Founding the city of São Paulo and the Bandeirantes

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Founding the city of São Paulo and the Bandeirantes

1. Introduction

In this chapter we will study the founding of the city of São Paulo and its importance to the process of colonisation and settlement of colonial Brazil.

We will also study the action of the São Paulo bandeirantes in the process of interiorisation of Brazilian territory and the consequent discovery of precious metals.

The founding of São Vicente and later São Paulo were milestones in the history of Brazil, as they allowed the emergence of regions inhabited by Europeans outside the north-east.

In addition, the action of the São Paulo bandeirantes in this process was of paramount importance, as they began to develop economic activities related to Indian hunting, and would later be directly responsible for extending the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Esta pintura do século 15 ilustra como o Tratado de Tordesilhas foi assinado
This 15th century painting illustrates how the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed
The Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided control of territories around the world between the Portuguese and the Spanish, was an attempt to appease disputes over land ownership between the two nations, then world powers.

The discovery of America in 1492 made the need for an agreement between Portugal and Spain on the lands beyond the sea even more urgent, even those that had yet to be discovered.

Over the centuries, the boundaries created on paper were disregarded and cannons and fortresses entered the stage of disputes in America.

The Treaty of Tordesillas was signed between Portugal and Spain on 7 June 1494. It got its name because the diplomats who discussed the terms of the document met in the city of Tordesillas, in the region of Castile and Leon.

The two nations had already produced agreements on other occasions, so it wasn’t much of a novelty to sit down and discuss it.

This time, the treaty defined an imaginary line about 1,780 kilometres (or 370 leagues) west of the Cape Verde Islands.

This boundary, called the Tordesillas Meridian, was a reference point: to the west of it, the land belonged to Spain; to the east, it belonged to Portugal.

Neither nation knew for sure at the time how much “land” this involved. Today there is even a landmark in Laguna, a town in the southern region of Santa Catarina, where the meridian passed.

Mapa do Brasil de 1730"Nova et Accurata Brasiliae Totius Tabula, Auctore Ioanne Blaeu I.F.", Blaeu/Schenk Este mapa escasso é o terceiro mapa do Brasil de Johannes Blaeu. Ele inclui as capitanias ao longo da costa e é uma melhoria significativa em relação aos mapas anteriores de Blaeu do Brasil. A bela cartela é cercada por querubins e um deus do rio. Esse mapa, desenhado por Joannes de Broen e gravado por Abraham Wolfgang, foi concluído pouco antes do grande incêndio que destruiu a gráfica e, portanto, foi incluído em apenas uma edição dos atlas de Blaeu. Em 1694, Pieter Schenk adquiriu várias placas de cobre de Blaeu, incluindo esta.
Map of Brazil from 1730

2. Founding of São Paulo

It was on 25 January 1554 that a group of Jesuit missionaries, led by Father Manuel da Nóbrega, settled on a plateau then called Piratininga, where they founded a school to evangelise the Amerindian populations.

After the site was consecrated, it was given the name of São Paulo, as it was the day dedicated to the apostle of that name.

The choice of location, some 50 kilometres from the coast, was due to the natural conditions of the region and, above all, the good reception given by the local leaders to the Portuguese presence and their openness to conversion to Catholicism.

Of particular note was the influence exerted by João Ramalho, a Portuguese who had lived there for several decades among the Tupiniquin Indians and had married the daughter of one of the chiefs. It was therefore a peaceful and consensual foundation, which resulted from the missionaries’ desire to carry out their work autonomously and away from the influence of the authorities and Portuguese settlers;

Fundação de São Paulo, Oscar Pereira da Silva, 1909
Fundação de São Paulo, Oscar Pereira da Silva, 1909

The city of São Paulo didn’t have just one birth, but several.

Let’s see what the scholar Eduardo Bueno (2004, p. 7) says about the founding of the city:

The first, entirely informal, took place with the enigmatic João Ramalho, between 1510 and 1515, probably on or around the site of the future Santo André da Borba do Campo; the second was the work of the nobleman Martim Afonso de Sousa, in the summer of 1532, in an unknown location but perhaps in the current historic centre, on the hill of Tabatinguera; the third was the initiative of Father Leonardo Nunes, responsible for establishing the chapel of Santo André da Borba do Campo, in June 1550; the fourth, consecrated by classical historiography, came about with the mass said by the Jesuits on 25 January 1554 in the courtyard of the College, and finally, the fifth, and definitive, occurred in 1560, when the residents of Santo André moved to Piratininga, where until then there had been no village, let alone a town, but only the small Jesuit college and church.

For us, the birthplace of the city of São Paulo is not important, but we must be clear that the fact that the city was founded in the 16th century means that it was able to develop and participate in practically all the events of colonial Brazil.

This is the importance of the city, of this true landmark of civilisation, which today is one of the largest cities in the world.

The foundation of the city of São Paulo represented an alternative form of colonisation, not necessarily based on sugar cane monoculture.

Its economy was varied, but what predominated were the bandeirantes’ wanderings through the backlands and the hunt for Indians.

Nestled in the hinterland, more than 750 metres above sea level, was the town of São Paulo de Piratininga, whose privileged geographical position predestined it to dominate the Brazilian Southern Plateau, in other words, to lead the movement of penetration, exploration and conquest of large areas located beyond the Tordesillas meridian (HOLANDA, 2007, p. 300).

There are several reasons why the plateau region surpassed the coastal region in the settlement and colonisation process, in the words of Sergio Buarque de Holanda (2007, p. 301).

This is how the plateau, in the Vicentina region, overtook the coast, due to the advantages it offered for colonisation.

The narrow strip of coastline, the lowlands made up of mangroves and marshes, the lack of rich soil comparable to the massapés of north-eastern Brazil, a tropical climate that generated endemic diseases, all contributed to driving people up the mountains, while the coastal area remained almost neglected.

Geographical factors therefore explain many of the reasons for moving the centre of colonisation from the coast to the plateau, the choice of site for the initial cell of the São Paulo agglomeration and its subsequent development.

The São Paulo region was favoured for its development due to its geographical position, which facilitated contact with other regions of Brazil. From the São Paulo plateau, travellers could reach the south, the centre-west and the north-east.

To facilitate understanding of this issue, we will introduce a fragment from the book “História Geral da Civilização Brasileira” by historian Sergio Buarque de Holanda (2007, p. 302-303).

An area where the region’s relief lines and hydrographic system converge, São Paulo de Piratininga is a centre where natural passages meet. This was undoubtedly a major factor in the establishment of the town and its pioneering destiny.

Three major passes depart from São Paulo, following the lines of the relief that conditioned the guidelines for expansion:

  • The passage heading north-east, through the Paraíba valley, the route of expeditions to Minas Gerais, to the São Francisco river, to the north and north-east of Brazil.
  • The passage heading north, through the Paraíba valley, the route of expeditions to Minas Gerais, to the São Francisco river, to the north and north-east of Brazil.
  • The passage northwards, through Campinas and Mojimirim towards Minas Gerais and Goiás.
  • The passage towards the south and south-west, via Sorocaba and Itapetinga towards the southern regions.

The first two are the result of the position of the Mantiqueira mountain range, which enters São Paulo from the north like a wedge, the tip of which is the Jaraguá hill.

On either side  there is then the passage from the Paraíba plain to the north-east and the passage towards the north formed by the more or less flat land of the peripheral depression that stretches from the north-east of the state – Mococa, Casa Branca – to the south-west – Itararé, Faxina – describing a wide arc of a circle, the convex face of which passes in the vicinity of São Paulo, through Campinas and Itu.

The terrain continues westwards after the Mantiqueira escarpment to the north of São Paulo and southwards after the busy topography of the Paranapiacaba mountain range.

The southbound pass is the very continuation of these almost uniformly shaped terrains, which continue towards the southern parts of Brazil, turning south-west towards Itapetininga.

It was the pass that facilitated the penetration of the Paulistas into the Paranapanema valley and its tributaries on the left bank, where the Jesuits settled in the lands of the upper Paraná in the 17th century.

The Sorocaba and Itapetininga fields are located in these lands, taking advantage of the communications established not only with the Paraná region, but also with Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, which had been travelled and ravaged by the bandeirantes.

These three great natural passes that converge on São Paulo, established by the relief, made Piratininga a true nucleus of the region’s topographical system, enabling and channelling the expansion of exploration and colonisation carried out in those directions towards the interior of Brazil.

In addition, São Paulo was the intermediate point of communications between the plateau and the coast.

The sea route, an old Indian trail, was the main way into the Captaincy of São Vicente through the mountains, despite the great difficulties that stood in the way of free transit.

Even more so.

The presence of the River Tietê made São Paulo the natural centre of an important hydrographic system.

Accessible via the Tamanduateí in colonial times, cutting through the whole of São Paulo’s territory to the north-west and flowing into the Paraná river, the Tietê established river communications to the Mato Grosso region.

This is where the Cuiabá monsoons sailed in the 18th century.

The Tietê River made São Paulo a privileged centre, as it flowed towards the interior. This river was a true waterway, which facilitated the penetration of the bandeirantes into the hinterland.

In addition, a number of sertanista routes converged on São Paulo:

  • the Paraíba valley route, which led to the “minas gerais”;
  • the southern route, which led to the Jesuit missions;
  • the northern roads that led to Goiás;
  • the Tietê river route that led towards Cuiabá;
  • the sea route that led north and south.

Based on the above, we can see that the founding of São Paulo was no accident.

The city’s location was strategic, enabling the colonisers to reach practically every region of Brazil from a secure base.

São Paulo was never raided or pillaged by pirates because it was located inland.

São Paulo was the first Brazilian urban centre to be located far from the coast.

Furthermore, the social and ethnic typology of the city’s inhabitants was unique. The paulista was the result of a mixture of white and Indian, which made the paulista bandeirante a highly adapted person for the great colonisation expeditions.

In the next section we will study the social typology of the São Paulo bandeirante, as well as his importance in the process of colonisation and settlement of colonial Brazil.

Diferença entre entradas e bandeiras
Difference between entrances and flags

3. The Bandeirantes

The poverty of the captaincy of São Vicente (now the state of São Paulo) due to the decay of the sugar cane plantations during the Colonial Period stimulated the organisation of expeditions into the interior of Brazil known as bandeiras and entradas.

Entradas e Bandeiras

The São Paulo bandeirante was not the romantic figure idealised and portrayed in painting and sculpture in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In fact, the bandeirante was a “rude” figure, a mixture of white and Indian (mameluco), who knew how to adapt very well to the hardships of the backlands.

He usually dressed in the few clothes he had available, walked barefoot like the Indian, and his image was very different from the one we are used to seeing in history books.

Furthermore, we have to deconstruct the idea that the bandeirante was a hero. In fact, at many points in colonial history, he was a villain who enslaved and treated the Indians with extreme cruelty, destroying entire villages.

Despite this, the bandeirante was very important to Brazilian colonial history, as he was responsible for actions that led Brazil to extend the limits of the Treaty of Tordesillas.

He was also responsible for finding precious metals in the Brazilian hinterland. Not to mention that, based on his initiative, several towns and villages were founded in various regions of Brazil.

In the words of Eduardo Bueno (2003, p. 59):

They were the pirates of the backlands. They roamed the shortcuts, the plateaus and the plains armed to the teeth, with their sounds of war and their flags unfurled.

They were paramilitary groups tearing through the jungle and hunting men – beyond the law and borders; beyond ethics.

All that was left in their wake was a trail of devastated villages and towns; old men, women and children run through at swordpoint; desecrated altars, blood, tears and flames.

Ignited by greed and in the name of advancing civilisation, they enslaved indigenous people by the thousands.

Some São Paulo historians have defined them as a “race of giants” – and there is no doubt that they were intrepid and indomitable individuals.

They are seen as the main people responsible for Brazil’s territorial expansion – and they certainly were. Although they were Brazilian heroes, they also became the greatest criminals of their time.

In the first three decades of the 17th century, the bandeirantes killed or enslaved around 500,000 Indians, not to mention destroying more than fifty Jesuit reductions.

They confronted the kings of Portugal and Spain, as well as the Pope himself.

They turned their capital, São Paulo “[…] into one of the largest centres of indigenous slavery on the entire continent and […] made it a lawless city, a kingdom of terror, greed and misery.

It was also the centre from which the whole of southern Brazil was able to grow and develop” (BUENO, 2003, p. 58).

The history of the bandeirantes is a story of contradictions, because at the same time as they are hated and portrayed as criminals, they are loved and elevated as heroes.

São Paulo was a city that was born poor, but it was necessary to “seek a remedy for its poverty”, a remedy that would only be possible with the action of the bandeirante.

It was then that São Paulo discovered the slavery of the Indian as its main source of wealth.

The irony is that the São Paulo bandeirante himself was half Indian – perhaps savagery wasn’t a way of denying descent?

The mixture of races was a determining factor in the bandeirante’s character, according to Sergio Buarque de Holanda (2007, p. 307):

The Mameluco, in addition to the adventurous spirit, intrepidity, audacity and mobility of their father, received through their mother the love of freedom, the restless and nomadic nature and the backwoods inclinations of the Amerindian also endowed with extreme mobility.

They formed the bulk of the first families in São Paulo, the origin of people with stupendous attributes of fertility, longevity and virility, people that Saint-Hilaire later called a “race of giants”.

It was these patriarchal, amestizo and Christian families who were the mainstays of the social group that generated the human contingents of the bandeiras. For them, taking part in one of those expeditions was an index of prestige and a title of honour.

It was illegal to enslave the Indians reduced in the Jesuit missions, but the Paulistas didn’t respect this rule. They lived at the top of the plateau, isolated from the rest of Brazil.

What’s more, they felt abandoned by the crown and didn’t respect the rules and ended up attacking even the most organised Jesuit reduction.

It was the Paulistas who destroyed the so-called “seven peoples of the missions” in Rio Grande do Sul.

These Jesuit settlements were famous for their beautiful buildings and the spread of culture among the Indians, encouraged by the dedication and teaching of the Jesuit priests.

However, it was also the bandeirantes who were the first to find precious stones in the interior of Brazil.

The Portuguese crown began to send royal charters encouraging the bandeirantes to organise expeditions with the aim of finding gold.

The first expeditions were organised in the 16th century, but success would only come at the end of the 17th century.

The letters sent by the king to at least eleven renowned bandeirantes certainly had an effect, as several expeditions were carried out.

According to Eduardo Bueno (2003, p. 103):

Some historians think that “the psychological effects” that Pedro II’s royal missives (letters) would have exerted on the eleven sertanistas who received them should not be disregarded.

But the fact is that the bandeirantes of São Paulo had no other way of maintaining their nomadic lives than to hunt for gold: their indigenous “corrals” were exhausted.

The king had no choice either: years earlier, while the Iberian Union was still in force, mining experts had been sent from the Court to study Brazil’s mineral potential.

The only one who withstood the hardships of the sertão – the Spaniard Rodrigo Castelo Branco – was murdered by Borba Gato, Fernão Dias’ son-in-law, as soon as he reached the mine that the “emerald hunter” had just discovered.

After this unpunished crime, anyone who wasn’t a bandeirante or from São Paulo wouldn’t risk travelling to the far reaches of Brazil.

It was up to the Paulistas to find the largest deposit of gold ever found in the world. But they wouldn’t be the ones to profit from it.

And so, around 1694, the bandeirantes from São Paulo wrote their history by finding gold in the backlands of Brazil. From that date onwards, the history of Portugal and Brazil would change, as the reserves discovered were the largest in the world.

4. Further reading – The slave ship

It would have been the worst place in the world, the belly of the beast and the belly of the beast, although for those who were responsible for it, and were not there, it was the most profitable of deposits and the most saleable of stocks.

O Navio Negreiro

In the hold of the slave ships that crossed the Atlantic for more than three hundred years, from the west coast of Africa to the north-east coast of Brazil, more than three million Africans made a journey of no return, the horrors of which generated fabulous fortunes, built family empires and built a nation.

The bowels of the ships of damnation and death were the belly of the mercantilist beast: a machine for grinding human flesh, working ceaselessly to feed the plantations and mills, the mines and tables, the skulls and beds of the masters – and, above all, the coffers of the traffickers in men.

The scene has been minutely described by hundreds of observers.

The more the testimonies are collated, the harder it is to believe that such horrors could have gone on for three centuries – and that so many famous surnames had their fame and glory linked to such disgrace.

But that’s how it was, and that’s how it would have been for longer if, due to purely economic circumstances, slavery hadn’t ceased to be such a lucrative business.

Castro Alves composed verses full of fury and rage.

Rugendas used sombre tones and a surprising angle to create an allegorical account.

Even so, both poet and illustrator may have conveyed a bland version of the hideous spectacle that actually took place in the hold of the slave ships – aptly named tumbeiros.

The records written by observers – most of them British – reveal a picture even more frightening than the one that rhymes and paints were able to paint.

Just one example.

In 1841, the beautiful British ship Fawn captured the ship Dois de Fevereiro off the coast of Brazil.

Trafficking had been illegal in Brazil since 7 November 1831 and British warships were patrolling the coast.

After the seizure of the tumbeiro, the captain of the Fawn wrote down in his log the scene he came across in the ship’s holds: “the living, the dying and the dead piled up in a single mass.

Some unfortunates in the most lamentable state of smallpox, sick with ophthalmia, some completely blind; others living skeletons, dragging themselves with difficulty, unable to support the weight of their miserable bodies.

Mothers with small children hanging from their chests, unable to give them a drop of food.

How they had been brought to that point was astonishing: they were all completely naked.

Their limbs were bruised from lying on the floor for so long.

The stench in the lower compartment was unbearable. It seemed unbelievable that beings could survive in that atmosphere.”

In fact, one in five slaves shipped from Africa didn’t survive the journey to Brazil – they were literally perishable goods.

The rest didn’t live more than seven years on average.

But they were cheap and replaceable: there were plenty of others where they had come from.

This is a nation built by six million slave labourers – and over three million corpses.

SOURCE: Bueno (2003, p. 112)

In this chapter you learnt that:

  • The foundation of the city of São Paulo was a determining factor in the process of occupying the interior of Brazil.
  • The bandeirantes were mainly responsible for extending the limits of the Treaty of Tordesillas.
  • The bandeirantes were responsible for hunting down the Indians and finding gold in the interior of Brazil.

Discover the periods of colonial Brazilian history below:

  1. Portuguese Maritime Expansion and the Conquest of Brazil
  2. Occupation of the African Coast, the Atlantic Islands and the Voyage of Vasco da Gama
  3. Pedro Álvares Cabral’s expedition and the Conquest of Brazil
  4. Pre-colonial period in Brazil: “The Forgotten Years”
  5. Installation of the Portuguese Colony in Brazil
  6. Installation of the General Government in Brazil and the Founding of Salvador
  7. Monoculture, Slave Labour and Latifundia in Colonial Brazil
  8. Colonial sugar mills in Brazil
  9. The Iberian Union and the Dutch Invasion of Brazil
  10. Foundation of the city of São Paulo and the Bandeirantes
  11. Between the colonial regime and the establishment of the Empire in Brazil
  12. Transfer of the Portuguese court to Brazil
  13. The Portuguese Empire in Brazil
  14. Independence of Brazil – Breaking of colonial ties in Brazil
  15. Historical Periods of Brazil

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