Brazil Indigenous Peoples

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The original Brazilians were the native Indians who had inhabited the American continent long before Europeans arrived. At the time Europeans came there were 250 tribes of the Tupi-Guarani Indians in Brazil.

The Indian tribes of Brazil were hunting and gathering tribes that lived in a few pockets of Brazil (in Eastern and Southern Brazil) and tropical forest village farmers (in the Amazon basin, the lowlands of coastal Brazil, and the eastern slopes of Peru and Bolívia). The latter group was more prevalent in Brazil.

The first records of the Indians were made by the Jesuit Priests, whose primary concern was to protect the Indians. They worked from São Paulo to Pernambuco, learning Indian languages and teaching the native peoples. As defenders of the Indians, they were often at odds with the planters, who were clamoring for slaves. The Jesuits baptized the Indians by the thousands and gathered them into fortified mission villages (redução). The Jesuits’ fight to protect the Indians from slavery lasted 200 years. During that time they made enemies who finally caused their expulsion from Brazil in 1759.

Because of the Jesuits and other missionary efforts, the best source for family information on Indian ancestors is found in the Catholic Church records. In some instances separate records were kept for Indian groups along with the regular church records, as in the Catholic Church records of Gravataí, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, which records include a volume of baptisms of Guarani Indians from 1765 to 1816 and other volumes of free persons and slaves.

Modern statistics are often quite varied regarding the number of Indians in Brazil. In the 1950s there were 143 tribes and probably less than 100,000 Indians still living in Brazil. In that year 50 percent of the population was white, 15 percent was black, and 20 percent was mulatto. Only in the remote, isolated interior do Indian tribes still exist.

During World War II a group of anthropologists and archaeologists from the United States and Latin America collaborated in compiling a classification of South American Indians. The Indians of Brazil are included in volumes one (The Marginal Tribes) and three (The Tropical Forest Tribes), with additional general information in volumes five (The Comparative Anthropology of South American Indians) and six (Physical Anthropology, Linguistics and Cultural Geography of South American Indians). These books are available at the Family History Library under:

  • Steward, Julian H. ed. Handbook of South American Indians. 7 vols. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc., 1963. FHL 980 F3h

Many anthropological and sociological studies have been done among the various Indian groups in Brazil during the last century. A few of these are available through the Family History Library, and many more may be obtained through university and research libraries. Studies of the Guiana Indians and Indian tribes of northern Mato Grosso, Brazil, are examples of such studies:

  • Rouse, Irving. Guianas: indigenous period. México: Instituto Panamericano de Geografía e História, 1953. FHL 988 F3r
  • Oberg, Kalervo. Indian tribes of northern Mato Grosso, Brazil: with appendix: Anthropometry of the Umotina, Nambicuara, and Iranxe, with comparative data from other northern Mato Grosso Tribes. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1953. FHL 981.72 F3o

A bibliography listing many of the studies that have been done on Indians in Brazil can be found in:

  • Tyler, Samuel Lyman. Indians of Brazil, with reference to Paraguay and Uruguay. Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1976.

For other sources with background information on Indians in Latin America, search the [ FamilySearch Catalog] under Subjects for "Latin America - Native Races" or "Brazil - Native Races".

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