The colonization process in Brazil was a consequence of the already developed process of maritime expansion carried out by the Portuguese. During the 15th century, the Portuguese occupied strategic regions in Asia and Africa that could be used as a focus for commercial expansion. Subsequently, the control of these areas had opened space for the first colonizing practices to be undertaken in the Azores and Madeira Islands.
The conquest of trade routes with the East, which until then had been the main area of commercial flow for European nations, made the discovery of Brazilian lands not of much interest to the Crown. In the first thirty years of colonization, the only activities were limited to extracting the brazilwood in the coastal regions of the country. This enterprise had the collaboration of the Indians, who in exchange for some products and utensils, felled and stored the wood.
However, the repudiation of some nations against the Iberian monopoly on the exploitation of American lands would transform this situation. Nations like France and the Netherlands demanded the adoption of the principle of uti possidetis so that the colonial territories were properly demarcated. At the same time that they protested, these nations threatened the Portuguese hegemony in Brazilian lands by sending expeditions to recognize the Brazilian territory.
Portugal Was The Most influential European Nation in Colonizing Brazil
Such threats caused the Portuguese colonial policy to be modified. In 1530, the expeditionary Martim Afonso de Sousa founded the first colonial exploration center on the coast of the current State of São Paulo. This first occupation gave rise to the Vila de São Vicente, which, later on, would have the company of other occupation centers located in the Planalto de Piratininga region. Many of the first inhabitants were exiled and deserters who were marginalized on the Old Continent.
From then on, the colonial administration had a first distribution system organized through the division of the territory. This division gave rise to the so-called hereditary captaincies, large tracts of land that were donated to nobles, bureaucrats or influential traders within the Portuguese Court. Whoever received some captaincy was called a donor and would have to comply with the principles established by two legal documents: the Letter of Donation and the Charter.
This first system of control and settlement of the Brazilian colony ended up not having great results. With this, the Portuguese decided to implant a new administrative system more centralized and composed of direct representatives of the metropolitan power. It was from there that the so-called government-general arose, a governor appointed by the king should take measures in favor of the creation of villages, the economic exploitation of the lands and the fight against pirates and smugglers.
To handle so many functions, the governor-general had the support of a staff of officials. To deal with questions of justice, there was the figure of the Chief Ombudsman; the financial resources raised by colonial activity and the collection of taxes was the responsibility of the chief provider; and the captain-general fought off invaders and criminals in the colonial environment. The first city chosen to house the general government was Salvador, considered the first capital of Brazil.
In addition to having the Crown’s interest, colonization also developed thanks to the action of the missionaries of the Order of Jesus. The Jesuit priests came to Brazil in order to catechize the native populations and, through their action, ended up giving a religious justification to the presence of the Portuguese in distant lands. The spread of Christianity ended up supporting all exploitation and expropriation practiced at that time.
In this way, one of the longest periods in Brazilian history began. Over the course of four centuries, the Portuguese have undertaken profitable businesses at the expense of a centralized administrative structure geared to the exclusive interests of the metropolis. Many of the social, political, economic and cultural features assumed by Brazil today are the result of this long historical period.