José Honorio Rodrigues, the distinguished Director of the National Archives in Brazil, has added a second volume to his previous Historiografía del Brasil, Siglo XVI, México, 1957. He is again concerned with eye-witnesses of events—the authors of “histories,” “chronicles,” and “memoirs”—as well as with men who wrote about economic, political, and religious problems of the day. The personal accounts of travellers have been omitted since they do not really fall into the field of historiography, and the documentation is rich enough without them. Brazil played a lively part in the international drama of the seventeenth century. The “Babylonian Captivity” of Portugal and her colonies by Spain was finally ended in 1640, but while the Portuguese regained independence and maintained control of the largest colony and Angola (through an expedition organized in Rio de Janeiro), they could not prevent the Dutch from conquering most of the Asian Empire. The tenacious resistance of Brazil against foreign intrusion is a recurring theme for the history of the period. A serious attempt by France to establish a foothold in Maranhão from 1612 to 1615 was defeated and the Netherlanders, who dominated the northeast off and on from 1624 to 1654, were unable to make their settlements permanent. Although Brazil’s sugar economy entered a decline after 1650, she exhibited, contrary to foreign expectations, a vigor not found in the mother country; the bandeiras penetrating into the heart of the country and pushing back the frontier prepared the way for the great mining spurt of the early eighteenth century. The religious zeal of the regular and secular clergy did not abate, churches and monasteries were erected and the gospel carried to the Indians. Indeed, in their missionary work the Jesuits were considerably more successful than their Protestant colleagues of the American colonies.
The historians of seventeenth century Brazil were not “up-to-date” writers in the French sense, but there were some lively and palpitating figures. Senhor Rodrigues divides his topic into five books: the Historiography of Maranhão, the Period of Dutch Domination 1624-1654, Bandeirismo, Religious Historiography, and General Historiography. In dealing with Maranhão and the Amazon he cites such familiar figures as Claude Abbéville, Yves d’Evreux, Pedro Teixeira, Cristobal de Acuña, and Samuel Fritz. His study also analyzes the work of lesser known but significant individuals as Diogo de Campos Moreno, Alexandre de Moura, and Bento Maciel Parente. The question of the Dutch control was treated separately by José Honorio Rodrigues in his excellent Historiografía e bibliografía do dominio holandes no Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, 1949. In the present volume the author limits himself to the most important Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch writers and takes up the various episodes of the struggle chronologically. This again is a relatively familiar field to Latin Americanists.
One of the most useful sections is the chapter on the historiography of the bandeiras in search of Indian slaves and precious metals and stones. The idea of territorial expansion was a secondary element in the movement, though it ultimately became one of its most important attributes. Unfortunately, the records are sparse and some of our best sources are by the victims of bandeirismo; for instance, two of the most detailed accounts are by Padre Antonio de Araujo on the entrada of 1613 and by Padre João de Sotomaior on that of 1656. Another document which is of great value to our knowledge of the interior and the development of the frontier is Padre Miguel de Couto’s Descripção do certão do Peahuy (1697)—“Realmente, pocos cronistas podrían vanagloriarse de una noticia mas rica y minuciosa que esta.” The period’s leading religious historian was Simão de Vasconcelos who became Jesuit Provincial in 1655 and, although his Chronica and lives of Anchieta and João de Almeida dealt with the sixteenth century, his descriptions of Brazil, the quality of the land, the climate, trees, plants, fruits, medicinal herbs, animal, and aquatic life make him an important authority in his own day. His accounts of the capitanias, of governmental practices, and his insight into the religious life of the clergy are a precious source of information, in spite of frequent inaccuracies and an “estilo artificioso.” Dr. Rodrigues also praises the Relation succinte & sincère . . . du père Martin de Nantes written at the end of the century about the Brazilian missions “un documento historiográfico de extraordinaria importancia.”
There is naturally a discussion of the Diálogos das grandezas do Brasil, the author siding with those who believe it to be the work of Ambrosio Fernandes Brandão. The humanitarian Economia cristã (Bahia, 1700), of Padre Jorge Benci, which pleads for better treatment of the slaves, is also described. The most detailed analysis, however, is given to Frei Vicente do Salvador, whose Historia do Brasil (1627) is the only real general history of the period, and Padre Antônio Vieira. Vieira was not a methodical chronicler, but during his long life (1608-1697) he was an eye-witness and an actor in many of the events which made the history of the era, and he wrote extensively about them. Dr. Rodrigues explains his reasons for giving him such an important place in the present work: “If, as Aubry F. G. Bell observed, Vieira was not a literary figure and in spite of it has always been considered one of the great classics of the Portuguese language, in the same way one must say that he was not a historian and nevertheless, he is an inexhaustible source, direct and accurate, for a better understanding of Brazil in the seventeenth century.”
José Honorio Rodrigues’ sound scholarship and impartial judgment have again given us an outstanding historiographical study.