Portuguese frontiersmen settled southern and western Brazil looking for precious metals. The heavy concentration of Brazilian Indian populations in these regions meant there was plentiful slave labor for these frontiersmen, but it also attracted Jesuit missionaries who sought to protect the Indians they wished to convert. The resulting conflict between the Jesuits and the settlers climaxed when the priests were violently expelled from the area.
Although the Portuguese discovered Brazil in 1500, only after three decades did they begin organizing settlements along its coast, ranging from the equator to the tropic of Capricorn. The southernmost of these settlements was São Vicente. Behind it rose mountains that undulated into a vast, hilly plateau stretching into the interior. Portugal’s settlement policy failed, however, to achieve a significant Portuguese presence along the coast, which was increasingly coveted by other European powers. Therefore, in 1543, the Portuguese crown established a formal government for Brazil with a capital at Salvador. It also sent missionaries to evangelize the natives and incorporate them into the Portuguese domain.
The Portuguese missionaries belonged to a new order of Roman Catholic clergy, the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. They were committed to countering the advances of the Protestant Reformation. The Jesuits had appeared at the same time that the Catholic countries of Portugal and Spain were discovering and settling new territories in Asia, Africa, and the Americas and believed they could compensate for the losses of Catholicism in Europe by advancing their religion in the rest of the world. The first Jesuits in Brazil encountered Indian populations along the Atlantic coast, down the Amazon River Valley, and over the southern plateau that drained into the vast Paraná and Paraguay River system. The latter region, well watered and subtropical, had a particularly dense native population, mostly Guaraní- and Tupi-speaking Indians.
Two of the leading Jesuits first to evangelize in Brazil were Fathers Manuel de Nóbrega
São Paulo also attracted Portuguese settlers seeking their fortunes in the region. Since few Portuguese women accompanied these adventurers, the men mated with local Indian women, rapidly creating a large mixed-race population known as mamelucos
Convinced that Portuguese America must have the same wealth of gold, silver, and precious gems that was being found in Spanish America, the mamelucos organized themselves in bands to explore the interior. On horseback, by foot, and in riverboats, they explored and settled vast reaches of inner Brazil. Organized like medieval troops around a bandeira, or flag, these groups came themselves to be called bandeiras, and their ventures into the interior were known as entradas (entries). Eventually, the frontiersmen who joined these groups came to be known as bandeirantes and, since they originated from São Paulo, they were also identified as paulistas. A famed bandeirante noted for his pursuit of precious gems was Fernão Dias,
A crucial problem of colonial Brazil was an insufficient labor supply for its plantations. The most profitable crop grown in the colony was sugar
A standard bandeira consisted of several hundred men, including a few dozen Europeans, many more mamelucos, and often a majority of Indians, who were accustomed to a warrior life and enslaving each other. These bands traveled using the many rivers that coursed from São Paulo, especially westward and southward. Along the banks of these rivers, the paulistas would raid Portuguese Jesuit aldeias and Spanish Jesuit reducciones. The greatest concentration of Indians was in Paraguay, which during the colonial period included much of what is today the central area of the Southern Cone countries of South America. The Jesuits estimated that several hundred thousand Indians were taken from the reservations in raids over a period of decades. In 1629, one of the most formidable of the bandeiras raided an area known as Guaira, east of the central Paraná River. Headed by a paulista official, António Raposo Tavares,
The Jesuits vehemently opposed these raids. A leading voice of this opposition was a rising young Brazilian Jesuit orator, Father António Vieira
In response to the bull, the municipal councils of São Paulo and São Vicente, supported by the populace and other clergy, drove the Jesuits from the cities. By August, all Jesuits were evacuated from the region. The expulsions stayed in effect until 1642 in Santos and 1653 in São Paulo. Crucial to reversing the expulsions was the reduced pressure during the 1640’s for Indian enslavement. During this period, Portugal regained control of its slave-trading posts in Africa, and this source of slaves, to which the Jesuits were much less opposed, restored a steady labor supply to Brazil.
The expulsion of the Jesuits by the paulistas was brief but highlighted a dramatic socioeconomic development in colonial Brazil. Slave labor had grown to be of such vital importance to the colony that its economic necessity took priority over any moral or cultural considerations. Over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Brazil would become the largest importer of African slaves of any country in the Americas or in history.
The drive of the bandeirantes for mineral wealth and territorial dominance became a vital force in determining the borders of Brazil, eventually making it the largest country in South America. Tavares led an expedition of thousands of miles from 1648 to 1652 that crossed westward to Paraguay, arched along the eastern edge of the Andes, and then coursed down the Amazon to the mouth of the river.
The most consequential entrada occurred in 1695, when a son-in-law of Fernão Dias discovered gold