Indigenous peoples in Brazil (Portuguese: povos indígenas no Brasil), or Indigenous Brazilians (Portuguese: indígenas brasileiros), comprise a large number of distinct ethnic groups who have inhabited what is now the country of Brazil since prior to the European contact around 1500. Unlike Christopher Columbus, who thought he had reached the East Indies, the Portuguese, most notably Vasco da Gama, had already reached India via the Indian Ocean route when they reached Brazil.
Nevertheless, the word índios ("Indians") was by then established to designate the people of the New World and continues to be used today in the Portuguese language to designate these people, while a person from India is called indiano in order to distinguish the two.
At the time of European contact, some of the indigenous people were traditionally mostly semi-nomadic tribes who subsisted on hunting, fishing, gathering, and migrant agriculture. Many of the estimated 2,000 nations and tribes which existed in the 16th century suffered extinction as a consequence of the European settlement, and many were assimilated into the Brazilian population.
The indigenous population was largely killed by European diseases, declining from a pre-Columbian high of millions to some 300,000 (1997), grouped into 200 tribes. However, the number could be much higher if the urban indigenous populations are counted in all the Brazilian cities today. A somewhat dated linguistic survey found 188 living indigenous languages with 155,000 total speakers.
On January 18, 2007, FUNAI reported that it had confirmed the presence of 67 different uncontacted tribes in Brazil, up from 40 in 2005. With this addition Brazil has now surpassed New Guinea as the country having the largest number of uncontacted people.
Brazilian indigenous people have made substantial and pervasive contributions to the world's medicine with knowledge used today by pharmaceutical corporations, material, and cultural development—such as the domestication of tobacco, cassava, and other crops.
Anthropological and genetic evidence indicates that most Amerindian people descended from migrant people from North Asia (Siberia) who entered the Americas across the Bering Strait or along the western coast of North America in at least three separate waves. In Brazil, particularly, most native tribes who were living in the land by 1500 are thought to be descended from the first Siberian wave of migrants, who are believed to have crossed the Bering Land Bridge at the end of the last Ice Age, between 13,000 and 17,000 years before the present. A migrant wave would have taken some time after initial entry to reach present-day Brazil, probably entering the Amazon River basin from the Northwest. (The second and third migratory waves from Siberia, which are thought to have generated the Athabaskan, Aleut, Inuit, and Yupik people, apparently did not reach farther than the southern United States and Canada, respectively).
An analysis of Amerindian Y-chromosome DNA indicates specific clustering of much of the South American population. The micro-satellite diversity and distributions of the Y lineage specific to South America indicates that certain Amerindian populations have been isolated since the initial colonization of the region.
According to an autosomal genetic study from 2012, Native Americans descend from at least three main migrant waves from East Asia. Most of it is traced back to a single ancestral population, called 'First Americans'. However, those who speak Inuit languages from the Arctic inherited almost half of their ancestry from a second East Asian migrant wave. And those who speak Na-dene, on the other hand, inherited a tenth of their ancestry from a third migrant wave. The initial settling of the Americas was followed by a rapid expansion southwards, by the coast, with little gene flow later, especially in South America. One exception to this are the Chibcha speakers, whose ancestry comes from both North and South America. 
Another study, focused on the mtDNA (that which is inherited only through the maternal line), revealed that the indigenous people of the Americas have their maternal ancestry traced back to a few founding lineages from East Asia, which would have arrived via the Bering strait. According to this study, it is probable that the ancestors of the Native Americans would have remained for a time in the region of the Bering Strait, after which there would have been a rapid movement of settling of the Americas, taking the founding lineages to South America.
Two 2015 autosomal DNA genetic studies confirmed the Siberian origins of the Natives of the Americas. However an ancient signal of shared ancestry with the Natives of Australia and Melanesia was detected among the Natives of the Amazon region. The migration coming out of Siberia would have happened 23000 years ago.
According to a 2016 study, focused on mtDNA lineages, "a small population entered the Americas via a coastal route around 16.0 ka, following previous isolation in eastern Beringia for ~2.4 to 9 thousand years after separation from eastern Siberian populations. Following a rapid movement throughout the Americas, limited gene flow in South America resulted in a marked phylogeographic structure of populations, which persisted through time. All of the ancient mitochondrial lineages detected in this study were absent from modern data sets, suggesting a high extinction rate. To investigate this further, we applied a novel principal components multiple logistic regression test to Bayesian serial coalescent simulations. The analysis supported a scenario in which European colonization caused a substantial loss of pre-Columbian lineages".
Brazilian native people, unlike those in Mesoamerica and the western Andes, did not keep written records or erect stone monuments, and the humid climate and acidic soil have destroyed almost all traces of their material culture, including wood and bones. Therefore, what is known about the region's history before 1500 has been inferred and reconstructed from small-scale archaeological evidence, such as ceramics and stone arrowheads.
The most conspicuous remains of these societies are very large mounds of discarded shellfish (sambaquis) found in some coastal sites which were continuously inhabited for over 5,000 years; and the substantial "black earth" (terra preta) deposits in several places along the Amazon, which are believed to be ancient garbage dumps (middens). Recent excavations of such deposits in the middle and upper course of the Amazon have uncovered remains of some very large settlements, containing tens of thousands of homes, indicating a complex social and economic structure.
Marajoara culture flourished on Marajó island at the mouth of the Amazon River. Archeologists have found sophisticated pottery in their excavations on the island. These pieces are large, and elaborately painted and incised with representations of plants and animals. These provided the first evidence that a complex society had existed on Marajó. Evidence of mound building further suggests that well-populated, complex and sophisticated settlements developed on this island, as only such settlements were believed capable of such extended projects as major earthworks.
The extent, level of complexity, and resource interactions of the Marajoara culture have been disputed. Working in the 1950s in some of her earliest research, American Betty Meggers suggested that the society migrated from the Andes and settled on the island. Many researchers believed that the Andes were populated by Paleoindian migrants from North America who gradually moved south after being hunters on the plains.
In the 1980s, another American archeologist, Anna Curtenius Roosevelt, led excavations and geophysical surveys of the mound Teso dos Bichos. She concluded that the society that constructed the mounds originated on the island itself.
The pre-Columbian culture of Marajó may have developed social stratification and supported a population as large as 100,000 people. The Native Americans of the Amazon rain forest may have used their method of developing and working in Terra preta to make the land suitable for the large-scale agriculture needed to support large populations and complex social formations such as chiefdoms.
On the eve of the Portuguese arrival in 1500, the coastal areas of Brazil had two major mega-groups - the Tupi (speakers of Tupi–Guarani languages), who dominated practically the entire length of the Brazilian coast, and the Tapuia (a catch-all term for non-Tupis, usually Jê language people), who resided primarily in the interior. The Portuguese arrived in the final days of a long pre-colonial struggle between Tupis and Tapuias, which had resulted in the defeat and expulsion of the Tapuias from most coastal areas.
Although the coastal Tupi were broken down into sub-tribes, frequently hostile to each other, they were culturally and linguistically homogeneous. The fact that the early Europeans encountered practically the same people and language all along the Brazilian coast greatly simplified early communication and interaction.
Coastal Sequence c. 1500 (north to south):
With the exception of the hunter-gatherer Goitacases, the coastal Tupi and Tapuia tribes were primarily agriculturalists. The subtropical Guarani cultivated maize, tropical Tupi cultivated manioc (cassava), highland Jês cultivated peanut, as the staple of their diet. Supplementary crops included beans, sweet potatoes, cará (yam), jerimum (pumpkin), and cumari (capsicum pepper).
Behind these coasts, the interior of Brazil was dominated primarily by Tapuia (Jê) people, although significant sections of the interior (notably the upper reaches of the Xingu, Teles Pires and Juruena Rivers - the area now covered roughly by modern Mato Grosso state) were the original pre-migration Tupi-Guarani homelands. Besides the Tupi and Tapuia, it is common to identify two other indigenous mega-groups in the interior: the Caribs, who inhabited much of what is now northwestern Brazil, including both shores of the Amazon River up to the delta and the Nuaraque group, whose constituent tribes inhabited several areas, including most of the upper Amazon (west of what is now Manaus) and also significant pockets in modern Amapá and Roraima states.
The names by which the different Tupi tribes were recorded by Portuguese and French authors of the 16th century are poorly understood. Most do not seem to be proper names, but descriptions of relationship, usually familial - e.g. tupi means "first father", tupinambá means "relatives of the ancestors", tupiniquim means "side-neighbors", tamoio means "grandfather", temiminó means "grandson", tabajara means "in-laws" and so on. Some etymologists believe these names reflect the ordering of the migration waves of Tupi people from the interior to the coasts, e.g. first Tupi wave to reach the coast being the "grandfathers" (Tamoio), soon joined by the "relatives of the ancients" (Tupinamba), by which it could mean relatives of the Tamoio, or a Tamoio term to refer to relatives of the old Tupi back in the upper Amazon basin. The "grandsons" (Temiminó) might be a splinter. The "side-neighbors" (Tupiniquim) meant perhaps recent arrivals, still trying to jostle their way in. However, by 1870 the Tupi tribes population had declined to 250,000 indígenas and by 1890 had diminished to an approximate 100,000 tribes.
|Native Brazilian Population in Northeast Coast (Dutch estimatives).|
When the Portuguese explorers first arrived in Brazil in April 1500, they found, to their astonishment, a wide coastline rich in resources, teeming with hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people living in a "paradise" of natural riches. Pêro Vaz de Caminha, the official scribe of Pedro Álvares Cabral, the commander of the discovery fleet which landed in the present state of Bahia, wrote a letter to the King of Portugal describing in glowing terms the beauty of the land.
At the time of European arrival, the territory of current day Brazil had as many as 2,000 nations and tribes. The indigenous people were traditionally mostly semi-nomadic tribes who subsisted on hunting, fishing, gathering, and migrant agriculture. For hundreds of years, the indigenous people of Brazil lived a semi-nomadic life, managing the forests to meet their needs. When the Portuguese arrived in 1500, the natives were living mainly on the coast and along the banks of major rivers. Initially, the Europeans saw native people as noble savages, and miscegenation of the population began right away. Portuguese claims of tribal warfare, cannibalism, and the pursuit of Amazonian brazilwood for its treasured red dye convinced the Portuguese that they should "civilize" the natives (originally, colonists called Brazil Terra de Santa Cruz, until later it acquired its name (see List of meanings of countries' names) from brazilwood). But the Portuguese, like the Spanish in their North American territories, had brought diseases with them against which many Indians were helpless due to lack of immunity. Measles, smallpox, tuberculosis, and influenza killed tens of thousands. The diseases spread quickly along the indigenous trade routes, and it is likely that whole tribes were annihilated without ever coming in direct contact with Europeans.
The mutual feeling of wonderment and good relationship was to end in the succeeding years. The Portuguese colonists, all males, started to have children with female Amerindians, creating a new generation of mixed-race people who spoke Indian languages (a Tupi language called Nheengatu). The children of these Portuguese men and Indian women formed the majority of the population. Groups of fierce pathfinders organized expeditions called "bandeiras" (flags) into the backlands to claim them for the Portuguese crown and to look for gold and precious stones.
Intending to profit from sugar trade, the Portuguese decided to plant sugar cane in Brazil, and to use indigenous slaves as the workforce, as the Spanish colonies were successfully doing. But the indigenous people were hard to capture. They were soon infected by diseases brought by the Europeans against which they had no natural immunity, and began dying in great numbers.
The Jesuit priests, who had come with the first Governor General to provide religious assistance to the colonists, but mainly to convert the Pagan people to Catholicism, took the side of the Indians and extracted a Papal bull stating that they were human and should be protected.
Jesuit priests such as fathers José de Anchieta and Manuel da Nóbrega studied and recorded their language and founded mixed settlements, such as São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga, where colonists and Indians lived side by side, speaking the same Língua Geral (common language) and freely intermarried. They began also to establish more remote villages peopled only by "civilized" Indians, called Missions, or reductions (see the article on the Guarani people for more details).
By the middle of the 16th century, Catholic Jesuit priests, at the behest of Portugal's monarchy, had established missions throughout the country's colonies. They became protectors of the Indians and worked to both Europeanize them and convert them to Catholicism. The Jesuits provided a period of relative stability for the Indians.
In the mid-1770s, the Indians' fragile co-existence with the colonists was again threatened. Because of a complex diplomatic web between Portugal, Spain and the Vatican, the Jesuits were expelled from Brazil and the missions confiscated and sold.
By 1800, the population of Brazil had reached approximately 3.25 million, of which only 250,000 were indigenous. And for the next four decades, the Indians were largely left alone.
A number of wars between several tribes, such as the Tamoio Confederation, and the Portuguese ensued, sometimes with the Indians siding with enemies of Portugal, such as the French, in the famous episode of France Antarctique in Rio de Janeiro, sometimes allying themselves to Portugal in their fight against other tribes. At approximately the same period, a German soldier, Hans Staden, was captured by the Tupinambá and released after a while. He described it in a famous book, Warhaftige Historia und beschreibung eyner Landtschafft der Wilden Nacketen, Grimmigen Menschfresser-Leuthen in der Newenwelt America gelegen (True Story and Description of a Country of Wild, Naked, Grim, Man-eating People in the New World, America) (1557)
There are various documented accounts of smallpox being knowingly used as a biological weapon by New Brazilian villagers that wanted to get rid of nearby Indian tribes (not always aggressive ones). The most "classical", according to Anthropologist, Mércio Pereira Gomes, happened in Caxias, in south Maranhão, where local farmers, wanting more land to extend their cattle farms, gave clothing owned by ill villagers (that normally would be burned to prevent further infection) to the Timbira. The clothing infected the entire tribe, and they had neither immunity nor cure. Similar things happened in other villages throughout South America.
The 1840s brought trade and wealth to the Amazon. The process for vulcanizing rubber was developed, and worldwide demand for the product skyrocketed. The best rubber trees in the world grew in the Amazon, and thousands of rubber tappers began to work the plantations. When the Indians proved to be a difficult labor force, peasants from surrounding areas were brought into the region. In a dynamic that continues to this day, the indigenous population was at constant odds with the peasants, who the Indians felt had invaded their lands in search of treasure.
In the 20th century, the Brazilian Government adopted a more humanitarian attitude and offered official protection to the indigenous people, including the establishment of the first indigenous reserves. Fortune brightened for the Indians around the turn of the 20th century when Cândido Rondon, a man of both Portuguese and Bororo ancestry, and an explorer and progressive officer in the Brazilian army, began working to gain the Indians' trust and establish peace. Rondon, who had been assigned to help bring telegraph communications into the Amazon, was a curious and natural explorer. In 1910, he helped found the Serviço de Proteção aos Índios - SPI (Service for the Protection of Indians, today the FUNAI, or Fundação Nacional do Índio, National Foundation for Indians). SPI was the first federal agency charged with protecting Indians and preserving their culture. In 1914, Rondon accompanied Theodore Roosevelt on Roosevelt's famous expedition to map the Amazon and discover new species. During these travels, Rondon was appalled to see how settlers and developers treated the indigenes, and he became their lifelong friend and protector.
Rondon, who died in 1958, is a national hero in Brazil. The Brazilian state of Rondônia is named after him.
After Rondon's pioneering work, the SPI was turned over to bureaucrats and military officers and its work declined after 1957. The new officials did not share Rondon's deep commitment to the Indians. SPI sought to address tribal issues by transforming the tribes into mainstream Brazilian society. The lure of reservation riches enticed cattle ranchers and settlers to continue their assault on Indians lands – and the SPI eased the way. Between 1900 and 1967, an estimated 98 indigenous tribes were wiped out.
During the social and political upheaval in the 1960s, reports of mistreatment of Indians increasingly reached Brazil's urban centers and began to affect Brazilian thinking. In 1967, following the publication of the Figueiredo Report, commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior, the military government launched an investigation into SPI. It soon came to light that the SPI was corrupt and failing to protect natives, their lands, and, culture. The 5,000-page report catalogued atrocities including slavery, sexual abuse, torture, and mass murder. It has been charged that agency officials, in collaboration with land speculators, were systematically slaughtering the Indians by intentionally circulating disease-laced clothes. Criminal prosecutions followed, and the SPI was disbanded. The same year the government established Fundação Nacional do Índio (National Indian Foundation), known as FUNAI which is responsible for protecting the interests, cultures, and rights of the Brazilian indigenous populations. Some tribes have become significantly integrated into Brazilian society. The unacculturated tribes which have been contacted by FUNAI, are supposed to be protected and accommodated within Brazilian society in varying degrees. By 1987 it was recognized that unessential contact with the tribes was causing illness and social disintegration. The uncontacted tribes are now supposed to be protected from intrusion and interference in their life style and territory. However, the exploitation of rubber and other Amazonic natural resources has led to a new cycle of invasion, expulsion, massacres and death, which continues to this day.
Also in 1964, in a seismic political shift, the Brazilian military took control of the government and abolished all existing political parties, creating a two-party system. For the next two decades, Brazil was ruled by a series of generals. The country's mantra was "Brazil, the Country of the Future," which the military government used as justification for a giant push into the Amazon to exploit its resources, thereby beginning to transform Brazil into one of the leading economies of the world. Construction began on a transcontinental highway across the Amazon basin, aimed to encourage migration to the Amazon and to open up the region to more trade. With funding from World Bank, thousands of square miles of forest were cleared without regard for reservation status. After the highway projects came giant hydroelectric projects, then swaths of forest were cleared for cattle ranches. As a result, reservation lands suffered massive deforestation and flooding. The public works projects attracted very few migrants, but those few – and largely poor - settlers brought new diseases that further devastated the Indians population.
The 1988 Brazilian Constitution recognises indigenous people' right to pursue their traditional ways of life and to the permanent and exclusive possession of their "traditional lands", which are demarcated as Indigenous Territories. In practice, however, Brazil's indigenous people still face a number of external threats and challenges to their continued existence and cultural heritage. The process of demarcation is slow—often involving protracted legal battles—and FUNAI do not have sufficient resources to enforce the legal protection on indigenous land. Since the 1980s there has been a boom in the exploitation of the Amazon Rainforest for mining, logging and cattle ranching, posing a severe threat to the region's indigenous population. Settlers illegally encroaching on indigenous land continue to destroy the environment necessary for indigenous people' traditional ways of life, provoke violent confrontations and spread disease. people such as the Akuntsu and Kanoê have been brought to the brink of extinction within the last three decades. On 13 November 2012, the national indigenous people association from Brazil APIB submitted to the United Nation a human rights document that complaints about new proposed laws in Brazil that would further undermine their rights if approved.
Much of the language has been incorporated into the official Brazilian Portuguese language. For example, 'Carioca' the word used to describe people born in the city of Rio de Janeiro, is from the indigenous word for 'white face'.
The urban rights movement is a recent development in the rights of indigenous peoples. Brazil has one of the highest income inequalities in the world, and much of that population includes indigenous tribes migrating toward urban areas both by choice and by displacement. Beyond the urban rights movement, studies have shown that the suicide risk among the indigenous population is 8.1 times higher than the non-indigenous population.
Many indigenous rights movements have been created through the meeting of many indigenous tribes in urban areas. For example, in Barcelos, an indigenous rights movement arose because of "local migratory circulation." This is how many alliances form to create a stronger network for mobilization. Indigenous populations also living in urban areas have struggles regarding work. They are pressured into doing cheap labor. Programs like Oxfam have been used to help indigenous people gain partnerships to begin grassroots movements. Some of their projects overlap with environmental activism as well.
Many Brazilian youths are mobilizing through the increased social contact, since some indigenous tribes stay isolated while others adapt to the change. Access to education also affects these youths, and therefore, more groups are mobilizing to fight for indigenous rights.
Much of Indigenous tribes' rights parallel the environmental and territorial rights movement. Although indigenous people have gained 21% of the Brazilian Amazon as part of indigenous land, there are many issues still today that affect the sustainability of Indigenous territories today. Environmentalists and indigenous peoples have been viewed as opponents to economic growth and barriers to development due to the fact that much of the land that indigenous tribes live on could be used for development projects and more industrialization. Currently, 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to forest clearing and degradation. Deforestation for mining also affects the daily lives of indigenous tribes in Brazil. The Munduruku Indians have higher levels of mercury poisoning due to gold production in the area. Climate change is one issue that indigenous tribes attribute as a reason to keep their territory.
There are a lot of alliances between indigenous peoples and conservation organizations in the Brazilian Amazon.The A'ukre Kayapo village and the Instituto SocioAmbiental (ISA) environmental organization is a good example of one of these alliances. They focus on environmental, education and developmental rights. For example, Amazon Watch collaborates with various indigenous organizations in Brazil to fight for both territorial and environmental rights. "Access to natural resources by indigenous and peasant communities in Brazil has been considerably less and much more insecure," so activists focus on more traditional conservation efforts, and expanding territorial rights for indigenous people.
Territorial rights for the indigenous populations of Brazil largely fall under socio-economic issues. There have been violent conflicts regarding rights to land between the government and the indigenous population, and political rights have done little to stop them. There have been movements of the landless (MST) that helps keep land away from the elite living in Brazil.
For complete list see List of Indigenous people in Brazil