After Columbus reached America in 1492, the
Portuguese and the Spanish agreed to divide
the new world into two halves by an imaginary
longitudinal line at 370 leagues west of the
Cape Verde Islands. According to this agreement
every land found east of the imaginary line
belonged to Portugal and west to Spain. The
Portuguese navigator Pedro A. Cabral landed
in Brazil on April 22nd, 1500. At that time there
were numerous native populations all over South
America. The indians living in Brazil, however,
were not socially organized as, for example,
the Incas in Peru.
At the beginning, the European colonizers were only interested in quick profits. But as they
didn't find anything, they began to exploit a red-colored wood from which dye was obtained.
They called this wood 'pau-brasil' (Brazil-wood or literally blazing wood) and named the
country after it. The extractive exploitation of this wood was Brazil's first economical cycle.
In the first half of the 17th century, gold and precious stones were found in
Brazil as a result of many expeditions led by
frightfull men who were also indian hunters.
The country borders, however, were only to be
defined in the 19th century when Uruguay
became independent (it had been a Brazilian
province until that time) and what today is
the state of Acre was bought from Bolivia.
During many years the present state of Minas
Gerais alone provided the Portuguese crown
with big amounts of gold and precious stones
('minas' means mines). This period would be
called later the gold cycle. It was also in
Minas Gerais that the first independence
movement took place, at the end of the 17th
century, inspired in the American liberation
movement, and whetted by abusive tax
raises promoted by the Portuguese crown.
The movement was unsuccessful and one of
its leaders, the dentist Joaquim J. S. Xavier,
known as Tiradentes, was executed on April
21st, 1789. This date became later an
important national holiday (Tiradentes' day).
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