The Indigenous peoples in Brazil (Portuguese: povos indígenas) comprise a large number of distinct ethnic groups who inhabited the country prior to the arrival of Europeans around 1500. Unlike Christopher Columbus, who thought he had reached the East Indies, the Portuguese, most notably by Vasco da Gama, had already reached India via the Indian Ocean route when they reached Brazil. Nevertheless the word índios ("Indians"), was by then established to designate the peoples of the New World and stuck being used today in the Portuguese language to designate these peoples, while the people of India, Asia are called indianos in order to distinguish the two peoples.
At the time of European discovery, the indigenous peoples were traditionally mostly semi-nomadic tribes who subsisted on hunting, fishing, gathering, and migrant agriculture. Many of the estimated 2,000 nations and tribes which existed in 1500 died out as a consequence of the European settlement, and many were assimilated into the Brazilian population. The indigenous population has declined from a pre-Columbian high of an estimated at below 4 million to some 300,000 (1997), grouped into some 200 tribes. A somewhat dated linguistic survey found 188 living indigenous languages with 155,000 total speakers. On 18 January 2007, FUNAI reported that it had confirmed the presence of 67 different uncontacted tribes in Brazil, up from 40 in 2005. With this addition Brazil has now overtaken the island of New Guinea as the country having the largest number of uncontacted peoples.
Brazilian indigenous people made substantial and pervasive contributions to the country's material and cultural development—such as the domestication of cassava, which is still a major staple food in rural areas of the country.
The origins of these indigenous peoples are still a matter of dispute among archaeologists. The traditional view, which traces them to Siberian migration to America at the end of the last ice age, has been increasingly challenged by South American archaeologists.
A migrant wave would have taken some time after initial entry to reach present-day Brazil, probably entering the Amazon River basin from the Northwest. (The second and third migratory waves from Siberia, which are thought to have generated the Athabaskan and Eskimo peoples, apparently did not reach farther than the southern United States and Canada, respectively.)
The traditional view above has recently been challenged by findings of human remains in South America, which are claimed to be too old to fit this scenario—perhaps even 20,000 years old. Some recent finds (notably the Luzia skeleton in Lagoa Santa analyzed by University of Sao Paolo Professor Walter Neves) are claimed to be morphologically distinct from the Asian genotype and are more similar to African and Australian Aborigines. These American Aborigines would have been later displaced or absorbed by the Siberian immigrants. The distinctive natives of Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of the American continent, may have been the last remains of those Aboriginal populations.
These early immigrants would have either crossed the ocean on boat, or traveled North along the Asian coast and entered America through the Bering Strait area, well before the Siberian waves. This theory is still resisted by many scientists chiefly because of the apparent difficulty of the trip. Some proposed theories involve a southward migration from or through Australia and Tasmania, hopping Subantarctic islands and then proceeding along the coast of Antarctica and/or southern ice sheets to the tip of South America sometime during the last glacial maximum.
The most conspicuous remains of pre-discovery societies are very large mounds of discarded shellfish (sambaquís) found in some coastal sites which were continuously inhabited for over 5,000 years; and the substantial "black earth" (terra preta) deposits in several places along the Amazon, which are believed to be ancient garbage dumps (middens). Recent excavations of such deposits in the middle and upper course of the Amazon have uncovered remains of some very large settlements, containing tens of thousands of homes, indicating a complex social and economical structure. derka
When the Portuguese discoverers arrived for the first time in Brazil, in April 1500 they found, to their astonishment, a widely inhabited coastland, teeming with hundreds of thousands of indigenous people living in a "paradise" of natural riches. Pêro Vaz de Caminha, the official scribe of Pedro Álvares Cabral, the commander of the discovery fleet which landed in the present state of Bahia, wrote a letter to the King of Portugal describing in glowing terms the beauty of the land. In fact however, the Portuguese colonizers had many armed conflicts with the indigenous peoples and had many indigenous people as allies.
At the time of European discovery, the territory of current day Brazil had as many as 2,000 nations and tribes. The indigenous peoples were traditionally mostly semi-nomadic tribes who subsisted on hunting, fishing, gathering, and migrant agriculture. For hundreds of years, the indigenous people of Brazil lived a semi-nomadic life, managing the forests to meet their needs. When the Portuguese arrived in 1500, the Indians were living mainly on the coast and along the banks of major rivers. Initially, the Europeans saw the natives as noble savages, and miscegenation of the population began right away. Tribal warfare, cannibalism and the pursuit of Amazonian brazilwood for its treasured red dye convinced the Portuguese that they should "civilize" the Indians (originally, Colonists called Brazil Terra de Santa Cruz, until later it acquired its name (see List of meanings of countries' names) from brazilwood). But the Portuguese, like the Spanish in their South American territories, had unknowingly brought diseases with them against which many Indians were helpless due to lack of immunity. Measles, smallpox, tuberculosis and influenza killed tens of thousands. The diseases spread quickly along the indigenous trade routes, and whole tribes were likely annihilated without ever coming in direct contact with Europeans.
Intending to profit from sugar trade, the Portuguese decided to plant sugar cane in Brazil, and use indigenous slaves as the workforce, as the Spanish colonies were successfully doing. But the indigenous people were hard to capture and, soon infected by diseases brought by the Europeans against which they had no natural immunity, began dying in great numbers. This, coupled with the prospects of increased profits from the African slave trade (at the time almost monopolized by Portugal and supplying the labour needs of both Spanish and Portuguese settlers in the New World), encouraged Portuguese settlers and traders to start importing slaves from Africa. Although in 1570 King Sebastian I ordered that the Brazilian Indians should not be used for slavery and ordered the release of those held in captivity it was only in 1755 that the slavery of Indians was finally abolished.
The Jesuit priests, who had come with the first Governor General to provide for religious assistance to the colonists, but mainly to convert the "pagan" peoples to Catholicism, took the side of the natives and extracted a Papal bull stating that they were human and should be protected.
Jesuit priests such as fathers José de Anchieta and Manuel da Nóbrega studied and recorded their language and founded mixed settlements, such as São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga, where colonists and natives lived side by side, speaking the same Língua Geral (common language) and freely interbred. They began also to establish more remote villages peopled only by "civilized" natives, called Missions, or reductions (see the article on the Guarani people for more details).
By the middle of the 16th century, Catholic Jesuit priests, at the behest of Portugal’s monarchy, had established missions throughout the country’s colonies. They became protectors of the Indians and worked to both Europeanize them and convert them to Catholicism. The Jesuits provided a period of relative stability for the Indians.
In the mid-1770s, when the power of the Catholic Church began to wane in Europe, the Indians’ fragile co-existence with the colonists was again threatened. Because of a complex diplomatic web between Portugal, Spain and the Vatican, the Jesuits were expelled from Brazil and the missions confiscated and sold.
By 1800, the population of Brazil had reached approximately 3.25 million, of which only 250,000 were indigenous. And for the next four decades, the Indians were largely left alone.
A number of wars between several tribes, such as the Tamoio Confederation, and the Portuguese ensued, sometimes with the natives siding with enemies of Portugal, such as the French, in the famous episode of France Antarctique in Rio de Janeiro, sometimes allying themselves to Portugal in their fight against other tribes. At approximately the same period, a German soldier, Hans Staden, was captured by the Tupinamba and released after a while. He described it in a famous book.
There are various documented accounts of smallpox being knowingly used as a biological weapon by Brazilian villagers that wanted to get rid of nearby tribes (not always aggressive ones). The most "classical", according to Anthropologist, Mércio Pereira Gomes, happened in Caxias, in south Maranhão, where local farmers, wanting more land to extend their cattle farms, gave clothing owned by ill villagers (that normally would be burned to prevent further infection) to the Timbirans. The clothing infected the entire tribe, and they had neither immunity nor cure. Similar things happened in other villages throughout South America.
The 1840s brought trade and wealth to the Amazon. The process for vulcanizing rubber was developed, and worldwide demand for the product skyrocketed. The best rubber trees in the world grew in the Amazon, and thousands of rubber tappers began to work the plantations. When the Indians proved to be a difficult labor force, peasants from surrounding areas were brought into the region. In a dynamic that continues to this day, the indigenous population was at constant odds with the peasants, who the Indians felt had invaded their lands in search of treasure.
In the 20th century, the Brazilian Government adopted a more humanitarian attitude and offered official protection to the indigenous people, including the establishment of the first indigenous reserves. Fortune brightened for the Indians around the turn of the century when Cândido Rondon, a man of both Portuguese and Bororo ancestry, and an explorer and progressive officer in the Brazilian army, began working to gain the Indians’ trust and establish peace. Rondon, who had been assigned to help bring telegraph communications into the Amazon, was a curious and natural explorer. In 1910, he helped found the Serviço de Proteção aos Índios (Indian Protection Service) (SPI) (today the FUNAI, or Fundação Nacional do Índio), the first federal agency charged with protecting Indians and preserving their culture. In 1914, Rondon accompanied Theodore Roosevelt on Roosevelt’s famous expedition to map the Amazon and discover new species. During these travels, Rondon was appalled to see how settlers and developers treated the indigenes, and he became their lifelong friend and protector. In 1952, as a final legacy, he established the Xingu National Park, in the state of Mato Grosso, the first Indian reservation in Brazil. Rondon, who passed away in 1956, is a national hero in Brazil. The Brazilian state of Rondonia is named after him. The remaining unacculturated tribes have been contacted by FUNAI, and accommodated within Brazilian society in varying degrees. However, the exploration of rubber and other Amazonic natural resources led to a new cycle of invasion, expulsion, massacres and death, which continues to this day.
After Rondon's pioneering work, the SPI was turned over to bureaucrats and military officers. They did not share his deep commitment to the Indians. The lure of reservation riches enticed cattle ranchers and settlers to continue their assault on native lands – and the SPI eased the way. Between 1900 and 1967, an estimated 98 indigenous tribes were wiped out.
But reports of mistreatment of Indians finally reached Brazil's urban centers, and in 1967, the military government launched an investigation. It soon came to light that the SPI was failing to protect native lands and that agency officials, in collaboration with land speculators, were systematically slaughtering the Indians by intentionally circulating disease-laced clothes. Criminal prosecutions followed, and the SPI was disbanded.
Also in 1967, in a seismic political shift, the Brazilian military took control of the government and abolished all political parties. For the next two decades, Brazil was ruled by a series of generals. The country's mantra was "Brazil, the Country of the Future," which the military government used as justification for a giant push into the Amazon to exploit its resources, thereby bringing Brazil to its rightful place among the leading economies of the world. Construction began on a transcontinental highway across the Amazon basin, aimed to encourage migration to the Amazon and to open up the region to more trade. With funding from World Bank, thousands of miles of forest were cleared with no regard for reservation lands. After the highway projects came giant hydroelectric projects, then swaths of forest were cleared for cattle ranches. As a result, reservation lands suffered massive deforestation and flooding. The public works projects attracted very few migrants, but those few – and largely poor - settlers brought new diseases that further devastated the native population.
According to Dr. Arysio Nuns Dos Santos, a Brazilian scientist, Federal University of Minas Gerals; there are Sri Lankan Tamil tribes living in the Brazilian Amazon Jungle who reached South America about 11,000 years ago, by nuclear DNA. This last photo indicates such ancient Sri Lankan tribe; "A Brazilian Indian couple." Dr. Arysio Nuns from the Federal University, also found the evidence of 'Gorani' language in the form of 'Bruhi' language during his long research work conducted in South America. 'Gorani' language was practiced thousands of years before by Tamil people in southern India. This dialect is still used in the Adi-Chandlur tribal area of Tamil land and shows similarity to the 'Bruhi' language being practiced in South American Brazil.