr. Pritchard quotes as follows, from the records of the “Society for the Protection of the Aborigines: ”

“By the exertions of Guido Marliere, to whom communications were made on the part of this society, almost at the commencement, Guido Procrane, a Botocudo Indian of great native talent, was introduced to the blessings of civilization and Christianity, and his new acquirement were directed to the amelioration of his countrymen. His exertions have been crowned with signal success, and four sections of the barbarous tribes have been brought under the influence of civilization, and taught to cultivate their soil, from which they have raised not only enough for their own support, but a surplus, which has been the means of rescuing even a portion of the white Brazilians from famine and starvation. Useful laws have been introduced among them, and Guido Procrane, in the criminal code which he has established, has set an example which legislators, the hereditary professors of Christianity, would do well to imitate, in the total exclusion of capital punishment.”


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MLA Source Citation:

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. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 21 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/indian-tribes-of-brazil.htm - Last updated on Jan 30th, 2013


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