1. Hereditary Capitanias

The economic occupation of American lands was but an episode of European
commercial expansion. It was not about people being moved by demographic
forces, or by the break of some equilibrium system, it was the need to
accumulate precious metals, the mercantilist ultimate goal, that brought the
portuguese to the brazilian coast.

Here they found a homogeneous indigenous population, at least in terms of
language and culture, spread all over the coast and in the region of the Rivers
Paraguay and Paraná. There were two major groups, the Tapuias and the

The portuguese were prompt in distinguishing many different tribes, being the
Aimorés the most unfriendly, a group that was by no accident forgot by the 1570
law that prohibited indian slavery.

The índians saw the portuguese as divine man, mostly the Jesuíta priests. In the
begining of the settlements, the help the first paulistas received from the tupis
was central to the survival of the towns, that in other ways would have been
conquered by the tamoios. (As seen in the Muralha series. It pisses me off a little bit to know

that I invested 16 hours of my life to see a series that would be later summarized in one small

Due to French invasions and piracy, Portugal was forced to occupy the land in
order not to lose it. The French also contested the tordesillas treaty, that they
called “the will of Adam”. This treaty was also controversial between Portugal
and Spain, given that only in the XVII century the dutch developed technology to
define the location of the tordesillas line.

From 1549 on, the Portuguese crossing the Atlantic were not only moved by
mercantilist matters, but also political factors. This year saw the settling of the
capitanias hereditárias system, together with the sending a general-governor
and 3 high level administrative people, the capitão-mor, for the organization
of an army, the provedor-mor, for the collection of taxes and the ouvidor-mor,
for establishing a court of judges. Also Jesuita priests came in this expedition.
The system was based in the distribution of France-sized pieces of land to
noble man. They would posess the land but not own it, and would have rights
to collect taxes, write and judge laws, distribute sesmarias (gigantic amounts
of land), etc. The donatario, receiver of the capitania, would pay the metropolis
taxes and respect its monopoly of the Amazonian drugs (açai, guaraná, etc).

By that time, Portugal was suffering numerous defeats in Morocco and the
commerce with Índia was declining. Spain rejoiced on its silver and gold
mining. The failure of the Portuguese colony started to be seen as a fault of the
portuguese careless administration.

Sugar plantations were seen as a means to pay off the occupation and defense

expenses undertaken by the metropolis. Not every gentleman agreed on that
plan, since no agricultural good was commercialized in a large-scale basis by that
time. Wheat, the most important product of the land in Europe, had abundant
resources within the continent. The portuguese were the first to entrepreneur
the plantation system in the americas and if it failed, they wouldn’t have lasted
as an imperial power. The idea of planting sugar, a little known fancy spice, came
from the experience in the colony islands of Açores and Madeira. Sugar was
present in every queen dowry and was one of the most coveted Indian spice.

According to the mercantilist principles of the time, the metropolis funded
the building of sugar mills. Mercantilist state intervention included direct
administration of companies and the building of favorable conditions to the
development of the business of selected groups, using taxes, concessions of
monopolies and every kind of protective barrier. This also explains the efforts
of the metropolis to lower the prices of colonial products and to increase prices
paid by the settler. Again, the priority was the build-up of wealth of the crown.

The success of the sugar plantations was a result of the search, by the
Portuguese, of new markets for its products. The Portuguese-dutch partnership
put Portuguese colonial produts in the hands of Flemish merchants, breaking
the venetian monopoly and expanding the range of the Portuguese goods.
The Flemish partnership also proved productive in the sports scene, with the
founding, 350 years later, of Clube de Regatas do Flamengo. The flamish also
participated of the funding of sugar mills and the slave traffic.

*Just to remind that in the period that goes from 1580 to 1640, Portugal joined Spain in the Iberic
Union and was ruled by an Spanish king, inheriting the Spanish-dutch mutual hate. The Union
quit, for geopolitical reasons the now know as dutch-portuguese partnership, causing the dutch
invasion of the north east by Mauricio de Nassau. Sorry I’m writing for you now, but this part
of the history is quite obvious because Mariuricio de Nassau is very famous here, as he turned
recife into one of the most trendy towns of the time. Differently from the Portuguese, this man,
some kind of Donald Trump of his time (he owned the Company of Ocidental Indies), invested in
the urbanization of the city. Recife had, by that time, commerce, artisans and even an embryo of
cultural life. He is a national hero. Its important to note that Rio de Janeiro had also some urban life,
result of the accumulation of wealth of the slave traders, that settled in that city . The slave trade,
therefore, benefited from the upgrading of the village of Rio de janeiro to capital of the colony.

The Flemish participation on the Portuguese building of its colony shows
that Portugal was not strictly following the mercantilist agenda. Most of the
concessions were, in fact, made to England. In 1654 Cromwell imposed Portugal
a Treaty that allowed the English to negociate directly with the colony. The
English ambitions in Brasil were only restrained when Marques de Pombal
closed General Company of Commerce of Brasil and created two new companies,
Grão-Pará and Pernambuco & Paraíba, that worked free of English influence.
Marques de Pombal was D. Joseph I minister, being Joseph I the father of Queen
Mary, the Crazy, mother of D. João the VI, that came to Brazil in 1808.

With an exception of São Vicente and Pernambuco, all the capitanias failed.
Impossibility to build docks because of geographical matters, lack of interest
of some donatários, existence of canibal aimoré indians, donatários dying with

their ships sinking when travelling to Brazil, investments in products other than
sugar, etc, were some of the reasons. The crown bought the capitanias back in a
process that was only completed in 1752, by Marques de Pombal.


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