Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil, 1500-1600

Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil, 1500-1600

Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil, 1500-1600

Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil, 1500-1600


Doña Marina (La Malinche)... Pocahontas... Sacagawea-their names live on in historical memory because these women bridged the indigenous American and European worlds, opening the way for the cultural encounters, collisions, and fusions that shaped the social and even physical landscape of the modern Americas. But these famous individuals were only a few of the many thousands of people who, intentionally or otherwise, served as "go-betweens" as Europeans explored and colonized the New World. In this innovative history, Alida Metcalf thoroughly investigates the many roles played by go-betweens in the colonization of sixteenth-century Brazil. She finds that many individuals created physical links among Europe, Africa, and Brazil-explorers, traders, settlers, and slaves circulated goods, plants, animals, and diseases. Intercultural liaisons produced mixed-race children. At the cultural level, Jesuit priests and African slaves infused native Brazilian traditions with their own religious practices, while translators became influential go-betweens, negotiating the terms of trade, interaction, and exchange. Most powerful of all, as Metcalf shows, were those go-betweens who interpreted or represented new lands and peoples through writings, maps, religion, and the oral tradition. Metcalf's convincing demonstration that colonization is always mediated by third parties has relevance far beyond the Brazilian case, even as it opens a revealing new window on the first century of Brazilian history.


… her master asked her if she would be the third party …

A question posed to an Aimoré woman, 1609

In the first years of the seventeenth century, the French Jesuit historian Pierre du Jarric introduces an Indian woman living in Brazil in his history of the “most memorable things” in the lands “discovered by the Portuguese.” Leaving her unnamed, Jarric identifies her as a member of the Aimoré, an indigenous group greatly feared by colonists living in Salvador, Brazil’s capital. Jarric explains that she no longer lived with the Aimoré but on the estate of a prominent colonist who lived outside of Salvador, where the woman had become “domesticated” in the ways of the Portuguese and had learned their language and customs. Her master believed that she might be able to persuade the Aimoré to accept peace with the Portuguese. He sent her with Portuguese “accoutrements” (clothes), food, and “various iron tools” such as knives and hatchets, and through her native language, she convinced a group of Aimoré to accept the gifts and the peace offered by the Portuguese. Some of the Aimoré came to her master’s estate on the outskirts of the sugar plantation zone that surrounded the capital, and eventually an Aimoré chief met the governor of Brazil. He agreed that his people would live on an island in the Bay of All Saints, where the Jesuits would teach them Christianity. Jarric writes that a joyous procession was held in the capital to celebrate the peace.

A Jesuit report of their mission in Brazil in the first years of the seventeenth century, on which Jarric bases much of his account, reveals that the woman’s master asked her “if she would be the third party” and help to bring about a peace with the Aimoré. Because of her language, her mobility, and her understanding of two opposing cultures, this woman became the go-between who made pos-

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