Side Trips from São Paulo Feature

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Os Bandeirantes

In the 16th and 17th centuries groups called bandeiras (literally meaning "flags" but also an archaic term for an assault force) set out on expeditions from São Paulo. Their objectives were far from noble. Their initial goal was to enslave Native Americans. Later, they were hired to capture escaped African slaves and destroy quilombos (communities the slaves created deep in the interior). Still, by heading inland at a time when most colonies were close to the shore, the bandeirantes (bandeira members) inadvertently did Brazil a great service.

A fierce breed, bandeirantes often adopted indigenous customs and voyaged for years at a time. Some went as far as the Amazon River; others only to what is today Minas Gerais, where gold and precious gems were found. In their travels they ignored the 1494 Treaty of Tordesilhas, which established a boundary between Spanish and Portuguese lands. (The boundary was a vague north-south line roughly 1,600 km (1,000 miles) west of the Cape Verde islands.) Other Brazilians followed the bandeirantes, and towns were founded, often in what was technically Spanish territory. These colonists eventually claimed full possession of the lands they settled, and thus Brazil's borders were greatly expanded.

Near Parque Ibirapuera in the city of São Paulo there's a monument, inaugurated in 1953, to honor the bandeirantes. It's a huge granite sculpture created by Victor Brecheret, a famous Brazilian artist. Protests are occasionally staged here by those who don't believe the bandeirantes deserve a monument.

Updated: 09-2013

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