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Book Tells Story of a Pre-Cabral Brazil, Seeking to Put an End to Stereotypes

08/07/2017 - 09h57

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RICARDO BONALUME NETO
FROM SÃO PAULO

The number of stereotypes a student would have "learned" concerning the natives who originally lived on Brazilian soil is strongly correlated to how long ago they went to school.

It was fairly common for students to hear about a country that was once an uninhabited forest. What's worse, students were taught that natives were primitive savages who lived in the Stone Age and were too lazy to do the work that was carried out by Portuguese settlers, thus prompting the Portuguese to bring in African slaves.

Many of today's classrooms still hold similar views. Journalist Reinaldo José Lopes - who writes a biweekly column on Sundays, runs the "Darwin and God" blog and was formerly the editor of Folha's "Science and Health" section - wrote "1499 - O Brasil antes de Cabral" (1499 - Brazil before Cabral) in order to tackle the issue.

Distorted depictions of natives emerged as early as April 22, 1500. That was when Pedro Álvares Cabral and his team of Portuguese settlers first stepped on Brazilian soil, in the Porto Seguro region in the state of Bahia. It was in the letters of Pero Vaz de Caminha, Brazil's first chronicler, that such views were described.

"They are brown and naked and they don't use anything to cover up their private parts. They carried bows and arrows in their hands. They were all on their boats and in position; and Nicolau Coelho gave them the signal to lower their weapons. And so they did".

That is how Caminha describes their first transatlantic encounter in a letter addressed to the king of Portugal.

Other places in Latin America display monumental buildings, proving how powerful pre-Columbian civilizations were. Such was the case of the Aztecs in Mexico, the Mayans in Central America and the Incas in Peru, not to mention other lesser known civilizations.

Nothing of the sort was encountered in Brazil; no local Indiana Jones uncovered a hidden temple in the Amazon rainforest. But that doesn't mean that sophisticated people never lived in Brazil before the Portuguese.

There may not have been as many minerals around to erect the pyramids and fortresses that other civilizations managed to build. But analogous forms of many of the ritualistic, religious and symbolic elements that such megastructures had or conveyed could also be found on Brazilian soil.

Mounds of dirt replaced pyramids, enabling the natives of Brazil to conduct similar rituals.

Translated by THOMAS MATHEWSON

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