Maritime Topics On Stamps :
Cabral 'discovers' Brazil!
500 Years ago,|
the Discovery of Brazil
The stamp to the right shows the siblings from Spain, Martin Alonso and
Vicente Yanez Pinzon. Both accompanied Columbus on his first voyage in
1492, serving as masters of the ‘Pinta’ and ‘Nina’, respectively.
Whereas Martin Alonso was eager to find gold on his own and on two
occasions deserted from Columbus’ fleet, Vicente Yanez followed
Columbus faithfully and took him aboard the ‘Nina’ following the loss
of the ‘Santa Maria’.
In the year 1499, Vicente Yanez Pinzon embarked on another voyage of
discovery with four caravels. On January 26, 1500 the expedition
reached the coast of Brazil near Cabo Sao Agostinho. Next, they
discovered the mouth of the Amazon before continuing northwards
towards Venezuela. Thus Vicente Yanez Pinzon was first to tread on
Brazilian soil, yet it is Cabral who is being celebrated as
‘Discoverer of Brazil’.
Following Columbus’ first voyage, the Spanish crown was eager to
officially claim possession of the newly discovered land. With the
help of a papal bulletin all territories west of a line 100 leagues
(483 km) off the shore of the Cape Verde Islands were declared Spanish
(1493). All territories to the east went to the king of Portugal. With
the Treaty of Tordesillas in June of 1494, this line was moved further
westward to a position 370 leagues (1,786 km) west of the Cape Verde
Islands (approximately 46 degrees Longitude West). Looking at the
souvenir stamp to the left, this line would run right between the
trees to the right of the stamp. The Pope confirmed the Spanish-
Portuguese agreement in 1506. Later on this treaty formed the basis of
the Portuguese claim for posession of Brazil.
In 1498 Vasco da Gama had discovered the seaway to India and returned
with valuable oriental goods and spices. One year later king Manuel I
again equipped a fleet of 13 ships and sent it to India. The mission:
To conquer more Indian territories, to establish a trading post and to
obtain more silk and spices. The nobleman Pedro Alvarez Cabral in
command was more soldier than sailor, as Vasco da Gama experienced
some difficulties with the Indian people. In addition the fleet
sported ten Man'o'wars of the Caravel type and three smaller vessels of the
Naos type. The 1500 strong crew consisted of nobles, sailors,
soldiers, priests, merchants, a doctor and a translator.|
Among them Barthelomeo Dias, who had discovered the Cape of the Good
Hope earlier on. On March 9th, 1500 the fleet left the port of Lisbon.
The voyage was overshadowed by many accidents. At the Cape Verde
Islands one ship of the fleet was already missing. To avoid the zones
of the calms, an area famous for weak or no winds at all, the fleet
sailed with the trade winds in southwesterly direction. The ships were
pushed even more westerly by the Equator Stream and on April 22nd,
1500 they sighted land.
Cabral named this land 'Terra de Vera Cruz', Land of the True Cross.
As the winds were quite strong the fleet searched for and found a safe
bay. The voyagers named this place Porto Seguro, Safe Port and dropped
their anchors. The stamp to the left depicts the landing embedded in a
map of Brazil.|
Going ashore the Portuguese met natives, who wore
nothing but their bows and arrows. Nevertheless they were friendly and
peaceful and, some days later, even came aboard the ships and slept on
the deck. The warlike and distrustful Cabral was completely puzzled by
these Indians and their trust. It seemed that they did not know fear,
war, treachery nor betrayals.
Cabral ordered to build a cross and claimed the area for Portugal (see
stamp to the left) as determined by the Treaty of Tordesillas (see
above). A mass was celebrated by the priests (right stamp) and all the
Portuguese kneeled and kissed the cross. During the mass watching
natives kneeled and imitated the strangers, and the priests supposed
that these simple people would be easy to convert to Christianity.
Pero Vaz Carminha was the official chronicler of this expedition. He
wrote a report about this discovery for king Manuel, and Cabral sent a
ship with this report back to Lisbon. The stamp to the left shows the
ship and the last page of this report.
After 10 days, on May the 2nd, 1500 Cabral and his fleet of eleven
ships left the discovered country. They sailed to the southern tip of
Africa, but near the Cape of Good Hope the ships were suddenly
surprised by a strong storm. They lost four ships and Bartholomeo Dias -
the man, who had discovered this cape, sunk unceremoniously together
with his ship in front of it. It was the second accident of this
voyage. They were down from originally 13 ships to only seven. On
July 16th, the fleet entered the port of Sofala to repair the ships.
The vessel of Diogo Dias, the brother of Bartholomeo Dias was
missing. This was the third accident. Now they were down to only
On September 13th, 1500, after a halt at Malindini the fleet reached
its originally planned destination, the port of Calicut. The muslim
sovereign welcomed the voyagers in a friendly manner and allowed them
to set up their trading post. But soon arguments ensued among the
merchants which erupted into bloody conflict. Many Portuguese were
massacred in the streets before the ships in the port went into
action. Cabral used the cannons of his ships to bomb the town and sank
15 other ships in the port after killing all their crew members.
Nevertheless the fleet abandoned Calicut and headed for Cochin. Here
the voyagers loaded their ships with silk, pepper, ginger and other
spices and on January 16th, 1501 finally left India.
Another ship was lost south of Malindini and some other reports even
speak of the loss of another two ships. Nearly half a year later, on
June 23rd, 1501 the fleet reached the port of Lisbon. Again, some
reports speak of six incoming ships and others of four ships. But
despites these losses, the sale of the cargo raised so much money that
the whole voyage was declared a success. King Manuel considered Cabral
for another command of an expedition to India, but choose Vasco da Gama
instead. Even today nobody knows why Cabral suddenly fell in disfavour
at the Portuguese court. You can see Cabral on both stamps above.
Now we come back to Brazil. The original name 'Vera Cruz' was used
only for a short time. King Manuel changed it to 'Santa Cruz', which
translates to 'Holy Cross'. Nevertheless the most common name,
'Brazil', took over shortly thereafter. It descended from the only one
good worthy of exploitation: the Brazil wood. This red wood type most
common in the coast forests was necessary to produce raw material for
colours needed by the textile industry. On the stamp you can see
Indians working on the trunks while the ships wait in the background.
In those days the Portuguese Crown was not very interested in the
colony because they did not find gold.
She distributed the coastal
region among deserved noblemen called 'Konquistadors'.There only
interest was to make the colony as profitable as possible. The
noblemen turned to cultivating sugar canes in great plantations and by
1600 Brazil has risen to the world's greatest sugar exporter of those
times. As the natives were not able to work under the harsh conditions
of the plantations, hundredthousands of slaves from West Africa were
shipped to Brazil.
On the stamp to the left you can see a friendly priest with a cross.
The missionaries were pretty busy. On the other stamp you see
enthusiastic sailors in the rig of a ship: 'land in sight'.|
beginning of the conquest of Brazil the native population consisted
of roundabout five million people. Today there are less than 300,000
left. What happened in between is disputed, but some historians called
it genocide as 'the sword, the cross and the hunger' worked hand in
hand. After the dark chapter of the sugar slave colonies the
exploitation continued. The natives were forced to work in gold mines,
at coffee plantations and in the jungle, where they had to plug India
Normally such facts will not be depicted on stamps or covers. The
postal authorities often turn to more 'friendly' pictures like
the enthusiastic sailors waving in the rig of a ship. Such symbolism
should be questioned by every motive collector. Never forget the story
behind the story.