The First March West

Composed of excerpts from Manoel Bomfim and Afonso de Taunay.

Sailors' initiatives were only to explore the seas and dominate coasts. Descending in Brazil, the Portuguese colonists would have remained within the limits of the first provinces, if the colonization at the influx of the land had not given rise to the brave people who made it possible to resist the formidable competitors - the French and the Dutch. A large part of those first provinces would have been lost. This did not happen because, with the legacy of Portuguese tenacity, the nascent Brazil had the good political initiation of a still healthy, explicitly unified and patriotically homogeneous Portugal. It was this influx, acting on a society of rural formation that produced the glorious Brazil of the 17th century. From then on, Portuguese initiatives were added to, or degraded, and everything that was done for the normal development of the new homeland was the work of Brazilians. Although more tenacious than the Spaniards, the Portuguese did not have the capacity to open up the vast interior. Once the time had passed for those who came to become feudal lords, those who left mercantile Portugal for Brazil stayed in the already populated coast, where there were possibilities of commerce... The prospect of gold discovered by the Paulistas1 was necessary for the waves of Portuguese citizens to come to the known hinterland of the mines. Frei Vicente already noted, in a tone of contempt, the failure of Portuguese action in penetrating the backlands: "They only know how to scratch the beaches like crabs...". For his part, Southey had to point out: "... no Dutchman from Pernambuco settled more than eight miles from the coast..." At another time, the same historian even noted that the bandeiras of penetration expeditions to the continent were organized by Brazilians, the Portuguese colonists being counted as an exception.

Revealed in the reaction against the French, the Brazilian nationality is affirmatively characterized by the victory over the Dutch. Thus we have a people that was born and explicitly defined itself in the uncompromising defense of the land against the foreigner. This would be enough to differentiate it and give it its own distinct existence within the human whole. However, this was not all, as an accentuation of national value. While those from the north showed Brazil already intangible, in the south, others, in another way, announced the new homeland, and strengthened and distended it, dominating the natives, incorporating them to the nascent nationality, clearing the continent, conquering all its interior, winning, for the Brazil that was made in them, the still virgin heart of South America. In truth, what the Paulistas did is unique in all America: neither Almagro, nor Cortés, nor Balboa himself... These are illusory adventurers, whose actions achieved nothing but sniffed gold. Pizarro's expedition to the "Eldorado", which takes him to the waters of the Amazon, is a trance of delirium, with no useful effects, since everything is summed up in ferocious and cruel courage, which falls away if the wealth ready to be harvested is not wolfed down. The Castilian intrepidity lacks the indomitable tenacity, the serene impassiveness in the face of the unknown. This, which characterizes the land conqueror, is, however, the most common in the value of the Brazilians who have made frontiers in both hemispheres, and taken the homeland from the beaches where the Portuguese stayed, to the breaks of the Andes.

Euclides da Cunha states that the "heroic tradition of the entradas constitutes the only original aspect of our history." The concept of the illustrious author of is not quite accurate. Brazil has to share this originality with two other of the largest territorial empires on the globe today: Russia and the United States.

During the reign of Ivan the Terrible (1533-1584), with the famous hetman Yermak, the Russians began the easy occupation of Siberia as early as 1578.

About sixty years later they reached the shores of the Pacific Ocean. In 1689, the treaty of Nertschink established the Amur as the Sino-Moscow border.

In 1720 the vast Siberian region with a surface area corresponding to four-fifths of the South American continent formed a single government, which included Kamtchatka and the Kurillas. In those vast expanses, however, nothing seriously opposed conquest. There lived a few tribes lost in the solitude of the steppes. Already in 1875, three centuries after Iermak's onslaught, the whole of Siberia numbered only five million souls.

And geographically, the obstacles to such a penetration were certainly much smaller than in Brazil. If the Siberian plains are affected by the excessive polar cold, the Brazilian interior opposed the invaders with the warmth of the temperature. And its salubriousness is much less than that of the Asiatic northern region. A warmth propitious to the scourges of entomological, arachnological and helminthological parasitic aggression, which is terrible and sometimes unbearable at every step. And this, without counting the invisible attack on man born from the transmission of microorganisms, generators of terrible diseases. The resistance of the primitive Siberians to Muscovite penetration was certainly incomparably less than that of the Native American nations of pioneer Brazil.

In the United States, as is well known, the movement for entry took place much later. In 1783, its territory was the coastal border of New England. Until 1802, the area of the Republic did not include the western Mississippi. The exploration of the Rocky Mountains only took place in 1802, when in 1750, Brazil had its frontier line defined by the treaty of Madrid and our pioneer cycle was already over. Dozens of years later, the North American cycle would begin. The white expansion would encounter resistance from the belligerent and extremely belligerent indigenous nations beyond the Mississippi, but it would have, as an instrument of conquest, an extraordinary superiority in weaponry, incomparably more efficient than that of its Brazilian precursors.

Whoever wishes to appreciate the value of the energies that spread Brazil across all the derivatives of the great central plateau of South America, and wishes to judge with truth (if this seems to be an excessive appreciation), should check the reasons - as explained by the North Americans - why they remained attached to the coast, until after the independence, in the late 18th century. Note that after the period of Dutch rule in New York (mid-17th century), the ancestors of the North Americans were the undisputed and quiet owners of the entire Atlantic coast from New Brunswick to Florida. They did not advance westward, the people of today justify to us: "... many rivers gave access to the interior, but none, except the Hudson, was navigable for a great distance, for the Alleghanies were, in fact, a formidable obstacle... and the settlers took a long time to cross them...". Let's transpose these difficulties to the paulistas: the rivers they used were frankly not navigable, neither for strong ships, nor for those of low tonnage, nor for simple canoes; the bandeirantes went along them in short stretches, having to carry on their backs, in the intervals, the canoes they rode in, stopped at every moment by dozens and dozens of waterfalls and rapids, forced to pass from one river to another, to another... In more than two centuries, the future Yankees had not climbed the Alleghanies; before thirty years, the people of São Vicente had climbed Paranapiacaba and Cubatão, and dominated the Piratininga plateau, from where they then left to spread the colony over all the backlands, even those already occupied.

These things are remembered, not to increase value, nor to boast superiority. There is in the North Americans, by the very conditions of their formation, such enviable superiority that their little colonial extension in no way diminishes it. There is no such intention; but it is impossible to consider this case without highlighting Brazil's exceptional power of expansion. Today, the Great Republic expands into an immense country - larger than Brazil: yet how did the American nation grow? By buying, buying... or, already powerful and rich, by advancing on weak neighbors, tormented internally by repeated revolutions, and further weakened still by the affront from abroad. In contest with the English, after independence, North America had to stay what it was. It grew because the French, incapable then, and the Spanish, degraded, gave it for little money, the best lands in the world, already cleared, with a population made (in Louisiana), and thus, in less than half a century, the United States could be, in everything, a great nation. Thus, when the Yankees began to expand, they took pleasure in it, and it did not cost them nearly quadrupling their original size. There were, no doubt, some hard aspects in its advance toward the much-dreamed-of Wild West, in living dispute with the natives still existing in the backlands... They were great moves, many times; but everything was nothing more than conquest by a developed nation, powerful and rich, making use of all the wonderful military resources of the time. What the bandeirantes Paulistas did, in 1650, in insignificant numbers, with their poor personal means, without any other valid resources besides their indefectible courage; this clearing of the continent, the North Americans only attempted in the 19th century. And their successes seem like epic feats. There is the equestrian statue of the general, a fearsome victor over Sioux and Apache...

We cannot help thinking that there, using the means that the century and the whole wealth of the nation allowed, they were fighting against tribes partly demoralized by three centuries of proximity to the whites, while the Paulistas, deprived of everything, were facing nations still in full force, only close to the whites, or admirably organized by the Jesuits2, in agglomerations such as those of Guaíra - of 200.000 souls, according to calculations repeated by historians.

Think about it; in 1750, the traffic to the mines of Cuiabá was already absolutely systematized; however, the whole way was still made from Piratininga to there, having, as stops, six or seven couples of farmers, in intervals of hundreds of miles - of raw nature, only traveled by the sertanistas and the enemy tribes. In 1797, the engineer sergeant-major Ricardo Franco de Almeida Serra reported: "The trip from São Paulo to Cuiabá is along the Tietê, Paraná, Pardo, Camapuão, Coxim, Taquari, Paraguay, Porrudos and Cuiabá rivers, going down some and up others, where more than 100 waterfalls are passed... It comprises almost 2000 miles of navigation, in which six months are spent": The officer engineer failed to mention that long and rough miles were made with the native enemy on the side, or on the back, shooting from the bush, well hidden, the travelers, who had no better guarantee, nor other safeguard, than the undaunted bravery. The minister - Lopo de Saldanha - who even seems to us an exception of lucidity, in his people of those times, when looking for the possible remedy for the miserable situation in the south, orders them to resort to the Paulistas "who with only the provision of gunpowder and lead have penetrated and discovered most of Brazil. The Portuguese minister was evoking a living tradition: as soon as the Paulistas were mentioned, the wave of natives and Castilians shuddered. Note, now: the formidable expansion of the Paulistas is of an effect that imposes itself on the other colonizers of the continent. Garay, who by thought elevated and defended his Paraguay very much, makes it very clear that the great success of the Jesuit reductions was due to the need to maintain, in that form, the tribes and territories against the activity of the paulistas. Nor did they avoid what, in Guaíra, was a tremendous disaster for Spaniards and Jesuits, namely the annihilation of villages containing provincial population, not to mention the civilian settlements that were also destroyed. And that's how the whole of upper Paraná was incorporated into Brazil. Bandeirantes, men, before whom, despite how many fiercenesses and crimes are imputed to them, the good soul of Southey - the defender of the Jesuits their enemies - does not hold back, and overflows with admiration, in long praise. For this historian, there has not been, throughout the Americas, more bravery, patriotism and intrepidity: "Men of indomitable courage, and all proof of suffering ... The Paulistas were tireless in their explorations... A race of men even more daring than the first conquerors, while all activity and enterprise was extinct in the Spaniards of Paraguay".

It was up to Augustin de Saint-Hilaire, in 1830, to define to the world, in synthetic concepts, the clear impression of admiration, close to the amazement that had seized him. "After one knows the details of the endless journeys of the old paulistas, one is like stupefied and led to believe that these men belonged to a race of giants".


1 The bandeirantes were Brazilian explorers, conquistadors, slavers and settlers in Colonial Brazil of Portuguese origin (but often interbred with natives). They were responsible for Brazil's great expansion westward and acted mostly independently from the Portuguese Crown, having even fought a war against it (War of the Emboabas). They were also known as Paulistas, as they mostly originated from the São Paulo region, as sertanistas and as tropeiros. These expeditions were known as bandeiras, entradas or tropas. Despite contrary claims, the Paulistas were part of a broader Brazilian tradition and never developed into a people separate from Brazilians. They always acted under Brazil's banner and the phenomenom of the bandeiras also occurred in other regions.

2 The Jesuits are a Roman Catholic order. During the South American colonization they formed partly autonomous colonies called "reductions", where they protected the natives from slavery and converted them to Catholicism. They often clashed with the royal governments and with the Portuguese and later Brazilian settlers.

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