Some of the earliest human remains found in the Americas, Luzia Woman, were found in the area of Pedro Leopoldo, Minas Gerais and provide evidence of human habitation going back at least 11,000 years. The earliest pottery ever found in the Western Hemisphere was excavated in the Amazon basin of Brazil and radiocarbon dated to 8,000 years ago (6000 BC). The pottery was found near Santarém and provides evidence that the tropical forest region supported a complex prehistoric culture. The Marajoara culture flourished on Marajo in the Amazon delta from 800 CE to 1400 CE, developing sophisticated pottery, social stratification, large populations, mound building, and social complex formations such as chiefdoms.
Around the time of the Portuguese arrival, the territory of current day Brazil had an estimated indigenous population of 7 million people, mostly semi-nomadic who subsisted on hunting, fishing, gathering, and migrant agriculture. The indigenous population of Brazil consists of several large indigenous ethnic groups (e.g. the Tupis, Guaranis, Gês and Arawaks). The Tupi people were subdivided into the Tupiniquins and Tupinambás, and there were also many subdivisions of the other groups.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the boundaries between these groups and their subgroups were marked by wars that arose from differences in culture, language and moral beliefs. These wars also involved large-scale military actions on land and water, with cannibalistic rituals on prisoners of war. While heredity had some weight, leadership status was more subdued over time, than allocated in succession ceremonies and conventions. Slavery among the Indians had a different meaning than it had for Europeans, since it originated from a diverse socioeconomic organization, in which asymmetries were translated into kinship relations.
The land now called Brazil was claimed for the Portuguese Empire on April 22, 1500, with the arrival of the Portuguese fleet commanded by Pedro Álvares Cabral. The Portuguese encountered indigenous peoples divided into several tribes, most of whom spoke Tupi-Guarani languages, and fought each other. Although the first settlement was founded in 1532, colonization actually began in 1534, when King Juan III of Portugal divided the territory into fifteen private and autonomous captaincy colonies in Brazil.
However, the decentralized and disorganized tendencies of the captaincy colonies proved problematic, and in 1549 the Portuguese king restructured them in the General Government of Brazil, a unique and centralized Portuguese colony in South America. In the first two centuries of colonization, the indigenous and European groups lived in a constant war, establishing opportunistic alliances to obtain advantages among themselves. By the middle of the sixteenth century, cane sugar had become the most important export in Brazil, and slaves bought in sub-Saharan Africa, in the West African slave market (not only those of the Portuguese allies of their colonies in Angola and Mozambique), had become its largest import, to cope with sugar cane plantations, due to the growing international demand of Brazilians. sugar.
In the late seventeenth century, sugarcane exports began to decline, and the discovery of gold by the bandeirantes in the 1690s would become the new backbone of the colony’s economy, fostering a gold rush Brazilian that attracted thousands of new settlers in Brazil from Portugal and all the Portuguese colonies around the world. This increased level of immigration in turn caused some conflicts between the newcomers and the former settlers.
The Portuguese expeditions known as Bandeiras gradually advanced Portugal’s original colonial borders in South America to approximately the current Brazilian borders. In this era, other European powers tried to colonize parts of Brazil, in incursions that the Portuguese had to fight, especially the French in Rio during the 1560s, in Maranhão during the 1610s, and the Dutch in Bahia and Pernambuco., during the Dutch-Portuguese war, after the end of the Iberian Union.
The Portuguese colonial administration in Brazil had two objectives that would guarantee the colonial order and the monopoly of the richest and largest colony in Portugal: keep under control and eradicate all forms of rebellion and resistance from slaves, such as the Quilombo de Palmares, and repress all movements for autonomy or independence, such as the Conspiracy of Mines.