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The Bandeirantes or "followers of the banner" were Portuguese colonial scouts in Brazil, members of the 16th-18th century South American slave-hunting expeditions, called Bandeiras (Portuguese for "flags"). Though their original purpose was to capture natives and force them into slavery, the Bandeirantes later began to focuse their expeditions on finding gold, silver and diamond mines. They ventured into unmapped regions in search of profit and adventure. From 1580 – 1670 the Bandeirantes focused on slave hunting, then from 1670-1750 they focused on mineral wealth. Through these expeditions, the Bandeirantes also expanded Portuguese Americamarker from the small limits of the Tordesilhas Line to roughly the same territory as current Brazilmarker. This expansion discovered mineral wealth that made the fortune of Portugalmarker during the 17th and 18th centuries.


The Bandeiras were the expeditions by citizens of São Paulomarker, known as Paulistas, designed to enslave indigenous peoples and to find precious metals and stones. The Bandeirantes were the men who participated in these expeditions.

Bandeiras were not state organized – they were privately run, and hence the men paid for their own equipment, and willingly and knowingly traversed into the wilderness for months or years at a time. São Paulomarker was the home base for the most famous bandeirantes.

Besides the purpose of capturing natives as slaves bandeiras were also used to extend the power of Portugal by expanding its control over the Brazilian interior. Along with this development of property the bandeiras also allowed for the Portuguese to gain a hand in the discovery of mineral wealth, which they were previously unable to lavish in. They have participated in the Battle of Mborore, (March 11, 1641): Guaranís from Jesuit Reductions against Bandeirantes, and portuguese explorers after separation of the kingdoms of Spainmarker and Portugal.

The course of the Bandeira route was a difficult and perilous one. The men were faced with hunger fatigue, disease and death. Often there was little food, and because of this, the Bandeirantes got into the habit of planting and harvesting this food as they went. They also built roads as they went, and founded settlements, too. This laid the basis for agriculture and ranching in the interior of Brazilmarker.
Despite the fact that the Jesuit missionaries were the chief opponents of the Bandeirantes, priests accompanied the Bandeira for two reasons: 1. to shrive the dying and the dead, 2. to ease the conscience of the men. The Bandeira heard mass before leaving on their expedition.

In the 1660s, the Portuguese government offered rewards to those who discovered gold and silver deposits in inner Brazilmarker. So, the Bandeirantes, who were driven by greed, ventured into the depths of Brazilmarker not only to capture natives to sell as slaves, but to find mines and get government rewards. As the number of natives diminished, the Bandeirantes began to focus on the precious minerals.

The first Bandeira was in 1628, organized by Antonio Raposo Tavares. This bandeira raided 21 Jesuit villages in the upper Panama Valley. They captured about 2,500 natives. A bandeira tactic was to set native tribes against each other in order to weaken them, and then to enslave both of them.

As a result of the Bandeiras, the Capitaincy of São Vicente became the basis for the vice-kingdom of Brazil and encompassed current states of Santa Catarinamarker, Paranámarker, São Paulomarker, Minas Geraismarker, Goiásmarker, Tocantins and both Northern and Southern Mato Grosso. With the few outlying Spanish settlements and missions overrun, the defacto control over most of what is now Brazil was recognised by the Treaty of Madrid in 1750.

A notable historian of the Bandeirantes was the genealogist Pedro Taques de Almeida Paes Leme, who covered most of the families of those who undertook the gold rush expeditions. He was born in São Paulo in 1714, into a Paulista family, the son of Bartolomeu Paes de Abreu and Leonor de Siqueira Paes.

Slave raids

In the beginning, the main focus of the bandeirantes was to enslave natives. They carried this out by disguising themselves as Jesuits, often singing mass to lure the natives out of their settlements. However, more often they relied on surprise attacks. If luring the natives with promises didn’t work, the bandeirantes would surround the settlements, and set them alight in order to force out the natives. The natives would be captured and placed into a large outdoor pen, until there were enough of them enslaved to justify a trip back to the coast, where they would be sold as slaves. It could be weeks or months until this was the case, and so hundreds of captives died of exposure. On the journey to the coast, the captives would be stripped, and tied to a long pole to prevent them from trying to flee the group.

There were over 2.5 million Indigenous peoples in Brazil in 1500. By the middle of the 18th century, the number had dropped to between 1 million and 1.5 million. Many tribes living close to the Atlantic coast intermixed with Portuguese or died of diseases. Others had fled into the interior, and their flight created an ever-greater need for slaves, one that was not entirely satisfied by importing them from Africa. Native slaves sold for about $30-$40, while the imported African slaves sold from $100-$500. The bandeirantes were able to sell many native slaves due to their cheap price, and hence made a large profit.

Some of the most famous bandeirantes were Bartolomeu Bueno da Silva (the Anhanguera), Fernão Dias Pais (the Hunter of Emeralds), Antônio Rodrigues Arzão, Domingos Jorge Velho, Antônio Raposo Tavares, Estêvão Ribeiro Baião Parente, Brás Rodrigues de Arzão, Manuel de Campos Bicudo, Francisco Dias de Siqueira (the Apuçá), Pascoal Moreira Cabral, Antônio Pires de Campos, Manuel de Borba Gato, Antonio Dias de Oliveira, Tomé Portes del-Rei, Antonio Garcia da Cunha, Matias Cardoso de Almeida, José de Camargo Pimentel, Domingos Rodrigues do Prado, João de Siqueira Afonso, Jerônimo Pedroso de Barros and Bartolomeu Bueno de Siqueira. In 1628, Antônio Raposo Tavares lead a bandeira, composed of 2.000 allied Indians, 900 mamelucos and 69 white Paulistanos, to find precious metals and stones or to capture Indians for slavery or both. This expedition alone was responsible for the destruction of most of the Jesuit missions of Spanish Guairá and the enslavement of over 60,000 indigenous people.

From 1648 to 1652, Tavares also lead one of the longest known expeditions from São Paulomarker to the mouth of the Amazon river, investigating many of its tributaries, including the Rio Negro, and covering a distance of more than 10,000 km. The expedition arrived in Andean Quitomarker, part of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru, and stayed there for a short time in 1651. Of the 1200 men who left São Paulo, only 60 reached their final destination in Belémmarker.


The Bandeirantes were responsible for the discovery of mineral wealth and, to a large extent, to the territorial enlargement of Brazil.

"In spite of the lack of geography, a science ignored by the Paulistas of old times, without other help than the Sun, they penetrated the interior of the America, conquering tribes. Some would go to the hinterland of Goias, until the Amazon river. Others to the coastline from the river of Patos until the river Plate, going to the river Uruguay and Tibagi. E going up through the Paraguay river until the Paraná [...] Some went through the vast hinterland beyond the river Paraguay going through the high mountains of the Kingdom of Peru. The Paulistas had to fight against the enemies and against nature: the latter with the weather and the former with wrath and hate. The lack of supplies could have made them cowards, if they were not used to eating the fruits of the hinterland, the honey of bees, the nuts of the forests, the sweet and bitter palmitos, and the roots of the plants known to be digestable". (Pedro Taques de Almeida Paes Leme)

"However a new breed of men was growing, wild yes and untractable, but one with which the native American blood infusion would soon acquire unrelentless building up activity. While the Spaniards, in Paraguay, stayed where Irala had placed them, treated generally the discoveries which the first Conquistadores had done with indifference, the Brazilians continued, for two centuries, to explore the country. These determined adventurers would spend months and months in the wild hunting slaves and looking for gold and silver, following the informations they learnt with the native Americans. And finally, they managed to secure, to themselves and to the House of Braganza, the richest mines, the largest portion of South America, of all inhabited Earth, the most beautiful land". (Robert Southey, 1819)

External links

Further reading

  • Leme, Pedro Taques de Almeida Paes, "Nobiliarquia Paulistana Histórica e Genealógica", Ed. São Paulo University (1980, São Paulo).
  • Taunay, Afonso de E., "Relatos Sertanistas", Ed. São Paulo University (1981, São Paulo)
  • Taunay, Afonso de E., "História das Bandeiras Paulistas", Ed. Melhoramentos (São Paulo)
  • Franco, Francisco de Assis Carvalho, "Dicionário de Bandeirantes e Sertanistas do Brasil", Ed. São Paulo University, São Paulo, Ed Itatiaia, Belo Horizonte (1989)
  • Crow, John A., “The Epic of Latin America,” (London, 1992)
  • Cheney, Glenn Alan, Journey on the Estrada Real: Encounters in the Mountains of Brazil, (Chicago: Academy Chicago, 2004) ISBN 0-89733-530-9

See also

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