Maritime Topics On Stamps :

Cabral 'discovers' Brazil!
500 Years ago,
the Discovery of Brazil

The stamp to the right shows the siblings from Spain, Martin Alonso and Vicente Yanez Pinzon. Both accompanied Columbus on his first voyage in 1492, serving as masters of the ‘Pinta’ and ‘Nina’, respectively. Whereas Martin Alonso was eager to find gold on his own and on two occasions deserted from Columbus’ fleet, Vicente Yanez followed Columbus faithfully and took him aboard the ‘Nina’ following the loss of the ‘Santa Maria’. Pinzon brothers
In the year 1499, Vicente Yanez Pinzon embarked on another voyage of discovery with four caravels. On January 26, 1500 the expedition reached the coast of Brazil near Cabo Sao Agostinho. Next, they discovered the mouth of the Amazon before continuing northwards towards Venezuela. Thus Vicente Yanez Pinzon was first to tread on Brazilian soil, yet it is Cabral who is being celebrated as ‘Discoverer of Brazil’.

Following Columbus’ first voyage, the Spanish crown was eager to officially claim possession of the newly discovered land. With the help of a papal bulletin all territories west of a line 100 leagues (483 km) off the shore of the Cape Verde Islands were declared Spanish (1493). All territories to the east went to the king of Portugal. With the Treaty of Tordesillas in June of 1494, this line was moved further westward to a position 370 leagues (1,786 km) west of the Cape Verde Islands (approximately 46 degrees Longitude West). Looking at the souvenir stamp to the left, this line would run right between the trees to the right of the stamp. The Pope confirmed the Spanish- Portuguese agreement in 1506. Later on this treaty formed the basis of the Portuguese claim for posession of Brazil.

In 1498 Vasco da Gama had discovered the seaway to India and returned with valuable oriental goods and spices. One year later king Manuel I again equipped a fleet of 13 ships and sent it to India. The mission: To conquer more Indian territories, to establish a trading post and to obtain more silk and spices. The nobleman Pedro Alvarez Cabral in command was more soldier than sailor, as Vasco da Gama experienced some difficulties with the Indian people. In addition the fleet sported ten Man'o'wars of the Caravel type and three smaller vessels of the Naos type. The 1500 strong crew consisted of nobles, sailors, soldiers, priests, merchants, a doctor and a translator.
Among them Barthelomeo Dias, who had discovered the Cape of the Good Hope earlier on. On March 9th, 1500 the fleet left the port of Lisbon. The voyage was overshadowed by many accidents. At the Cape Verde Islands one ship of the fleet was already missing. To avoid the zones of the calms, an area famous for weak or no winds at all, the fleet sailed with the trade winds in southwesterly direction. The ships were pushed even more westerly by the Equator Stream and on April 22nd, 1500 they sighted land.
12 of the fleet

Porto Seguro
Cabral named this land 'Terra de Vera Cruz', Land of the True Cross. As the winds were quite strong the fleet searched for and found a safe bay. The voyagers named this place Porto Seguro, Safe Port and dropped their anchors. The stamp to the left depicts the landing embedded in a map of Brazil.
Going ashore the Portuguese met natives, who wore nothing but their bows and arrows. Nevertheless they were friendly and peaceful and, some days later, even came aboard the ships and slept on the deck. The warlike and distrustful Cabral was completely puzzled by these Indians and their trust. It seemed that they did not know fear, war, treachery nor betrayals.

Vera Cruz
erste Messe
Cabral ordered to build a cross and claimed the area for Portugal (see stamp to the left) as determined by the Treaty of Tordesillas (see above). A mass was celebrated by the priests (right stamp) and all the Portuguese kneeled and kissed the cross. During the mass watching natives kneeled and imitated the strangers, and the priests supposed that these simple people would be easy to convert to Christianity.

message ship
Pero Vaz Carminha was the official chronicler of this expedition. He wrote a report about this discovery for king Manuel, and Cabral sent a ship with this report back to Lisbon. The stamp to the left shows the ship and the last page of this report.

After 10 days, on May the 2nd, 1500 Cabral and his fleet of eleven ships left the discovered country. They sailed to the southern tip of Africa, but near the Cape of Good Hope the ships were suddenly surprised by a strong storm. They lost four ships and Bartholomeo Dias - the man, who had discovered this cape, sunk unceremoniously together with his ship in front of it. It was the second accident of this voyage. They were down from originally 13 ships to only seven. On July 16th, the fleet entered the port of Sofala to repair the ships. The vessel of Diogo Dias, the brother of Bartholomeo Dias was missing. This was the third accident. Now they were down to only six ships. the fleet

Cabral with fleet
On September 13th, 1500, after a halt at Malindini the fleet reached its originally planned destination, the port of Calicut. The muslim sovereign welcomed the voyagers in a friendly manner and allowed them to set up their trading post. But soon arguments ensued among the merchants which erupted into bloody conflict. Many Portuguese were massacred in the streets before the ships in the port went into action. Cabral used the cannons of his ships to bomb the town and sank 15 other ships in the port after killing all their crew members.
Nevertheless the fleet abandoned Calicut and headed for Cochin. Here the voyagers loaded their ships with silk, pepper, ginger and other spices and on January 16th, 1501 finally left India.

Cabral with ship
Another ship was lost south of Malindini and some other reports even speak of the loss of another two ships. Nearly half a year later, on June 23rd, 1501 the fleet reached the port of Lisbon. Again, some reports speak of six incoming ships and others of four ships. But despites these losses, the sale of the cargo raised so much money that the whole voyage was declared a success. King Manuel considered Cabral for another command of an expedition to India, but choose Vasco da Gama instead. Even today nobody knows why Cabral suddenly fell in disfavour at the Portuguese court. You can see Cabral on both stamps above.

brasil wood
Now we come back to Brazil. The original name 'Vera Cruz' was used only for a short time. King Manuel changed it to 'Santa Cruz', which translates to 'Holy Cross'. Nevertheless the most common name, 'Brazil', took over shortly thereafter. It descended from the only one good worthy of exploitation: the Brazil wood. This red wood type most common in the coast forests was necessary to produce raw material for colours needed by the textile industry. On the stamp you can see Indians working on the trunks while the ships wait in the background. In those days the Portuguese Crown was not very interested in the colony because they did not find gold.
She distributed the coastal region among deserved noblemen called 'Konquistadors'.There only interest was to make the colony as profitable as possible. The noblemen turned to cultivating sugar canes in great plantations and by 1600 Brazil has risen to the world's greatest sugar exporter of those times. As the natives were not able to work under the harsh conditions of the plantations, hundredthousands of slaves from West Africa were shipped to Brazil.

On the stamp to the left you can see a friendly priest with a cross. The missionaries were pretty busy. On the other stamp you see enthusiastic sailors in the rig of a ship: 'land in sight'.
In the beginning of the conquest of Brazil the native population consisted of roundabout five million people. Today there are less than 300,000 left. What happened in between is disputed, but some historians called it genocide as 'the sword, the cross and the hunger' worked hand in hand. After the dark chapter of the sugar slave colonies the exploitation continued. The natives were forced to work in gold mines, at coffee plantations and in the jungle, where they had to plug India rubber.
Normally such facts will not be depicted on stamps or covers. The postal authorities often turn to more 'friendly' pictures like the enthusiastic sailors waving in the rig of a ship. Such symbolism should be questioned by every motive collector. Never forget the story behind the story.

killing indios

© 1998 - 2003 Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved.

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