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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.

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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.”

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.