History of sugarcane in the colonization of Brazil

History of sugarcane in the colonization of Brazil
History of sugarcane in the colonization of Brazil

Sugarcane originates from distant Papua (New Guinea), where it was already known about 12.000 years ago, and later cultivated in South Asia, it was the sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum L.) brought by the Arabs from Africa to Sicily and from there to the southern coast of Spain.

Among the Portuguese, the cultivation of sugarcane began in the Algarve, at the time of D. João I (1404), and was later transported by Infante D. Henrique to Madeira Island, which turned it into the great impeller of the progress of the Portuguese. colonial world then.

From a product sold in European pharmacies in the XNUMXth century, integrating the Arab cuisine that for three centuries dominated the Iberian Peninsula and tried to develop the planting of sugar cane in Granada, sugar arrived in Portugal “as a medicine and a treat, thrifty in people rich”.

The planting of the first sugarcane seedlings on the island of Madeira dates from 1425, brought from Sicily by order of the Infante D. Henrique and planted in the center of Funchal, near Terreiro da Sé.

The cultivation of sugarcane soon developed and, in 1455, production was estimated at 6000 arrobas. In 1498, two years before the discovery of Brazil, Dom Manuel, King of Portugal, already set exports from the islands – Madeira, Azores, São Tomé and Cape Verde – at 120.000 arrobas.

At the end of the XNUMXth century, confectionery in Portugal was already centuries old, with its honey cakes, alfenim, alféloa, originating in Arab cuisine.

It is from this period that the Courts of Évora represented against the buffalo trees that, among other damages, made “the children cry and ask their parents for more money to buy the tinsel from her”; hence Dom Manuel's prohibition, punishing the transgression with imprisonment and scourging, of the sale of this sweet to be carried out by men.

Division of Captaincies
Division of Captaincies

The sugar produced on the island of Madeira had become known in Europe at the time.

The episode in which Captain Simão Gonçalves da Câmara, a Madeiran well known for his outbursts of liberality, is well known, sent as a gift to Pope Leo X (1513-1521) a sculpture in alfenim with all the cardinals of the Sacred College in life size.

Although officially introduced in Brazil by Martin Afonso de Souza, in 1532, sugarcane had already taken over the Pernambuco landscape since the beginning of colonization, even at the time of Cristóvão Jacques’ trading post, on the Itamaracá Channel (1516).

In 1526, the payment of duties on sugar from Pernambuco already appears in the Lisbon Customs, according to information revealed for the first time by FA Varnhagen.

Mill House - Colonial Brazil.
Mill House – Colonial Brazil.

With the implantation in Brazil of the hereditary captaincy system, the territory of the captaincy of Pernambuco was donated to Duarte Coelho Pereira, who had rendered relevant services to the crown in the conquest of the Indies.

The territory that constituted the primitive Captaincy of Pernambuco was established when D. João III was donated to Duarte Coelho Pereira, on March 0, 1534 and included:

Sixty leagues of land... which will begin in the São Francisco River [...] and end in the river that surrounds the entire island of Itamaracá, to which I now name Rio Santa Cruz... , and the said river where Cristóvão Jacques made the first house of my factory and fifty paces from the said factory house by the river along the beach will be placed a pattern of my weapons, and from said pattern a line will be cast to the west by the inland and the land of said line to the South will belong to said Duarte Coelho, and from said pattern down the river to the bar and sea, Duarte Coelho will also be with him half of said river from Santa Cruz to the side of South and thus enter the said land and demarcation of the entire said Rio de São Francisco and half of the Rio de Santa Cruz by the aforementioned demarcation, through which rivers it will serve its neighbors, on one side and on the other, and there being on the border of the said demarcation some islands, hey by be m that belong to the said Duarte Coelho, and annex to this its captaincy, the islands being up to ten leagues from the sea in front of the said demarcation by the East line, which line will extend from the middle of the bar of the said Rio de Santa Cruz, cutting from wide along the coast, and they will enter the same width through the hinterland and inland, as far as they can enter and be of my conquest...

Half of the southern bar of the Itamaracá channel – which King João III called the “river” of Santa Cruz –, up to fifty paces beyond the place where the primitive factory of Cristóvão Jacques existed, demarcated the northern limit of Pernambuco; to the south, the captaincy's limit was the São Francisco River, in all its width and extension, including all its islands from the mouth to its source.

Thus, the territory of the Captaincy of Pernambuco inflected towards the Southwest, following the course of the river, reaching its sources in what is now the State of Minas Gerais.

The Hereditary Captaincies
The Hereditary Captaincies

To the North the King established a line to the West, inland, to the limits of his conquest; that is, those defined by the Treaty of Tordesillas (1493), that is, the lands located beyond 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands.

The borders of the Duartina captaincy were roughly established, whose sixty leagues in front covered the entire current state of Alagoas and ended in the south, on the São Francisco River, bordering the current state of Minas Gerais.

Thanks to the possession of this important watercourse, in all its length and breadth, the territory of Pernambuco grew in the Southwest orientation, exceeding in its width by far the sixty leagues established in the donation letter.

According to FA Varnhagen, the captaincy of Duarte Coelho had twelve thousand square leagues, constituting the largest territorial area among all that were distributed by King D. João III.

Arriving at the Feitoria de Pernambuco on March 9, 1535, Duarte Coelho was accompanied by his wife, Brites de Albuquerque, his brother-in-law Jerônimo de Albuquerque, and some families from the north of Portugal who came to try their luck in the development of agribusiness. sugarcane.

It was up to this “founder of a nation” to implement, in a systematic way, the bases of the sugar agroindustry. He brought new sugar manufacturing techniques with the arrival of sugar mills and specialized masters from the island of Madeira and, above all, the importation of Jewish capital to finance the enterprise.

The first sugar mill in Pernambuco, Engenho Velho de Beberibe, was built right in the early years of colonization by Jerônimo de Albuquerque, under the invocation of Nossa Senhora da Ajuda.

This was the first of hundreds that followed, giving rise to an economy based on the cultivation of sugar cane, founded by the grantee Duarte Coelho, who, for this purpose, sent for sugar masters from the island of Madeira. , importing slave labor from Africa, where the first blacks of Guinea came from.

The culture of sugarcane gave new colors, customs, smells and flavors to the landscape, thus contributing to the development and overcoming of Pernambuco land, whose beginnings were seen by Oliveira Lima as follows:

The captaincy of Duarte Coelho was the one that prospered earlier, although at the cost of a lot of expense and effort, because, in addition to the unusual personal qualities of the donee, the land was recommended for its excellence. Hot climate, but tempered by the gentle winds of land and sea, so talked about Piso, the wise doctor of Maurício de Nassau. Abundant and regular rains throughout the area below the hinterland, refreshing the fields, thickening the rivers and preventing droughts. Rugged terrain without too much, gradually descending from the plateaus or boards of the interior to the leafy forests, in which the vigor does not overcome the beauty, and to the fertile floodplains bathed by many rivers, and expiring in the mangroves or swamps of the sea.

In Pernambuco, the “land of massapê”, to use Gilberto Freyre's expression, was the ideal ground for the foundation of this culture that for more than four centuries dominated the economy of an entire region.

With its mills spread across the floodplains of the Capibaribe, Beberibe, Jaboatão and Una rivers, the Duartina Captaincy saw the sugar civilization flourish.

For the first grantee, Nova Lusitânia, as he insisted on calling Pernambuco, would never be a simply extractivist colony, as the Lisbon orders wanted in the first half of the XNUMXth century, but a plantation land, the embryo of what became civilization. of sugar.

This product was the economic support of the great civilizing march of Pernambuco, responsible for the colonization of the entire North of Brazil.

Sugar was the great economic driver of these conquests; sugar which, in 1583, was produced by 66 sugar mills.

The economic situation of the captaincy at the beginning of the 1564th century was, in the words of Friar Vicente do Salvador (c. 1636 – c. 39-XNUMX), one of the best, with the most frequented port in Brazil and an income of twenty thousand cruzados, “ apart from pau-brasil and sugar rights”.

Thanks to the profits made with sugar, those from Pernambuco carried out the colonization of Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte, extending their conquest to Ceará and Pará, and their decisive participation in the incorporation of Maranhão into the national territory.

It was a Pernambuco man, for his participation in the effort to incorporate Maranhão, whose territory was occupied by the French, who proudly added this toponym to his family name, a practice that extended to all his descendants.

I am referring to Jerônimo de Albuquerque who, born in Olinda in 1548, son of Captain Jerônimo de Albuquerque, brother-in-law of the first grantee, with D. Maria do Espírito Santo, an Indian of the Tabaiares tribe, came to conquer Maranhão from the French, then commanded by Monsieur de la Ravardière, Daniel de la Touche.

By signing the capitulation term, on November 2, 1615, when adding his name, Jerônimo de Albuquerque added the toponym Maranhão.

History of sugarcane in the colonization of Brazil


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