Pizarro was uneducated and poor. He joined the army and found his way to the Caribbean islands in 1502. He had heard stories about the Inca kingdom as a land of silver and gold. He made many attempts to reach it from the Pacific. On one of his journeys back home, he was able to meet the Spanish king and show him beautifully designed gold jars of Inca workmanship. The king promised Pizarro the governorship of the Inca islands if he conquered it. In 1532, Atahualpa grabbed the throne of the Inca Empire after a civil war. Pizarro set a trap and captured the king. The king offered a roomful of gold as ransom for his release. But Pizarro did not honor his promise. The king was executed, and Pizarro’s men went on a looting spree. The cruelty of the conquerors provoked an uprising in 1534. The revolt continued for two years, during which thousands died in war and due to epidemics. In another five years, the Spanish had located vast silver mines in Potosi (Upper Peru, modern Bolivia). They made Inca people into slaves to work in these mines.
The Portuguese occupation of Brazil occurred by accident. A grand procession of ships set out from Portugal for India, in 1500. The captain, Pedro Alvares Cabral made a wide loop around West Africa to avoid stormy seas. To his surprise, he found that he had reached the coast of present day Brazil. This eastern part of South America was within the section assigned on the map to Portugal by the Pope. So, Cabral regarded it as a part of the Portuguese rule.
Brazilwood Tree: The Portuguese were more interested in trade with western India than with Brazil, because Brazil did not hold promise for gold. But they exploited one natural resource, i.e. the brazilwood tree. This tree produced a beautiful red dye. The natives readily agreed to cut the trees and carry the logs to the ships, in exchange for iron knives and saws. The natives regarded the iron articles as marvels.
This trade in timber resulted in fierce battles between Portuguese and French traders. The Portuguese won because they decided to settle in or colonise the coast. In 1534, the king of Portugal divided the coast of Brazil into fourteen hereditary ‘captaincies’. The Portuguese who wanted to settle were given land-ownership rights, and the right to make slaves out of local people. They were brutal to the local people.
In the 1540s, the Portuguese began to grow sugarcane and built mills to extract sugar. When the natives refused to work in the sugar mills, the Portuguese started kidnapping them to work as slaves.
The natives kept retreating into the forests to escape the ‘slavers’. In due course of time, there was hardly any native village on the coast. The native villages gave way to large, European towns. Plantation owners were then forced to turn to West Africa for slaves.
A formal government under the Portuguese king was established in 1549. Bahia/Salvador was its capital. Jesuits started to go out to Brazil, from this time. The Jesuits argued for a humane interaction with the natives. They ventured into the forests to live with the locals, and sought to teach them Christianity. They strongly criticized slavery. European settlers disliked the Jesuits.
The exploration of the New World had a lasting consequence for Europe, the Americas and Africa. From the fifteenth century, European maritime projects produced knowledge of continuous sea passages from ocean to ocean. The influx of gold and silver helped in further expansion of international trade and industrialization. Between 1560 and 1600, a hundred ships each year carried silver from South American mines to Spain. But Spain and Portugal did not get benefit of it, because they did not invest their huge income in further trade, or in building up a merchant navy. Instead, it was the countries bordering the Atlantic, particularly England, France, Belgium and Holland, that took advantage of the ‘discoveries’. The merchants from these countries formed joint-stock companies and sent out trading expeditions. They established colonies and introduced the products of the New World to the Europeans, e.g. tobacco, potatoes, cane-sugar, cacao and rubber.
The immediate consequences for the local people were the physical decimation of local populations, destruction of their way of life and their enslavement. On the eve of the arrival of the Europeans, the native population was about 70 million. It reduced to 3.5 million after about hundred and fifty years. Two major civilizations (Aztec and Incas) were completely destroyed. Demand for cheap labor increased with increase in new economic activities. As local people resisted enslavement, Africa was used as a source of slaves. Between 1550s and 1880s, over 3,600,000 African slaves were imported into Brazil. This was almost half of the total number of African slaves imported into the Americas.
In the early nineteenth century, European settlers in the South American colonies rebelled against Spain and Portugal to become independent countries. At present, Spanish and Portuguese are among the main languages in the South America. These are part of the Latin family of languages. Because of this, this continent is also called ‘Latin America’. The inhabitants are mostly native European (Creole), European, and African by origin. Catholic Christianity is the religion of most of the people.
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