Colonial Roots of Modern Brazil: Papers of the Newberry Library Conference

By Dauril Alden | Go to book overview

DAVID M. DAVIDSON:


How the Brazilian West Was Won: Freelance & State on the Mato Grosso Frontier, 1737-1752

It has long been a tenet of Brazilian historiography that the winning of the Brazilian West, unlike the gradual, largely state-supervised occupation of the northern and southern colonial frontiers, was primarily the achievement of the intrepid bandeirantes of São Paulo.1 These volatile frontiersmen shattered the front line of Spain's missionary advance in the early seventeenth century, thus leaving an open land in the Brazilian Southwest that eventually fell to Portugal, and their sudden discoveries of gold at Cuiabá ( 1718-1722) and western Mato Grosso ( 1734-1736), on the fringes of the Spanish Jesuit territories of Moxos and Chiquitos, thrust upon the metropolis the hitherto unsettled far western lands. The subsequent decade and a half, when Portugal extended secure control to the Far West, is often treated perfunctorily as a brief, if necessary, epilogue to the heroic bandeirante movement. Historians of the Paulistas might applaud the diplomatic efforts of Alexandre de Gusmão (who was, after all, a Brazilian) to win Spain's recognition of Portuguese sovereignty in Mato Grosso in the Treaty of Madrid ( 1750). But in the light of nationalism the lengthened shadow of the bandeirante has obscured the crucial role of the state in shaping and securing the western frontier, and the contingent nature of the process by which this was achieved.2

____________________
1
For an introduction to the themes and historiography of the bandeirantes, see Richard M. Morse, ed., The Bandeirantes: The Historical Role of the Brazilian Pathfinders ( New York, 1965); a welcome addition to the extensive literature on Brazilian territorial formation is the useful summary in Rollie E. Poppino , Brazil: The Land and the People ( New York, 1968), pp. 68-112.
2
See, e.g., the traditional treatment in Basílio de Magalhães, Expansão geográfica do Brasil colonial ( 3rded.; Rio, 1944), pp. 267-289, 357-358, and Afonso d'Escragnolle Taunay, "Os primeiros anos de Cuiabá e Mato Grosso," Anais, IV Congresso de História Nacional ( Rio, 1950), I, 143-505, and the revised summary in Taunay História das bandeiras paulistas, ( 2nd ed.; São Paulo, 1961), II, 13-106. The role of the state is given greater weight by Jaime

-61-

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