The Americas 61.3 (2005) 373-400
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The Entradas of Bahia of the Sixteenth Century
Alida C. Metcalf
When Pero Magalhães de Gândavo returned to Portugal from Brazil in the 1570s, he wrote two accounts about life in Brazil, both of which extol the possibilities for poor Portuguese colonists.1 In one treatise he proclaims that as soon as a colonist arrives, no matter how poor, if he obtains slaves "he then has the means for sustenance; because some fish and hunt, and the others produce for him maintenance and crops; and so little by little the men become rich and live honorably in the land with more ease than in the Kingdom."2 In his history, published in 1576, Gândavo adds that many colonists in Brazil own 200, 300, or even more slaves.3 Although the Portuguese had pioneered the development of a slave trade from West Africa and despite the fact that the sugar plantations of Bahia and Pernambuco would become vast consumers of slaves from Africa, the vast majority of the slaves that Gândavo refers to were Indian, not African. But, in the 1570s, when Gândavo confidently predicted that even the poor could acquire slaves in Brazil, the reality was that the coastal regions around the Portuguese colonies, with the exception of a few friendly Indian villages, [End Page 373]
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had been left "unpopulated by the natives."4 Three powerful factors challenged the future of Indian slavery. One was epidemic disease, such as the smallpox epidemic of 1562 that was described as so terrible that in two or three months 30,000 died.5 The second was a Jesuit campaign against Indian slavery, which resulted in a new law signed by King Sebastião in 1570 that clearly stated that the Indians of Brazil were free.6 The third was a rapid increase in the number of slaves arriving in Bahia and Pernambuco from [End Page 374] Africa. But while it might seem that high mortality, legal sanctions, and the increase of African slaves would limit the future of Indian slavery, it was not to be so. Instead, Indian slavery expanded dramatically after 1570, due to the emergence of a new, trans-continental, slave trade. Facilitated by mixed-race mamelucos, this trade brought Indians from the sertão (inland wilderness frontier) to the coastal plantations. This is the first manifestation of a phenomenon that would repeat itself in later centuries in São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Goiás, and Amazonia. Known as bandeirismo, it would make Indian slavery an integral part of the colonial Brazilian economy and society.7 The expeditions from Bahia and Pernambuco from 1570 to 1600 descended thousands of Indians for the sugar plantations of the Bahian Recôncavo, reinforcing Indian slavery in spite of high mortality, royal laws to the contrary, and the increase of African slavery.
The enslavement of Indians in Brazil by the Portuguese began almost immediately after 1500 within the legal framework developed for the African slave trade. The fifteenth-century slave trade between African ports and Portugal clearly laid the groundwork for Indian slavery in Brazil. By the first years of the sixteenth century, not only did an ever increasing West African slave trade (estimated annually at 2,650 West African slaves from 1500-1509) create powerful economic interests, but the well-developed justifications for slavery, as well as legal principles certified by the Pope, that underlay the trade in Africa encouraged an immediate and unreflective adoption of slave trading in Brazil by Portuguese merchants.8 References to a trans-Atlantic trade in Indian slaves from Brazil to Europe appear in documents from the earliest decades of contact.9 But more commonly, [End Page 375] unscrupulous Portuguese slave traders used deception and trickery to capture Indians, whom they sold as slaves to colonists in Brazil.10
As in Africa, the enslavement of Indians in Brazil was considered to be legal only through a Just War or through the exchange known as resgate. The principle...