Current artifacts, including cave paintings, suggest that human beings inhabited Brazil more than 300,000 years ago. European explorers found only a small indigenous population when they arrived in the land, but archaeological records indicate that there were large settlements in other areas, which could have been substantially reduced by smallpox and other diseases brought in by the European explorers.
These early indigenous inhabitants were classified into a sedentary population, who spoke the Tupian language and similar cultural patterns, and a nomadic population. Historians assume that there were approximately a million of these early peoples scattered throughout the territory. Some historians believe that these aborigines were native American tribes, composed of the Arawaks and Caribs in the north, the sedentary Tupi-Guarani of the east coast and the Amazon Valley, the Ges of the eastern and southern sides, and the Pano in the west. These tribes were likely to have been semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers who practiced simple agriculture.
The first foreigner who set foot on the region was a Spanish navigator, Vicente Yanez Pinzon, in the present-day's Recife on January 26, 1500 up to the mouth of the Orinico River. But he could not claim the territory for Spain, because it fell within Portuguese jurisdiction, according to the Treaty of Tordesillas signed with Portugal in 1494. Portuguese sailor Pedro Alvares Cabral said that he landed in the coast of Brazil in April 1500, claimed it for Portugal and first named it Terra da Vera Cruz or the "Land of the True Cross. A follow-up expedition was later sent under the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci the following year. In this expedition, Vespucci named several bays and capes, including the now-famous Rio de Janeiro and returned with loads of Brazil wood. Hence, Terra de Vera Cruz assumed the name of that valuable wood.
King John undertook a systematic program of colonization in that land in 1530.
He first divided it into 15 districts or captaincies, and awarded each perpetually to a prominent person in the Portuguese court. These recipients were called donatarios, who wielded extraordinary powers over these districts. When he later realized the implicit perils of his act, King John revoked these powers and put Brazil under a governor-general. The first was Thome de Souza, who arrived there in 1549 and set his government up in the capital, the newly founded city of Salvador or Bahia. He undertook comprehensive administrative and judicial reformed and built a coastal defense system.
Large groups of slaves were taken into the region from Africa in response to the shortage of plantation workers. Sao Paulo in the south was founded in 1554.
The first settlement was at San Vicente in San Paulo in 1532 under Martam Afonso de Sousa as the first royal governor. San Salvador and 12 other settlements were established inwardly from the Brazilian coast in 1539.
But it was not all peace for the Portuguese. In 1555, French Huguenots attacked an island in Rio de Janeiro but were warded off by forces under Mem de Sa, later credited as the founded of the City of Rio de Janeiro. In 1624, the Dutch attacked and captured Salvador and Recife, as well as the entire Northeast, then under John Maurice of Nassau. Portugal could not come to the rescue, having been under Spain in 1580 and regaining independence only in 1640. Marine forces from Rio managed to wrestle the territories from the Dutch in 1654, a victory that reinstalled their self-confidence, and Brazil became a viceroyalty for Portugal. Conditions were generally peaceful between Spain and Portugal in South America, including Brazil, till 1680. The Portuguese founded a settlement in Colonia, lying east of the estuary of Rio de la Plata, and had a long conflict over its ownership. This region became the Republic of Uruguay in 1828 when it gained independence in that year.
The bandeirantes from San Paulo set their eyes towards other settlements to the west since the 17th century in extending the Brazilian territory until the negotiations of Brazilian diplomat Rio Branco limited their explorations in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Jesuit missionaries had already started operating in the Amazon Valley when expansion went towards the South early in the 17th century.
In the middle of the century, Sao Paulo residents, called Paulistas, reached the Parana River in the pursuit of native Americans as slaves. But the Jesuits protected the natives and opposed the Paulistas with help from the Crown. Many of these Paulistas were thereon confined to being prospectors and hunters of mineral wealth.
Sugar soon flourished in the Northeast and sugar plantations were providing Europe's requirements for the commodity. When European colonists could not coerce the natives to work in the cane field and refineries, the colonists acquired Africans to do so as slaves.
Gold was discovered in late 17th century and diamond in 1721. As a consequence, mining towns came up, prominently in Minas Gerais, and mining became a complementary industry to sugar. The center of development moved to the south, where Rio de Janeiro turned into an export hub and replaced Salvador as the Brazilian capital in 1763.
The prosperity and the intelligentsia in Europe and North America affected Brazil long distance. A small group of intellectuals in Minas under Tiradentes sought for independence, but was quashed and their leader executed.
In 1808, the King of Portugal, John VI fled to Brazil when Napoleon's forces invaded Portugal. He lifted trading restrictions from the colony, made Rio de Janeiro the center of the Portuguese Empire and Brazil a kingdom. King John made his son regent of Brazil and then returned to Portugal but his son as regent instituted new policies that restored and even tightened colonial restrictions. These changed conditions bred massive unrest. On the advice of Jose Bonifacio, the regent-prince yielded to the people's yearning through a fateful cry for independence at the Ipiranga River banks on September 7, 1822. He became Pedro I, emperor of Brazil, who enjoyed popular support in his first year of rule. Differences and disagreements with the Constituent Assembly led him to dissolve it in 1823 and set a constitution in March 1824. The following year, Argentina supported a rebellion in Cisplatine Province where the Brazilians lost. The British Crown mediated and that province obtained independence as Uruguay.
With popular opposition on him, Pedro I in April 1831 abdicated in favor of his son nd heir-apparent, Pedro II, then only 5 years old. Regencies ruled in the boy's stead for a decade. During the substitute reign, Brazil was in political turmoil with frequent provincial rebellions. At the end of the decade, a popular sentiment rose to place the young emperor to head the government. In July 1840, the Brazilian Parliament decided that Pedro II was old enough to take on the responsibility.
It seemed worth the wait, because Pedro II became one of the ablest monarchs of his time.
During his almost 50 years reign, the country grew in population and economically without precedence. National production rose to more than 900% and many railroads were constructed. It adopted an anti-dictatorial stance, so that it supported the successful revolutionary war against Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas in 1851-52 and cooperated with Argentina and Uruguay against Paraguay in 1865-70. The broad spectrum of Brazil's internal problems was centered on a broad movement for the abolition of slavery. The importation of African slaves already outlawed and a massive campaign for the emancipation of 2.5 million slaves launched, the movers' first victory in 1871 was expected when the Parliament freed children born of slave mothers. Alongside the liberalism took roots and spread in the next 15 years, urging for the establishment of a republic. Slaves 60 years old and older were released in 1885. By May 1888, all remaining slaves were set free.
It was under Pedro II's reign that modern Brazil was founded. Its involvement in the Argentine War and the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay gained little benefit. More attention was warranted by the rising disgruntlement over the military and the start of wide-scale European immigration that would further bolster Southeast Brazil's economic status. The construction of railroads and roads was instrumental to this enormous development.
In the meantime, slaves' voices from the plantations became audible. Those voices were loudest in leaders Antonio Calves de Castro and Joaquin Nabuco
who knew that the slave trade had been abolished in 1850 and a law was passed in 1871 for gradual emancipation. Pedro II's daughter Isabela was governing Brazil while he was in Europe in 1888 and the law was passed. This enabled the planters to withdraw support for the empire, forge cooperative efforts with the military that then had a drift with the empire and achieve a victory. It was a bloodless revolution, which installed a republic in 1889 with Marshal Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca as first president. Political conditions, however, deteriorated under the unpopular and Jacobist rule of Marshal Floriando Peixoto, Fonseca's successor.
Despite unsettling political conditions, Brazil's…