History of the Pantanal in Mato Grosso – Discovery and Economic Development

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Far from the industrial centers, the Pantanal of Mato Grosso remained almost untouched for centuries, until its spaces were occupied by cattle ranches.

Today, ecotourism is emerging in the Pantanal as a factor in the region’s economic development.

The history of the Mato Grosso Pantanal begins with the first European adventurers who, in the first half of the 16th century, traveled through the western portion of the present-day states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, near Paraguay and Bolivia, and took little interest in the area.

The Pantanal of Mato Grosso bewildered the conquistadors with its labyrinths of rivers and vast flood plains, inhabited by different indigenous peoples: xaraiés (xarayés), orejones, guaxaparatos

The most numerous, however, were the Guaicurus and Paiaguás.

The Guaicurus Indians, expert horsemen, dominated the entire southern part of the Southern Pantanal, the area between the Serra da Bodoquena and Porto Murtinho.

The Paiaguás Indians, canoeists, occupied the territories on the banks of the Paraguay, Miranda, Negro and Taquari rivers.

Also canoeing were the Guatós Indians, who lived scattered in small groups.

This initial encounter between Europeans and natives took place in 1543, when the expedition commanded by the Spaniard Álvaro Nunes Cabeza de Vaca passed through the Pantanal.

Antonio de Herrera Y Tordelislas was the official historian of Spain and the Indies. He compiled a history of the Spanish conquests and early explorations in the Americas, which included this simply engraved map of the continent. The map is largely derived from the handwritten charts of Juan Lopez de Velasco. The continent is dominated by the huge "R. de los Amazona" and R. de la Plato" and the western mountain range. The "Meridiano de la de Marcacion", which divided the non-Christian world between Spain and Portugal, is shown.
Treaty of Tordesillas – Antonio de Herrera Y Tordesillas was the official historian of Spain and the Indies. He compiled a history of the Spanish conquests and early explorations in the Americas, which included this simply engraved map of the continent. The map is largely derived from the handwritten charts of Juan Lopez de Velasco. The continent is dominated by the huge “R. de los Amazona” and “R. de la Plato” and the western mountain range. The “Meridiano de la de Marcacion” is shown, which divided the non-Christian world between Spain and Portugal.

The Treaty of Tordesillas then guaranteed Spain possession of all the lands along this meridian.

This 15th century painting illustrates how the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed
This 15th century painting illustrates how the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed

Surprised by the volume of the waters, Cabeza de Vaca called the region the Sea of the Xaraiés; the Spaniards, however, were looking for precious metals and indifferently continued their journey.

The Pantanal would only arouse the interest of European settlers two centuries later, when the gold rush dragged bandeirantes from São Paulo to the Midwest.

Indigenous resistance was persistent and violent; even so, after centuries of confrontation, their decimation was almost complete.

The Cadiuéus (Kadiwéus), remnants of the Guaicurus, now live in a reserve near the Serra da Bodoquena; the Terenas have little left of their traditions and have moved to the urban area.

Of the Guatós, a small number remain in the confines of the Amolar mountain range, close to the Pantanal National Park.

HISTORY OF THE MATOGROSSENSE PANTANAL

History of the Mato Grosso Pantanal, expeditions, occupation, territorial expansion and economic development.

1. DISCOVERY OF THE GOLD

In 1709, the War of the Emboadas came to an end in the Minas Gerais region, fought between bandeirantes from São Paulo – who demanded a monopoly on the exploitation of the gold reserves they had discovered – and explorers from Portugal and other regions who had come to the mines.

Defeated, the Paulistas started looking for other routes, heading towards the Midwest.

Partida da Monção, by Almeida Júnior (1897). Portraying Porto Feliz, in the interior of São Paulo, during the departure of bandeirantes on river journeys along the River Tietê, the naturalism and realism of the figures of the sertanistas stand out.
Partida da Monção, by Almeida Júnior (1897). Portraying Porto Feliz, in the interior of São Paulo, during the departure of bandeirantes on river journeys along the River Tietê, the naturalism and realism in the figures of the sertanistas stand out.

[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]The so-called monções were river expeditions that, between the second decade of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, maintained contact between the Captaincy of São Paulo and the Captaincy of Mato Grosso.[/box]

In 1718, the bandeirante Pascoal Moreira Cabral found gold in the region of the Prainha stream, a tributary of the flowing Cuiabá river; in 1727, Rodrigo César de Meneses, captain-general of the captaincy of São Paulo, built a town there and named it after the great river.

Despite officially belonging to Spain, the lands were occupied by Luso-Brazilian miners, who coexisted peacefully with the population of some Spanish settlements commanded by Jesuits.

In order to strengthen its presence in the region, Portugal created the captaincy of Mato Grosso in 1748, covering an area of around 210,000 square kilometers.

In 1750, the Treaty of Madrid established the borders of the region and made the possession of these territories official for the Portuguese Crown, which then ordered the construction of military centers to protect the new captaincy.

One of these military centers, Fort Coimbra, built in 1775 near Corumbá, still stands today.

Among the various towns that sprang up at that time were Miranda, Vila Maria do Paraguai and São Pedro Del Rei.

The wealth of gold, however, was short-lived – by the beginning of the 19th century, production from the mines had declined. The history of the Pantanal would take a new turn.

2. PANTANNE FARMING

Pantanal cattle ranching, an essential part of Pantanal history and culture, was considered a secondary activity during the gold cycle in the Baixada Cuiabana, but gained strength when the exploitation of the gold mines began to decline.

pecuária pantaneira
pecuária pantaneira

Expansion was rapid: the lowland pastures made it easy for the animals to adapt and the estates soon consolidated and prospered.

Throughout the 19th century, the herds grew and tanneries multiplied, where the meat was salted so that it could be exported.

This was the beginning of intensive beef production, whose main outlet was the River Paraguay, via the navigation of the River Plate basin.

Several communities formed around these tanneries, along the main regional watercourse.

The gigantic labyrinth of inland waters, however, remained preserved, distant, occupied by a few men and many oxen.

3. LANGSDORFF EXPEDITION

The difficulties of access and the isolation of the Pantanal from the rest of Brazilian territory meant that the ancient Sea of the Xaraiés maintained its aura of a lost and wild world over time – and, as such, attracted the interest of scientists, adventurers and chroniclers, especially during the 19th century.

Expedição Langsdorff pelo Mato Grosso

Among the expeditions that visited the region was the one organized by Baron Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff, the Russian consul in Brazil.

The Langsdorff Expedition traveled towards the Amazon and passed through the Brazilian hinterland between 1821 and 1829.

The official draughtsman Hercule Florence was responsible for the travel notebooks – published under the name Viagem fluvial do Tietê ao Amazonas – in which he recorded the society and nature of the Pantanal at the time.

The entourage stayed at Fazenda Jacobina, near the city of Cáceres, close to the Bolivian border – a property typical of the large estates developed in the 19th century, with total autonomy, crops, lots of cattle and even its own militia to guarantee the law in the domains of the cattle ranching colonels.

Accompanying Langsdorff were Ludwig Riedel (botanist), Nestor Rubtsov (astronomer), the doctor and zoologist Cristian Hasse, as well as slaves, guides and rowers, totaling 39 people on the expedition.

Along with the scientists, the German artist Johan Mauritz Rugendas (João Mauricio Rugendas) and the Frenchmen Aimé-Adrien Taunay (Aimé Adriano Taunay) and Hercule Florence (Hércules Florence) were also part of the expedition.

The records of Hercule Florence (Hércules Florence), alongside the works of the German artist Rugendas (1802 – 1858) and the French draughtsman Adrien Taunay (1803 – 1828), constitute the only complete documentation of this trip.

FLORENCE, Hercule - Tocano cachorro Gr. naturelle. Port du Rio-preto, Mars 1828. Hercule Florence, fecit. - 1828 - Watercolor and ink on paper - 21,3 x 30,7 cm
FLORENCE, Hercule – Tocano cachorro Gr. naturelle. Port du Rio-preto, Mars 1828. Hercule Florence, fecit. – 1828 – Watercolor and ink on paper – 21.3 x 30.7 cm
FLORENCE, Hercule - Indiens Guanás. Cuyabá, November 1827. Hercule Florence, f. - 1827 - Watercolor on paper - 21,5 x 27,5 cm
FLORENCE, Hercule – Indiens Guanás. Cuyabá, November 1827. Hercule Florence, f. – 1827 – Watercolor on paper – 21,5 x 27,5 cm
FLORENCE, Hercule - Pacú. Reduction. Cuyabá, April 20, 1827. Hercule Florence, fecit. - 1827 - Watercolor on paper - 20,6 x 28,7 cm
FLORENCE, Hercule – Pacú. Reduction. Cuyabá, 20 Avril 1827. Hercule Florence, fecit. – 1827 – Watercolor on paper – 20,6 x 28,7 cm
FLORENCE, Hercule - Tocano cachorro Gr. naturelle. Port du Rio-preto, Mars 1828. Hercule Florence, fecit. - 1828 - Watercolor and ink on paper - 21,3 x 30,7 cm
FLORENCE, Hercule – Tocano cachorro Gr. naturelle. Port du Rio-preto, Mars 1828. Hercule Florence, fecit. – 1828 – Watercolor and ink on paper – 21.3 x 30.7 cm

4. PARAGUAY WAR

Since the early years of the 19th century, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina have been engaged in border conflicts.

História da Guerra do Paraguai

The Paraguayan president, Francisco Solano López, supported the president of Uruguay, Atanásio Aguirre, when the latter resisted an intervention by Brazil, which demanded the payment of compensation to Gaucho farmers allegedly harmed by Uruguayans.

Brazilian troops invaded Montevideo and overthrew Aguirre; Francisco Solano López, the Paraguayan president, retaliated and invaded the cities of Corumbá and Cáceres, causing the farmers to move to Cuiabá.

This was the beginning, in 1864, of the bloodiest conflict in Latin America: the Paraguayan War, which wiped out around two thirds of the Paraguayan population.

Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay united in the flame of the Triple Alliance, financed by England.

Five years of fighting ensued, fought on land and on the Paraná and Paraguay rivers, in which Paraguay was devastated by the naval superiority of the allies, especially Brazil.

Among the battles, the best known were the Naval Battle of Riachuelo, the Retreat from Laguna and the Taking of Fort Coimbra.

In 1870, Solano López was captured and killed.

With the victory in the Paraguayan War, Brazil expanded its territory, incorporating 47,000 kilometers of Paraguayan land, much of which is part of the Pantanal of Mato Grosso – among other consequences, the incorporation of this area deepened and expanded the influence of Platine culture on the Pantanal.

The Pantanal’s ranches and towns suffered as a result of the clash: several of them were destroyed and the remaining cattle dispersed across the plains, becoming wild and skittish.

Territory after the Paraguayan War
Territory after the Paraguayan War

With the end of the conflict, the rural properties were once again divided and navigation from the Paraguay River to the Plata estuary was reopened.

5. PRESERVATION AND SUSTAINABILITY

In the 20th century, Mato Grosso emerged as a prosperous economy based on cattle ranching, and since then it has been slowly breaking its isolation from the rest of Brazil and the world.

In 1905, construction began on the Noroeste do Brasil railroad between the city of Bauru, in São Paulo, and Corumbá.

The landmark connecting Mato Grosso to the industrial centers in the Southeast, the road was privatized in 1996 and renamed Ferrovia Novoeste SA.

Another key moment in the integration of the Pantanal took place in 1913, when the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition carried out a zoogeographical reconnaissance of the lands of Brazil’s far west, with the support of the American Museum of Natural History.

The Rondon commission, after passing through the confines of Cáceres, followed the Paraguay River.

In addition to continuing the centuries-old tradition of scientific expeditions, its aim was to expand the national telegraph network and explore a vast territory that had hitherto been unknown.

In the 1930s, anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss focused on the ethnographic diversity of the Pantanal world: it was from his stay in the villages of the Bororos and Cadiuéus that he established the foundations of anthropology in the 20th century.

Despite the integration movements, the Pantanal remained almost untouched until the 1960s and 1970s, when the impact of the invasion of leather traders – in search of the coveted alligator leather – and predatory fishing became evident.

At the end of the 1970s, the federal government began to intervene in environmental issues.

In 1977, to facilitate its administration, the state of Mato Grosso was divided into two: Mato Grosso (MT), with its capital in Cuiabá, and Mato Grosso do Sul (MS), whose capital is Campo Grande. Over the course of the century, the arrival of immigrants to the region intensified, coming mainly from the south and southeast in search of land for cattle ranching and soybean cultivation.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the construction of the Brazil-Bolivia gas pipeline promises to provide energy for the installation of heavy industries around the Pantanal plain – a process that is already underway and whose intensification arouses the apprehension of environmentalists.

The Pantanal universe, although fragile, remains a vast expanse of uncertain frontiers, still full of mysteries and discoveries. Increasingly valued for its potential in natural resources, it was declared a World Natural Heritage Site by Unesco in 2000, making it one of the most sought-after destinations for ecotourists from all over the world.

Now the floodplain is preparing for a new challenge: to open itself up to organized tourism, which is increasingly establishing itself as an axis of preservation and economic sustainability.

History of the Pantanal in Mato Grosso, expeditions, occupation, territorial expansion and economic development.

See the following publications on the Pantanal of Mato Grosso:

  1. Watching Mammals and Reptiles in the Pantanal
  2. Fishing in the Pantanal – Best places, baits, methods and seasons
  3. Most common fish species in the Pantanal
  4. Bird watching in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  5. Most common bird species in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  6. Flora of the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  7. Fauna of the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  8. Mato Grosso Pantanal – Geography, Climate, Soil and Rivers
  9. History of the Mato Grosso Pantanal – Discovery and Economic Development
  10. Southern Pantanal Region
  11. North Pantanal Region
  12. Why go to the Pantanal in Mato Grosso?

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