Sunday, January 10, 2010

Brazilians Speak Portuguese

But the rest of South America speaks Spanish. Ever wondered how that came about? Read on.

In the last decade of the fifteenth century, the two great maritime powers of the age, Spain and Portugal, were engaged in a struggle for the riches of the Orient. The key to unlocking those riches was a sea route to the East. Since the time of Prince Henry the Navigator, dead by then for over thirty years, the Portuguese had been working the hypothesis that the discovery of The Route lay to the South, around the tip of Africa. They weren’t even sure there was a tip of Africa, but that was their theory and they were clinging to it.

Then, in 1488, they hit the jackpot. Bartolmeu Dias  (left) rounded the Cape of Good Hope – the “good hope” being an expectation that they’d found their way at last.
But before another Portuguese navigator, Vasco de Gama, was able to convert the hope to a proven reality Columbus was back from his first voyage.
Old Chris started spreading the word that he’d found The Route by sailing West, not South.
The Portuguese didn’t believe it for a minute. They thought (and time would prove them right) that Columbus had grossly underestimated the circumference of the earth. They weren’t, however, about to share their conviction with their rival, Spain.
But now, all of a sudden, the Spanish were laying claims left and right. And those claims were being supported by the Spanish-born Pope, Alexander VI, who was issued bulls giving dominion over the newly-discovered territories to Spain.

Concerned, King John II of Portugal opened negotiations with the Spanish Court.

Those negotiations culminated in the Treaty of Tordesillas (a small town near Valladolid, in Spain) in which it was agreed that a line of demarcation would be drawn 370 leagues (a league was about 4.2 kilometers) west of the Cape Verde Islands. It's the westernmost meridian (the one on the left) on the two maps shown on this page.
Any newly-discovered lands to the east of that line would be recognized as Portuguese territory, anything to the west as Spanish.
The Spanish figured they’d negotiated a good deal, because they now had the right to “the Indies”. And Portuguese were pleased because they were quite convinced that the Spanish were barking up the wrong tree.
The treaty was signed and ratified in 1494

In 1498, de Gama (left) landed in India.

Two years later, the fleet of Pedro Àlvares Cabral (right)  embarked on a follow-up voyage, carrying colonists and supplies to the new Portuguese colonies on the subcontinent. On board was de Gama’s pilot, who’d discovered doldrums off the coast of Africa on his previous voyage. He advised Cabral to try to pick up wind by sailing west before turning south.
Cabral did – and bumped into Brazil.
Look at the map.

See the way Brazil sticks out from the rest of the continent? And how close it is to Africa?
One of the first things the Portuguese did after setting foot on shore was to carry out some astronomical observations.
They quickly determined that the spot they’d landed upon was to the east of the line of demarcation. That made it Portuguese territory
And that’s why today, more than five hundred years later, Brazilians speak Portuguese.

Leighton - Monday


  1. Wow, that is so interesting! I never knew why but that makes sense now. You blog posts are always so interesting, I share them with my son, especially the one about Manaus.


  2. Obviously the events of the film "The Mission" came about much later. But that seemed to be about another reorientation of borders. How did that come about?

  3. Hi Ann Elle,
    Thanks for your kind words.

    Michael, I cast about for a succinct response to your question and found it here:

    Sorry, I don't know how to put a link on that. The URL pasted to two lines. You should bring it back to one when you paste it into your browser. Once you get there, scroll down to "Historical Basis" and then the following part, "Historical Inaccuracies". It will give you a complete explanation.
    There's quite a bit there, but the story goes on and on. In addition to the whole issue of the expulsion of the Jesuits, there were the long term consequences. Ultimately, they resulted in the War of the Triple Alliance where Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil all teamed up against little Paraguay. That was the bloodiest conflict in all of the history of South America. It was fought between 1864 and 1870 and makes for another fascinating story.
    For another time.

  4. Leighton -

    I looked up the reference on "The Mission", a painfully sad movie. In looking at the cast, I discovered that Daniel Berrigan had a part in the movie. Anyone who remembers Vietnam is familiar with Daniel and his brother, Philip. At one point the Berrigans were on the FBI 10 Most Wanted list because they had destroyed government property in demonstrations against the Vietnam war.

    Daniel Berrigan is a Jesuit priest. Philip Berrigan was a member of the Josephite Order of Catholic priests. They stole draft records and burned them in the parking lot outside a draft board in Maryland. They escalated later with a plan to kidnap Henry Kissinger but that plan fell apart. Both spent time in jail.

    The connection to the movie lies in their personal histories. Daniel joined the Jesuits immediately after graduating from high school. In the 60's, he worked with an interfaith group at Cornell University that became very involved in the peace movement.

    Philip Berrigan is the more interesting of the two, although the less well known. He was drafted during WW II and served in Europe. Two experiences steered him toward activism. The first was combat experience that, not surprisingly, made him vehemently opposed to war. The second grew from something that is still rarely mentioned nearly 70 years later. Philip was appalled by the treatment of black soldiers at boot camp in the south when even an army at war was segregated.

    After the war, Philip joined the Josephite Order of priests, a group founded after the civil war to serve the recently freed slaves.

    Dan Berrigan took the Jesuit commmitment to service and put a different spin on it. Andrew Greeley, author of too many books to count,including the Blackie Ryan mystery series, is a leading sociologist. Greeley wrote that groups who believed in coalition building, people like Dorothy Day, were successful in achieving some levels of social justice. The Berrigans used protest and confrontation but in the end didn't achieve any long term success in getting their goals implemented.

    In the movie, the natives are taught to fight, to confront the Portuguese soldiers when there is no hope of winning. Instead the survivors are forced from their homes and the lives they had built. The missionaries play a part in the destruction. The Berrigans moved outside the parameters of service as laid down by their religious orders. They may have accomplished much more if they had used coalition instead of confrontation.

    Dan Berrigan is still a priest and teaches at Fordham. Philip left the priesthood, married, had children, and died a few years ago.


  5. I think Mission is my very first movie my school brought us to see. We were in 7th grade. Unfortunately, it was my first time in a big dark place, I spent most of the time having vertigo, trying not to throw up and combat a headache. I never get to see the movie at all. But it was my first movie.

    Leighton, very fascinating story. I like history in just this small, interesting dose.

  6. Alexander IV was, of course, Rodrigo Borgia, loving papa of Lucrezia and Cesare, and hardly receptive to corruption at all.

    The Line of Demarcation: what an arrogant concept. All the vast world, divided between two teeny European countries.

    I always learn something interesting from your posts.

  7. Hi Leighton and Shoshana,

    I agree with Shoshana, that is a fascinating story, and like Shosahana, I also like history in concise and small doses.

    This blog with my morning coffee or Red Bull is a great way to begin the day.

    Thanks to all.


  8. One of the reasons the Portuguese occupied the other side of the Tordesilhas line is that the people that lived in Sao Paulo was very poor so they got inland looking for gold and emerald and diamonds, building new villages on their way...later on that vast amount of land had more Portuguese inhabitants so they made another treaty that draw a line roughly like today's Brazilian borders(except from the state of Acre acquired from Bolivia)and other smaller portions of land...
    This was land conquered with "braco forte". Nobody will take it from Brazil ;-)
    Google FORTE PRINCIPE DA BEIRA and see what the Portuguese built to protect the land they conquered...