By Brazil will celebrate its 500-year anniversary in April. With the
focus on history and rediscovery, the commemorations will not only recognize the
accomplishments Brazil has made on a national level but also on an international level.
Many countries have contributed to the development of Brazil and the focus of the
Portugal was well known in Europe for their ship building and technological advances in
the early 14th century. With the invention of instruments such as the astrolabe and the
compass, that would allow a ship to travel for extended periods of time and accurately
calculate the location of a ship on open water, the design of the ships became an
important component of Portuguese exploration.
In order to withstand rough water and difficult conditions on the Atlantic Ocean the
first ships were constructed with long masts and rounded sails that were extremely tall to
provide the most resistance. The sails were positioned so that the ship would be easy to
maneuver in the event of attack. For this same reason cannons also were incorporated in
the first designs. To accommodate the demand for commercial use, the builders eliminated
the passenger quarters to create more room for cargo and artillery.
Portugal was the only country in the 1500s to use wood for shipbuilding. The bow, the
stern and the hull were built from hard pine. The sleeping quarters were made of chestnut
and oak, however rarely were the inner walls constructed of this soft wood because it
would not withstand the temperate ocean waters. Early in the 16th century more exotic
woods were used as ships were bringing back wood from the New World. A wood shortage in
the mid-16th century, which compromised the quality of the ships caused King Don João II
to begin regulating the farmers who supplied the wood.
Beyond the monetary and social implications, there were practical purposes for
Portuguese ship construction and technical advances. Life at the time was difficult in
Europe due to long winters. The explorers sought spices from India to preserve food and
counter the problems of hunger that resulted from the harsh conditions. Due to the
discovery of the all water route to India by Vasco da Gama in 1498, the Portuguese
referred to the frequently traveled route as "Carreira de India" (Race to
India), which insured exclusive Portuguese travel between Europe and India.
The constant contact with a new culture and people became a means for explorers to not
only increase commercial wealth but also develop cultural ties. Lisbon soon became one of
the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe as explorers returned with news of foreign lands
and products that were unlike anything in Europe. The ships were considered "floating
fortresses" that carried enormous numbers of people and an abundance of resources. In
addition to being a means for exploration, social and economic development the ships were
a sign of man’s technical capacity.
Pedro Álvares Cabral prepared for the voyage to the New World on March 8, 1500 to
establish new Portuguese territories, in addition to a scheduled trip to India before he
returned to Portugal. On April 23, 1500 native Brazilians living in the region that is now
considered Porto Seguro in the Bahia were suddenly surprised by the arrival of 13 ships
off the coast. The fleet arrived the night before at the mouth of the Cai River where they
encountered the native Brazilians for the first time. The fleet continued along the coast
until they reached a sheltered reef off the beach of Coroa Vermelha in the Bay of
Cabrália. On April 26, 1500 Father Henrique Soares conducted the first mass of the New
With the coming of the 500-year anniversary and Brazilian interest in rediscovery, the
country has combined efforts with Portugal to commemorate Pedro Álvares Cabral’s voyage
to the New World through an array of mediums. Various projects planned as part of the
commemoration of Brazil’s discovery have been organized by the National Commission of the
Commemoration for the Discovery of Brazil, the body responsible for all event
coordination, in both Portugal and Brazil. Artists and musicians in the two countries will
celebrate the anniversary through creative presentations of works reflecting on the
various eras in Brazilian history and the international influences, which shaped Brazilian
culture. Incorporating the ship building skills that the Portuguese perfected in the late
15th century, Portugal and Brazil are reconstructing the ships that were part of the
original armada to relive the voyage that took place 500 years ago this spring. In
addition, authors and historians alike have become involved in the uncovering of the first
documents of the courageous explorers of the early 1500s and compiling the fragile
chronicles into readable texts.
Reflecting on the historical and cultural formation of Brazilian identity over the last
500 years, the National Commission seeks to stimulate the debate surrounding the discovery
of Terra de Vera Cruz (Brazil’s original name) by Portuguese explorers, the ethnic and
cultural assimilation which occurred, the narratives and interpretations of Brazilian
culture today and the elements that characterize the major artistic movements in Brazil.
At a time when borders are diminishing and customs among states are homogenizing the
affirmation of Brazil’s international presence depends on the ability of the country to
recognize and value it resources.
Most importantly the Commission wishes to distinguish Brazil as a country of cultural
placidity, receptive to multiple influences and traditions, in an era of ethnic disputes
and religious differences throughout the world. In an effort to express Brazilian identity
and integrate the two diverse countries, the Commission plans to build a library dedicated
to Brazil’s 500 year history, promote theatrical, musical and cinematic presentations,
organize conferences and seminars, and construct a memorial in honor of the first
encounter Portuguese discoverers had with native Brazilians. Contributing to the projects
are multiple Brazilian state and federal universities, public and private associations.
The Memorial of the Encounter will be located in the area adjacent to Coroa Vermelha,
in Santa Cruz Cabrália county, in the state of Bahia. The memorial is in remembrance of
the encounter between the Portuguese and the native Brazilians in 1500, which marks the
initial starting point of an expanding nation characterized by ethnic and cultural
pluralism. Particular focus of the project was given to the efforts to provide better
living conditions for the Pataxó Indians that currently live on the land. Combined
efforts of the Commission and the federal government have designated the surrounding areas
as federal reservations composed of residential villages, schools and a community center.
The complex features three modules: a monument symbolizing the union of the original
peoples in Brazil, a museum of reproduced pieces, historical documents and multimedia
resources of the first contact between the explorers and natives with a focus on Pataxó
Indian villages. In addition to national expositions, various countries such as Germany,
Poland, Holland, Spain and Italy were chosen to hold expositions in their respective
countries under the title "Descobrindo o Brasil" (Discovering Brazil) as part of
an international tribute to the 500 year anniversary.
The project centers around creative literature that emphasizes the contributions made
by each country to the multiethnic and cultural matrix in Brazil. The construction will
occupy an area of approximately 400 square meters consisting of panels of photographs,
original and reproduced plays and historical documents. The exhibits in each country will
be accompanied by cultural expressions of Brazil’s history featuring performances by
Denise Stoklos and Antônio Nóbrega, movies and photography, academic forums and musical
concerts. One of the projects features Portuguese artists describing the vision of Pero
Vaz de Caminha in a painted masterpiece, which will later circulate throughout both
Included in the artistic representation, an ambitious exposition of Brazilian visual
art has been evolving over the last two years to be unveiled in São Paulo in early May.
Composed of 6,000 pieces including objects, paintings and sculptures, the aim of the
exposition is to reacquaint Brazilians with their heritage. For example, the curator,
Nelson Aguilar, has compiled rare Tupinambá pieces from the 16th century, normally on
display in museums in Belgium and Denmark.
Divided into nine parts including Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian Art, Pop Art, Art from
the 17th, 18th and 19th Century, the exposition is representative of the major artistic
movements in Brazil . The segment featuring valuable and prestigious Afro-Brazilian art,
is the first of its kind in Brazil. The segments on the 17-18th centuries represents
Brazil’s colonial history through religious sculptures of such artists as Manuel Inácio
da Costa and Antônio Francisco Lisboa, better known as Aleijadinho.
A diverse segment representing Pop Art captures the tendencies of the era to escape
European culture. By contrast, works featured from the 19th century represent vast
European influences on artists of that era. Overall, the project takes an interesting look
at the historical contributions made by artists in Brazil under the influence of religions
and cultures from various foreign countries.
During the era of Portuguese discovery, various explorers wrote of their experiences
and descriptions of what each explorer encountered in the New World and the struggles they
overcame. In addition, it was customary for authors in the early 1500s to include chapters
about Portuguese advances in ship construction. Of the hundreds of accounts that were
written few incorporated accurate illustrations of the sailing vessels which brought the
first Portuguese explorers to Brazil.
Lisuarte de Abreu wrote Este Livro (This Book), which provides one of the first
accounts of the discoverers travels, complete with actual drawings. Although little is
known about Abreu, he did travel to India as part of the Armada of 1558 under Captain D.
Constantino de Bragança who later became the Vice-King of the Portuguese state in India.
Like many authors of the era, Abreu used accounts taken from the explorers making trips to
India and about the Portuguese discoveries in the New World.
In addition to Este Livro, Memória das Armadas (Memories of the Armadas)
incorporates drawings into the accounts of the early travelers and appears today in the
Academy of Science in Lisbon. Although Este Livro contains much more historical
information regarding the ruling class of India, Memória das Armadas is noted for
the extensive illustrations, which include Vasco da Gama’s fleet in 1498, when the first
water route was discovered, and the fleet of Rui Gomes da Cunha in 1566. Such illustrated
documentation of the Portuguese discovery and travels to the Orient are an important
source of historical information. In addition to travel schedules and reports of their
successes and failures in the New World, remarkable works of art can be found in the two
With the recent discovery of the seven remaining chronicles of Pedro Álvares Cabral’s
voyage to Brazil in 1500, modern day authors and historians are diligently compiling books
based on historical resources and the original documents to commemorate Brazil’s 500 year
anniversary. Among the various books to be published in recognition of Brazil’s increasing
interest in "re-discovery", journalist Eduardo Bueno has uncovered a younger
generation of readers interested in his adventure novels about the discovery period in
Brazil. In addition to Bueno’s contemporary compilations, historian Susana Miranda has
transcribed the explorers’ original chronicles into books that focus on both Cabral and
Tomé de Sousa, who discovered the city of Salvador, Bahia. The first seven chronicles
were originally edited by Fontoura da Costa in 1940. With the complete set of fourteen
chronicles currently being edited, readers will be able to finally compare the voyages of
Pedro Álvares Cabral and Tomé de Sousa.
Although journalist Eduardo Bueno did not consult the original documents, Bueno wanted
to tell the history of Brazil as a great adventure yet maintain the accuracy of the
historical content from various other sources. As part of a collection entitled Terra
Brasilis about colonial Brazil he has written an adventure romance, A Viagem do
Descobrimento (The Voyage of Discovery). In addition to A Viagem do Descobrimento,
his book Náufragos, Traficantes e Degredados is about the period from 1500 to 1530
that was considered the three "lost" decades in Brazil’s history because
Portugal left few documents behind.
Currently he is finishing O Rei, a Fé, e a Lei (The King, The Faith, The Law)
about the fleet of ships that first set sail for Brazil. Before the year 2000 Bueno also
plans to publish A França Antártica (Antarctic France) about the initial French
invasion of Rio de Janeiro, Os Piratas do Sertão (The Pirates of the Backlands)
about thieves and an account of Holland’s invasion.
Initially when the collection was proposed to local schools he expected few responses,
however as students discover his work they realize that history can be an interesting
subject and reception has been shocking. Currently, Náufragos, Traficantes e
Degredados has already sold over 45,000 copies since October and O Rei, a Lei e a
Fé is scheduled to be published in June. Bueno has concluded that his work will not
cover Imperial Brazil or the Republic. In addition, he excluded the era of Inconfidência
Mineiraan ill-fated 18th-century independence movementbecause
author Kenneth Maxwell has already covered the subject in his books. Aside from the sales,
many schools have adopted his work to complement their lesson plans.
Due to the fragile state of the original fourteen documents from the first trip made to
Brazil, only historians who are granted authorization are allowed to consult the documents
that are kept in the archives of the Torre do Tombo in Lisbon. In preparation of the two
books commemorating the 500-year anniversary various adaptations were made to lessen the
difficulties in understanding the grammar, punctuation and word usage of that era.
According to a spokesperson for the National Commission, the books will serve as
fundamental resources for those interested in Pedro Álvares Cabral’s voyage and the
arrival of Tomé de Sousa, who founded the city of Salvador in the Bahia.
The chronicles about Cabral’s voyage, believed to have been written between September
and November 1499, described the construction of the ships. In addition, there were
details of what the explorer brought with him on the journey such as food, ammunition,
clergymen. Cabral received instructions from the King on how to maneuver the fleet to
maintain a constant course before and what needed to be done by the discoverer of Brazil
to establish the new land as Portuguese territory. There were also instructions and plans
for constructing a trading post in India on his return voyage.
Among the original documents there were letters Cabral received from the King
proclaiming that he was the official commander of the armada and from Vasco da Gama for
the trip to India. One of the most important documents was a letter written in a mixture
of Spanish and Portuguese by Master João Manoel who was the doctor on the ship. The
letter was the first description of the constellation Cruzeiro do Sul (Southern Cross)
made by a European, which referred to the combination of stars as "Las Guardas"
(The Protectors). The constellation was fundamental to Portuguese navigation south of the
equator. Another document was a letter from Pero Vaz de Caminha to the King. This famous
account described the first encounter with the native Brazilians in detail and the land
that the explorers discovered.
The five texts considered to be fundamental in Sousa’s voyage include a letter written
in 1548 by Luis de Goas to King John III. In the letter he recommends building a fort to
protect Brazil from the French. Due to the state of abandonment they had encountered there
was great danger of losing the territory to the French. Tome de Sousa’s administration
foresaw the creation of a fortress and a village in the Bahia de Todos os Santos, however
they also had to manage the Judicial and Treasury functions. In addition, one of Sousa’s
obligations was to build a ship to defend the coast and explore the rivers. Later, Sousa
wrote letters to the King confirming French presence by the administration and describing
the construction of a ship to patrol the coast.
A literary representation of the discovery will also be available as part of the
program outlined by the Commission. Two volumes as part of the collection Intérpretes
do Brasil (Interpreters of Brazil) will be published this month. Uniting integral
texts of eleven principal interpretations of Brazilian reality, including titles such as Raízes
do Brasil (Roots of Brazil) by Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, O Abolicionismo
(Abolitionism) by Joaquim Nabuco, Populações Meridionais do Brasil (Southern Populations
in Brazil) by Oliveira Vianna and Formação do Brasil Contemporâneo (Brazil’s
Contemporary Formation) by Caio Prado Junior. Each work will be preceded by a critique by
a contemporary intellectual. In the area of Brazilian literature, the Commission is
organizing a cyclical conference called Descobertas do Brasil (Brazilian Discoveries)
comprised of twelve speeches by intellectuals about the constitution of Brazilian culture.
The conferences, beginning in Brasília will continue to be presented in various capital
cities in Brazil and abroad. Other editorial projects include a re-edited CD-ROM of the
collection Brasiliana, comprised of three CDs and a book explaining the various cultural
works for researchers and a 500 Year Library. The library unites seventy fundamental works
produced in Brazil over the last five centuries, including classics and presentations of
interpreted Brazilian culture. In addition, the celebration will include six editions of
the Portuguese magazine Oceanos with articles focusing on Brazil’s history, various
expositions and activities in Portugal.
MUSIC, THEATRE AND CINEMA
Before the Portuguese discovery of Brazil, the nation already had a vast musical sound.
With the arrival of the Portuguese, Brazilian music was transformed by a twelve-note
chromatic scale, which brought out a tonal harmonic system based on the combination of
notes. The majority of lyrical themes and texts also came from traditional Portuguese
songs and rhythms, which later were influenced by African cultural. However the poetic
form and lyrics in addition to various Portuguese instruments are still predominant in
Pieces such as Suíte Brasil, composed by Francisco Mário and Descobrimento
do Brasil (Brazil’s Discovery) by Heitor Villa-Lobos depict the importance of the
discovery of Brazil in both Brazil and Portugal, respectively. Divided in ten movements,
Mário has created a musical rendition of Brazilian history. The first movement,
"Paraíso Perdido" (Lost Paradise), remembers a Brazil before discovery and the
piece continues through various eras to modern day. Across the ocean, The Metropolitan
Orchestra of Lisbon, under the direction of Roberto Minczuk and featuring Portuguese
singer Elizabeth Matos, will perform a piece entitled Descobrimento do Brasil
(Discovery of Brazil), composed by Heitor Villa-Lobos, in honor of Cabral’s discovery,
during President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s visit to Portugal in March.
Included in this programming is a musical performance featuring Brazilian popular music
as well as O Guarani by Carlos Gomes, which will be presented live by the Sofia
National Opera in the Pavilhão Multiusos and broadcast throughout Portugal. In addition,
musical performances by Antônio Nóbrega will feature songs depicting the myths, facts
and imaginary stories popular throughout Brazil’s history. The music chosen will represent
a wide variety of rhythms, musical styles and instruments. Nóbrega will also incorporate
theatrical and circus dance in the show, Embolador, which will be performed in many
Brazilian states and internationally in contributing countries.
A presentation of cinema, Festival dos 500 Anos (500 Year Festival), occurring in
Brasília is comprised of national and international works in a retrospective show to
define Brazilian cinematography. In addition, an award, Prêmio Brasil 500 Anos, will be
given to films and documentaries that best explore themes related to national identity.
Actress Denise Stoklos has been designated to produce a theatrical performance featuring
voices throughout history based on texts by Gregório de Matos, Padre Antônio Vieira and
Castro Alves. Stoklos itinerary includes capital cities in Brazil in addition to
performances in the various countries contributing to the commemorations.
VOYAGE INTO THE PAST
In a combined effort, Portugal and Brazil will reenact the voyage that took place 500
years ago in March. The ship that Pedro Álvares Cabral sailed, will be constructed in
Porto de Aratu, Salvador, and will serve as a floating museum upon arrival in Brazil.
Although modern day security requirements limit the construction of an exact replica, the
new model does not compromise the character of the original ship. The ship is scheduled to
sail from Porto de Aratu to Coroa Vermelha, in Brazil, one day before the official
ceremony in Salvador. It will then join the fleet of two replicas of the "bacalhoeiro",
a type of ship that was originally constructed in the 19th century, and two replicas of
the original "caravela", originally constructed in the 15th century, that
will sail from Lisbon Portugal on March 9, 2000. All of the ships are scheduled to arrive
in Salvador on April 15, 2000 at which time the historical event will be broadcast to
hundreds of countries around the world. Included in the reenactment will be a celebratory
mass and the President of the Republic will receive a letter, written by the winner of a
national contest, with instructions for establishing a new nation.
The project, budgeted at $3,000,000 has been approved by the Commission and developed
by Brazilian naval officials with assistance from the Institute of Memorabilia in Rio de
Janeiro. At the end of the celebration the ship will be exhibited in the Cultural da
Marinha, a marine museum in Rio de Janeiro, for six months at which time the ship will
travel up the coast of Brazil from port to port. Approximately 30,000 children in
Aporvela, Portugal, have already visited the caravela Boa Esperança, which will
accompany the ship that carried Cabral to Brazil.
The arrival of a European in Brazil in 1500 was made possible through technological
advances made by the Portuguese, the efforts of many courageous explorers and majestic
ships. What later developed was a country that has become a center for cultural pluralism
and a Mecca of expression. To honor the upcoming 500-year anniversary, Portugal and Brazil
have devised an ambitious plan to create a celebration that will symbolize the historical
accomplishments of the country and remember the courageous voyage. The commemorations will
focus on efforts to rediscover Brazil and to provide an important message to the rest of
Special thanks to my "editors".
Jamie Sundquist is a freelance Brazilian Portuguese translator living in the
Chicago area. As a former exchange student in Brazil, a University of Wisconsin-Madison
graduate with a degree in Brazilian Literature and a frequent traveler to Brazil, her
background is extensive in the language and culture. For further information regarding
this article, please e-mail your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org
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