Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Why Brazilians speak Portuguese not Spanish

Do you have your Brazilian history straight? I spent an afternoon at the National History Museum to get the sanctioned version.

The museum site itself started out as a fortress on a headland overlooking Guanabara Bay. These days a busy road and area of landfill separates it from the water, leaving no clue of its formerly strategic location. In its time the architectural complex has also been a prison for slaves and an arms depot. So much reinvention and evolution in one little corner, how can I hope to grasp the whole story?

At least the country is not that old, having only been "discovered" around 1500. It was an era of great maritime exploration. The Portuguese were establishing their own trade route to India and sent an Armada under the command of Pedro Alvares Cabral across the Atlantic. En route they happened upon Brazil, as one would. It's unclear whether this was accidental or intended. Either way, they landed in Porto Seguro, Bahia, where they encountered indigenous Indians (who had been around for tens of thousands of years...but that's a story for another day).

Historical highlights of Brazil's colonial and imperial history include:
  • 1549 Jesuit priests arrive to convert natives and get rid of indigenous rites and traditions like polygamy, cannibalism and incest. There are brilliant photos in the museum of the savage natives being taught calligraphy. What a trip.
  • 1808 The whole entire Portuguese court, including the Royal Family, ran away from Portugal to Brazil because they were scared of Napoleon Bonaparte. That's over 10,000 people. It's the only time in history that a country's leaders have abandoned their people and fled to a colony. The king eventually returned but his son remained.
  • 1822 Brazil gained independence from Portugal and became and imperial state with Dom Pedro I at the helm. Upon his abdication he was succeeded by his son Dom Pedro II
  • 1871 His daughter, Regent Princess Isabel signed the free womb law declaring all children of slaves would be born free from that date
  • 1888 Slavery definitively abolished. Brazil was the last country to do this.
  • 1889 Republican military coup deposed king and Royal Family banished from Brazil. General Deodoro da Fonseco became the country's first president.
I'll leave the history of the Republic for another day, after a visit to the Museum of the Republic in Catete.


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