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

By Dauril Alden | Go to book overview

COLIN M. MACLACHLAN:


The Indian Labor Structure in the Portuguese Amazon, 1700-1800

INTRODUCTION

For all practical purposes labor is essential for the creation of wealth. Without the necessary human resources the richest mines as well as the most fertile fields are of little consequence. Hence, the organization of labor is fundamental. Both Iberian powers came to view their American possessions as a means of assuring the economic well-being of the mother countries. The transition from collections of Indian artifacts to more permanent sources of wealth depended on the ability of the conquerors to organize labor to meet European economic needs. Where labor did not exist, or was unsatisfactory, it had to be imported.

In Brazil the Portuguese faced a scarcity of Indian labor and were forced to deal with Indian cultures not easily adaptable to a wage economy. Initial attempts to employ Indians as plantation laborers gave way to the use of the more agriculturally advanced African. Only in the fringe areas did Indian labor continue to be in demand. In the eighteenth century the Amazon basin was one of these marginal areas.

The seminomadic Indian of the Amazon basin possessed only a rudimentary knowledge of agriculture, subsisting by cultivating roots and collecting forest products. In spite of such cultural factors, the efforts of the Portuguese to organize the forest Indian succeeded. During the eighteenth century, the Indian progressed through three stages before arriving at the imposed goal of a free worker in a colonial economy. The first of these stages was the mission period, which had been elaborated in the seventeenth century and continued into the middle of the next. In 1757 the Crown ordered the replacement of the missionaries by secular directors appointed by the governor. The directorate system of 1757-1798 in turn yielded to a semicontrolled labor system. The Indian laborer who emerged almost simultaneously with the independence of Brazil was the

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