About São Paulo

Bandeirantes

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The first Brazilian village, São Vicente, was founded less as an intention to future settlements and more as a means to landmark the boundaries of Portuguese Brazil (read more here); shortly after that, the Spanish were already settling in Buenos Aires, by the bank of Rio de la Plata, which made inviable a Portuguese expansion toward the South.

In 1554, the Portuguese started to move West; the Jesuits founded a small school, and called it São Paulo (read more here). The jesuits had the intention to evangelize pagan souls, but the Portuguese were in search of riches; by this time, there were reports that the Spanish had found wealthy civilizations, with access to gold and silver; in 1545, the Spanish found Potosi, in Bolivia, a mountain which was almost entirely made of silver.
São Paulo didn't seem to have a bright future (indeed, it remained a small village until the 19th century). São Paulo was situated in a prairie, but it was isolated from the coast by the then very dense Atlantic Forest; even if São Paulo could produce sugar cane, it would be difficult to bring them to the coast; and the sugar farms of São Vicente were already in a difficult situation, having to compete with the much better positioned cities of Recife and Salvador (which explain why the farms didn't develop in the South as much as in the North).

São Paulo, home of bandeirantes

It was in this context that the figure of Bandeirantes came up.
These men wanted to become rich, and quick. They wouldn't bother cultivate any plantations, because the results were slow (this kind of people remained in the coast). They didn't fear the enormous risks of exploring unknown lands, fighting against unknown tribes, without barely any support.
They just wanted to become rich, preferably by striking another Potosi, with mountains filled with gold, silver or precious stones (Potosi is located at 20 degrees latitude South, very close to São Paulo, at 23 degrees).

Monument to Bandeiras
Monumento às Bandeiras
(Monumento to Bandeiras)

The bandeirantes organized expeditions, called either "entradas" or "bandeiras" (hence the name bandeirantes); the difference between them is that entradas were official expeditions funded by the Crown, and bandeiras were private enterprises funded by the bandeirantes themselves.
It was interesting to the Portuguese Crown to stimulate the bandeiras. The bandeirantes provided information useful for mapping the land, while not claiming any property rights. If any gold or precious stone was found, the only way to benefit from them would be to export to Portugal, and pay the respective taxes.
São Paulo was the main point of departure of bandeirantes. It was already in the interior lands. The jesuits provided spiritual help. And São Paulo was near the river Tietê; this river cuts all across the today state of São Paulo, and this was of utter importance for the bandeirantes, because Tietê provided a secure means to return to home.
The bandeirantes explored land all across Brazil, but they became closely associated with São Paulo. Until today, people refer to São Paulo as the "State of bandeirantes"; there are several monuments to bandeiras and bandeirantes in the State; the seat of the Government of São Paulo is called Palácio dos Bandeirantes.

Three stages: Indians, gold, slaves

In the 16th century, soon the bandeirantes realized that the gold hunting expeditions were not providing results. Bandeirantes were guided only by hopes and rumors; there were no geographers, astronomous or writers in the expedition (the leaders of bandeiras were themselves rough men); a bandeira could last for years, facing the hostile nature, wild animals, tropical diseases.
On the other hand, as the sugar cane farms were growing in the cities of the coast, there was a growing need of work power to move the "engenhos" (sugar producing units, based on human and animal traction).
Many bandeirantes quickly changed their focus. Several bandeiras were organized with the only purpose of hunting Indians and selling them as slaves. Not even the Indians who had previously colaborated with the gold hunting were saved. Bandeirantes carried firearms, while Indians had bows and arros. The action of bandeirantes explains why the Indians in São Paulo were decimated in a few centuries.
The bandeirantes had the complacency of the Jesuits; for them, an Indian enslaved was an opportunity to save a soul. Later on, however, even the Jesuits suffered with the greediness of the bandeirantes: the Spanish Jesuits had created large communities to evangelize Indians in the Spanish America, called Missiones; the bandeirantes attacked and destroyed several missiones, capturing the Indians; this is portrayed in the movie The Mission (a less known movie is The Bandeirantes, by French movie maker Marcel Camus, filmed in 1960).

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