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Portugal to Asia and Brazil

It was Portugal's Vasco da Gama, who arrived at Columbus's destination: India. Da Gama sailed around Africa's south coast and set up a trading post on its east coast, at Mozambique — the beginning of what would become a great colony. At Mombasa, da Gama had a cold reception, but at Malindi the reception was friendly. Malindi was a prosperous town of about 6,000 with black Africans and Indian traders ruled by Arabs. The Sheik of Malindi and da Gama signed a trade agreement, and da Gama hired a guide for the voyage to India. He dropped anchor at what was already a center of trade, the city Kozhikode (today Calicut, in India) on May 1498, ten months after having left Portugal.

Da Gama returned to Portugal in 1499 with a load of spices which brought him a huge profit. From his king he received the rank of an untitled noble, a pension and property. Portugal then sent a fleet of thirteen ships to make another voyage around Africa. The voyages to Asia came into conflict with Muslims in the Mid-east. In 1507, the year following the death of Columbus, the Portuguese captured the prosperous port city and trading center of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf – a city that was partly Arab and mostly Persian. And in 1509 the Portuguese defeated a large Muslim fleet in a naval battle in the Arabian Sea off the northwest coast of India, near Diu.

In 1510 Portugal established themselves at Goa on India's western coast, a place that had acquired wealth from trade in horses and the only port in Asia that had adequate dockyard facilities. Gao also had timber for shipbuilding, and it had been a point from which Muslims had been debarking for pilgrimages to Arabia. The Portuguese on the coast at Gao were little noticed while rival armies elsewhere in India contending for power. The king of Gujarat in northwestern India saw wars at sea between Muslims and the Portuguese as merchant affairs and of no concern of his. And the Islamic Ottoman Empire was busy expanding into the Balkans against Belgrade, Hungary, and Vienna and warring with Persia.

In 1514 the Portuguese reached Indonesia, the center of spice production. And while China's emperor didn't care who dominated the seas of southeast Asia, the Portuguese captured a fort at Malacca, which gave the Portuguese control over the narrow waterway that was passage farther east. A Portuguese ship arrived at Canton (Guangzhou) in southern China in 1517, and other Portuguese ships followed. China's imperial authorities were annoyed by the Portuguese not behaving with proper deference, and the Chinese saw the Portuguese as crude, barbaric and as thieves. A fleet of Portuguese ships arrived at Guangzhou in 1519. The fleet's captain disregarded the country's laws and customs and built a fort in Tamão Island under the pretext of threat from piracy. A Chinese official was attacked, and disappeared Chinese children were said to have been kidnapped by the Portuguese to be sold slaves or roasted for eating. In September 1521 the Portuguese at Canton were ordered to leave China. Several Portuguese were killed on the city's streets, and the Portuguese fleet had to fight their way out to sea.

Brazil and the Tupi People

Back in the year 1500, while heading to the East around the southern tip of Africa, ships under the command of Pedro Álvares Cabral were blown off course, westward across the 1,625 miles of ocean to a land where they found people called Tupi, and without consulting the Tupi they claimed the area for the Portuguese Empire.

The only export by the Portuguese from the area would be a red colored dyewood called brazil, and "Brazil" was what Portugal's colony in America would be called.

At the invitation of Portugal's king, Manuel I, the continent's coastline was explored by a Florentine explorer, financier and map-maker, Amerigo Vespucci. A German map-maker, Martin Waldseemuller, drew from Vespucci and created a map that was published in 1507 and popular across Europe, and to honor Amerigo Vespucci he named the continent as "America."

The Tupi had arrived where the Portuguese did centuries before and had expelled people who had been there before them. The Tupi were hunter-gatherers and beginning agriculturists. They grew corn, sweet potatoes, beans, peanuts, tobacco, cotton, peppers, pineapples and papaya. These and their handicraft items including baskets were an abundance for them, and they found prestige and joy in exchanging or giving things away.

Like other peoples, the Tupi had been engaging in revenge for the sake of justice, and they had allowed petty conflicts and imagined offenses to escalate into wars. Their religion contributed to their wars by creating a demand for captives to sacrifice to their gods. A romantic view of the Tupi was inhibited also by the Tupi custom of eating from the bodies of those they sacrificed to their god — a belief that they were ingesting the character of the person whose flesh they were eating — a ritual cannibalism. Tupi warriors rejected eating the flesh of people for whom they had contempt.

The Tupi's spiritualistic interpretation of events had led them at first to accept the Portuguese. They believed that the Portuguese had arrived by the magic of their supreme god, the creator Mahyra, and they believed that it was their duty to be generous and helpful to the Portuguese — despite what they saw as Portuguese ugliness.

The Portuguese were more interested in their commerce with India, China and the East Indies and didn't establish a settlement in Brazil until 1532, at Sao (Saint) Vicente. The Portuguese endeared themselves to one side or another in the frequent wars of the Tupi, or they incited one side against another in extending their own authority. And the Tupi suffered from the diseases that the Portuguese brought: smallpox, whooping cough, tuberculosis and measles. The Tupi asked why they, Mahyra's chosen people, were suffering so much, and they wondered whether their god Mahyra had died. Christian missionaries provided them with an answer. They told the suffering that they were being punished for their sins and that, if they didn't convert, God in heaven might cast them to hell forever. And believing that gods dwelled in places, some Tupi ran from the Portuguese God into the continent's interior.

The Tupi saw the Portuguese as grasping and perpetually distressed. The Portuguese saw the Tupi as lazy. Instead of enslaving Tupi, in 1532 the Portuguese started shipping African slaves to Brazil.

In 1549 the Portuguese founded their colonial capital city on Brazil's northern coast: São Salvador da Bahia (Salvador). By now their original colony at São Vicente had a population of around 5,000. In 1554 the Portuguese founded São Paulo. Meanwhile, French Protestants – Huguenots — running from persecution had founded a settlement at what was to be called Rio de Janeiro, and in 1560 the Portuguese drove them out and began building their own settlement there.

In 1554 the Portuguese had also started to move inland. In 1558, wars between the Portuguese and Tupi were described by Father Nóbrega as putting an end to cannibalism and the "hellish mouth that has eaten so many Christians." Another Jesuit, Father José de Anchieta, to be called the "Apostle of Brazil," in his poem "De Gestis Meni de Saa" wrote of the Portuguese destroying Tupi villages and fields and wrote of the "heroic deeds" of soldiers "in the immense wilderness."

CONTINUE READING: Luther and Heresy

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