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Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil

Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil

A historically rich account of how “go-betweens”--individuals who could bridge indigenous and European cultures--helped shape Brazilian society in the sixteenth century.

January 2006
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391 pages | 6 x 9 | 20 figures, 11 maps, 2 tables |

Doña Marina (La Malinche) ...Pocahontas ...Sacagawea—their names live on in historical memory because these women bridged the indigenous American and European worlds, opening the way for the cultural encounters, collisions, and fusions that shaped the social and even physical landscape of the modern Americas. But these famous individuals were only a few of the many thousands of people who, intentionally or otherwise, served as "go-betweens" as Europeans explored and colonized the New World.

In this innovative history, Alida Metcalf thoroughly investigates the many roles played by go-betweens in the colonization of sixteenth-century Brazil. She finds that many individuals created physical links among Europe, Africa, and Brazil—explorers, traders, settlers, and slaves circulated goods, plants, animals, and diseases. Intercultural liaisons produced mixed-race children. At the cultural level, Jesuit priests and African slaves infused native Brazilian traditions with their own religious practices, while translators became influential go-betweens, negotiating the terms of trade, interaction, and exchange. Most powerful of all, as Metcalf shows, were those go-betweens who interpreted or represented new lands and peoples through writings, maps, religion, and the oral tradition. Metcalf's convincing demonstration that colonization is always mediated by third parties has relevance far beyond the Brazilian case, even as it opens a revealing new window on the first century of Brazilian history.


Roberto Reis PrizeBrazilian Studies Association (BRASA)

  • A Note on Spelling and Citation
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Go-betweens
  • 2. Encounter
  • 3. Possession
  • 4. Conversion
  • 5. Biology
  • 6. Slavery
  • 7. Resistance
  • 8. Power
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Alida Metcalf is Harris Masterson, Jr. Professor of History at Rice University.


. . . her master asked her if she would be the third party . . .

A question posed to an Aimoré woman, 1609

In the first years of the seventeenth century, the French Jesuit historian Pierre du Jarric introduces an Indian woman living in Brazil in his history of the "most memorable things" in the lands "discovered by the Portuguese." Leaving her unnamed, Jarric identifies her as a member of the Aimoré, an indigenous group greatly feared by colonists living in Salvador, Brazil's capital. Jarric explains that she no longer lived with the Aimoré but on the estate of a prominent colonist who lived outside of Salvador, where the woman had become "domesticated" in the ways of the Portuguese and had learned their language and customs. Her master believed that she might be able to persuade the Aimoré to accept peace with the Portuguese. He sent her with Portuguese "accoutrements" (clothes), food, and "various iron tools" such as knives and hatchets, and through her native language, she convinced a group of Aimoré to accept the gifts and the peace offered by the Portuguese. Some of the Aimoré came to her master's estate on the outskirts of the sugar plantation zone that surrounded the capital, and eventually an Aimoré chief met the governor of Brazil. He agreed that his people would live on an island in the Bay of All Saints, where the Jesuits would teach them Christianity. Jarric writes that a joyous procession was held in the capital to celebrate the peace.

A Jesuit report of their mission in Brazil in the first years of the seventeenth century, on which Jarric bases much of his account, reveals that the woman's master asked her "if she would be the third party" and help to bring about a peace with the Aimoré. Because of her language, her mobility, and her understanding of two opposing cultures, this woman became the go-between who made possible peaceful encounters between two previously hostile groups. Her agency had enormous and far-reaching significance. The lives of the Aimoré whom she had persuaded to accept the Portuguese overtures for peace would never be the same, and the peace that she brought opened up opportunities for many in the Portuguese colony. But she was hardly unique. During the previous century, hundreds of similar encounters had already taken place, and certain ways of interaction between the Indian and the Portuguese world had already taken root in Brazil. She was part of a much larger process wherein go-betweens typically were present at meetings between Indian and Portuguese peoples. Many more go-betweens would facilitate future encounters in the succeeding centuries.

It has often been assumed that the contact between Europe and America was a dyadic relationship between two very different cultural groups, Europeans and Native Americans. But in these dealings, third parties, such as the Aimoré woman, invariably were present. Certainly, conceptualizing the Portuguese and Indian worlds as a dyadic relationship is key to understanding the conflict between two very different ways of life that competed for Brazil after 1500. But go-betweens, as third parties, influenced the relationship that emerged in fundamental ways. As sociologist Georg Simmel explains, "the triad is a structure completely different from the dyad," and "[i]t is sociologically very significant that isolated elements are unified by their common relation to a phenomenon which lives outside of them." The Indian woman, speaking in the Aimoré language and giving presents of European clothes, food, and tools, was such a phenomenon. Through her, a very different relationship replaced the previously violent meetings that had characterized Portuguese and Aimoré interactions for at least fifty years. As go-between, she made possible a new kind of relationship between the Portuguese and the Aimoré, whether for better or for worse.

Go-betweens influenced the power dynamics at play in the relations between the Indian and European worlds. Simmel distinguishes between the mediator, who "guides the process of coming to terms," and the arbitrator, who "ends up by taking sides." For Simmel, mediators allow the two parties to determine the outcome of their conflict, whereas when the two sides choose an arbitrator, their "will to conciliation" is "personified in the arbitrator." The arbitrator thereby gains "a special impressiveness and power over the antagonistic forces." In historical settings, go-betweens can be neutral mediators, but in fact they rarely are. As a rule, they tend to become what Simmel calls arbitrators. In an encounter, the side that possesses the loyalty, or pays for (and retains) the allegiance, of the go-between gains an important advantage. There is a further dimension of power, however. Go-betweens may exploit their positions for their own benefit. Simmel labels this position the tertius gaudens (the third who rejoices). The tertius gaudens is an "egoistic exploiter of the situation" who enjoys many advantages because he (or she) is indifferent to the outcome.

The complexities of go-betweens have fascinated novelists, who use fiction to explore the social tensions, the psychological dramas, and the power shifts that surround them. In fiction, go-betweens are individuals of in-between social status who are mobile, able to function in very different worlds, frequently fluent in several languages, sometimes dabblers in magic, and oftentimes involved in intense, sexually charged situations. Not surprisingly, go-betweens in fiction frequently encounter tragedy. Celestina, the wily matchmaker in the Spanish novel La Celestina, pays the price of death for facilitating love, and Leo, the young carrier of messages in L. P. Hartley's novel The Go-Between, suffers an emotional breakdown. Through the character of the hard-bitten spy Leamas, John Le Carré explores the complexities of manipulation, both by and of go-betweens, in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, as does African novelist Amadou Hampaté Bâ. Bâ's character Wangrin brilliantly and craftily manipulates his role as translator to outwit the French colonial administrators in the novel The Fortunes of Wangrin. The go-between as agent of empire also emerges in J. M Coetzee's brooding novel Waiting for the Barbarians, which probes the power and the moral compass of the government official at the edge of the empire. Resistance to authority emerges in Jurek Becker's character Jakob, who creates lies to bring hope to Jews in the ghetto controlled by the Nazis in Jakob the Liar. In all of these novels, go-betweens inhabit an "in-between" space, which gives them mobility, information, and power, but the stakes for them are always high. Go-betweens link groups or individuals who cannot communicate with each other, but the facilitation of that communication and contact inevitably leads to death, destruction, or madness.

Nearly all of these novels are set in recognizable historical periods that were times of conflict, contact, and change. Historians, too, have been fascinated by the go-betweens they have found in sources from the past. Some go-betweens have achieved near-mythical status in national and regional histories. Pocahontas, who lived at the same time as the unnamed Aimoré woman, is credited with bringing about peace between the English colony at Jamestown and the surrounding Powhatan people. Sacagawea (also spelled Sacajawea), a Shoshone woman who lived two hundred years later, is another individual go-between whose role as interpreter and guide is celebrated because she enabled Lewis and Clark to explore the American Northwest. In the far west of nineteenth-century Brazil, Mary Karasch describes the life of a daughter of a prominent Caiapó chief who became the "Indian heroine of [the state of] Goiás." Damiana da Cunha was baptized into Christianity, lived as a hostage in the household of the governor of Goiás to guarantee peace, and undertook multiple expeditions to the Caiapó to bring them into the Portuguese colonial world.

Perhaps the most famous individual go-between is Malintzin, also known as Doña Marina or La Malinche, Hernán Cortés' interpreter and mistress during the conquest of Mexico. Doña Marina was not the first interpreter to serve Cortés or the earlier captains who had sailed along the coast of the Yucatán, nor was she the last, but she is considered to be the most important. Baptized Indians, Indians captured in battle and freed on the condition that they carry messages, and even Spaniards who had gone "native" all served as translators for Cortés. Cortés immediately took advantage of Jerónimo de Aguilar, a Spaniard who had been shipwrecked among the Maya and who spoke Spanish and Mayan, and of Malintzin, later baptized as Marina, because she spoke Mayan and Nahuatl. As Doña Marina and Aguilar became experienced translators, they transformed the actual words of Cortés, which had limited power in Mexico because only Spaniards could understand them, into words and concepts that could be understood by Mayan and Nahuatl speakers. So ubiquitous was Doña Marina that Cortés, according to the Spanish foot soldier Bernal Díaz del Castillo, actually became known throughout Mexico as "Malinche," or Marina's captain. For Díaz, who wrote his memoirs of the conquest late in his life, Doña Marina was a crucial part of the Spaniards' success. He dedicates one chapter in his enormous account to her, stating at the end of the chapter, "I have wanted to declare this because without Doña Marina going with us, we could not understand the language of New Spain and Mexico."

Many visual representations of Doña Marina as interpreter are preserved in accounts of the conquest compiled from the perspective of Aztec survivors. A black-and-white line drawing of the encounter between Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, the ruler of the Aztecs, and Spanish conquistadors appears in the Codex Florentino, a source written by the Franciscan priest Bernardino de Sahagún. Based on the memories of Nahua informants whom Sahagún and his Indian students interviewed following the conquest of Mexico, the Codex Florentino emphasizes the role of Doña Marina in its drawings and in its Spanish and Nahuatl texts. This particular image shows Doña Marina standing between the Spanish and the Indian sides. She is drawn in the center, listening to the words of Moctezuma. Her feet are bare and her hands are folded across her stomach. She wears a woven huipil (tunic) and skirt. She is shown looking directly at Moctezuma, whose right hand is raised with the index finger pointing. Speech glyphs float from his mouth to Doña Marina. The pictograph clearly conveys that this encounter was not exclusively a dyadic relationship between the Spaniards and Moctezuma, but one facilitated by a third party, Doña Marina, through whom words passed (Fig. 1.1).

Most go-betweens, however, have not become mythical figures in national histories, mainly because they have been overlooked or forgotten. When Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro met the Inca Atahualpa at Cajamarca, Indian translators were present. Nevertheless, this meeting in 1532 is frequently presented as a dyadic "clash of empires," and the role of the interpreter is ignored. Jared Diamond argues, for example, that not only does the meeting between Pizarro and Atahualpa mark "a decisive moment in the greatest collision of modern history," but that "the factors that resulted in Pizarro's seizing Atahualpa were essentially the same ones that determined the outcome of many similar collisions between colonizers and native peoples elsewhere in the modern world."

Yet, as historian James Lockhart notes, the Spaniards had excellent interpreters when they met Atahualpa; not only had they acquired the interpreters before they entered the Inca Empire, but their interpreters "had traversed most of the Hispanic world and had lived among Spaniards for some years of their adolescence." Pedro Pizarro describes these interpreters as Indian boys, given to or captured by Pizarro and his partner Diego de Almagro on their previous reconnoitering expedition to the north coast of Peru. Two of the Indians were then taken to Spain before they accompanied Pizarro and Almagro to Peru.

A remarkable history written by Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala [Waman Puma], an Andean Indian of the seventeenth century, includes a visual representation of the meeting between Pizarro and Atahualpa that shows the presence of the interpreter. Guaman Poma places the interpreter in an intermediate space between Atahualpa and the conquistadors Diego de Almagro (who was not actually present), Francisco Pizarro, and the Franciscan priest, Fray Vicente. Atahualpa occupies the center and dominates the privileged upper position. Also in the upper position, to his right and left, are the Inca lords. Below him are the Spaniards. Almagro and Pizarro kneel, as does Fray Vicente, who holds a cross and a prayer book. To Vicente's right, Atahualpa's left, stands an interpreter with his index finger extended. Each of the conquistadors is so labeled, as is the interpreter: "Felipe yno [indio, Indian] lingua [tongue]" (Fig. 1.2). The interpreter, Felipe, occupies an intermediate space between the Indian and the Spanish worlds.

Guaman Poma's visual rendering of the encounter between Pizarro and Atahualpa has its own logic, its own interpretation of events that had taken place many years before, and its own distortions. It is not my intent to read the image as a photograph of the meeting or to argue that it reflects exactly what transpired, but simply to note that it includes the presence of a third party, the interpreter.

Unlike the highly symbolic meetings at Cajamarca or at Tenochtitlan, most contacts between Europeans and Native Americans typically took place repeatedly over long periods of time, not only in frontier zones but in the daily encounters between Indians and European colonists. Modern historians of the Americas now recognize whole classes of intermediaries. Nancy Hagedorn, for example, identifies more than one hundred interpreters who served in the British territories north of Virginia between 1740 and 1770. These men and women were skilled translators and cultural brokers who were central to the formal diplomatic meetings between the Iroquois and British government officials. Janaína Amado and Timothy Coates emphasize the importance of the degredado, the penal exile, in the Portuguese Empire. Amado argues that Portugal, a small, lightly populated Christian kingdom, could only achieve its ambitious overseas objectives by obsessively collecting information through all possible means. The Portuguese Crown therefore encouraged the creation of translators and intermediaries by sending condemned prisoners to live in exile in Africa, Asia, and Brazil. In Spanish America, mestizos, who inhabited the space between the Spanish and the Indian worlds, are frequently portrayed as important intermediaries. Berta Ares Queija sees the mestizos of sixteenth-century Peru as "condemned" to live between worlds, participating in both but belonging to neither. Their mobility, their ability to conduct themselves in two languages, and their skill at translating one symbolic universe to another were unique. Daniel Richter argues that Indian war captives, who were adopted into the Five Nation Iroquois villages in the seventeenth century, shaped the reception later received by Jesuit missionaries.

Go-betweens often inhabit what American historian Richard White terms a "middle ground." White defines the middle ground as "in between cultures, peoples, and in between empires and the nonstate world of villages." This middle ground, he argues, is the periphery of the world system; it is "the area between the historical foreground of European invasion and occupation and the background of Indian defeat and retreat." What is particularly compelling is White's contention that in the middle ground, "minor agents, allies, and even subjects at the periphery often guide the course of empires."

Operating in a middle ground where the influence of the empire is weak, go-betweens were often used to arbitrate relations in ways that over time benefited the interests of the European rather than the Indian world. An American historian grappling with the question of how the English "won" North America reflects that "[t]o understand how the Indians lost America and the English won it, we must look past the grand events—warfare, epidemics, the frontier's advance—to examine the less celebrated but no less important meetings between peoples." This "real (and still largely untold) story," he argues, lies in interactions between Indians and colonists, a history difficult to write because "[t]hese long-forgotten encounters lie in scraps of evidence, mere snatches of conversations."

In such snatches of conversation go-betweens clearly took center stage, for they were the means of communication in the middle grounds of encounters. Who became go-betweens and who was served by the go-betweens were not inconsequential factors, and they often determined the outcome of meetings, encounters, negotiations, and conversations. As American historian James Merrell emphasizes, go-betweens were perceived as fundamental to the negotiations between colonial officials and Indians, even if historians have not always perceived their importance.

The literary scholar Stephen Greenblatt opens up many of the directions taken in this book. In Marvelous Possessions, Greenblatt is interested in the "representational practices" that Europeans carried with them and used to describe the Americas. For Greenblatt, those who wrote about America and Native Americans for European audiences created a "flood of textual representations, along with a much smaller production of visual images," that "delivered" the New World to the Old. Greenblatt's go-betweens tend to be the writers of texts and the sculptors of images, but he also recognizes the importance of go-betweens who, through their movement, linked Europe with America. He writes that "European adventurers not only depended upon go-betweens, but were themselves go-betweens." Of particular interest to Greenblatt are the translators who were essential to many encounters between Europeans and Americans. Reflecting on Doña Marina, Greenblatt represents her as "the figure in whom all communication between the two opposed cultures was concentrated." "She was," he writes, Cortés' "principal access to language—at once his tongue and ears—and hence the key to his hope for survival and success." Greenblatt even goes so far as to characterize her as "the supreme instance of the go-between in the New World" because she was the figure through whom all communication between the Aztec and Spanish worlds passed.

Building on Greenblatt's observations, it is possible to see that go-betweens play multiple roles and that it is useful to distinguish between them. If we unpack and refine Greenblatt's generic "go-between," three major types of go-betweens emerge. At the most basic level is the physical go-between. The men, women, and children who crossed the Atlantic Ocean, thereby linking not only Europe and America, but Europe and Africa, and Africa and America, were all physical go-betweens. Though Greenblatt would argue that every physical go-between carried his or her "representational practices" and was part and parcel of the "representation" of America, I believe they are most significant as biological go-betweens. Biological go-betweens carried disease, introduced European domestic animals, and transplanted American flora and fauna to Europe and Africa. European sailors, sea captains, crews, colonists, and passengers all were physical and biological go-betweens, as were the Africans who traversed the Atlantic as slaves and the Indians who traveled to Europe as slaves, free servants, and exotic people from a new world.

A second type of go-between, the transactional, is the most immediately recognizable. Transactional go-betweens were translators, negotiators, and cultural brokers. Some are famous as individuals, such as Doña Marina or Sacagawea, while others remain nameless but are part of groups that were nevertheless influential, such as the mestizos of colonial Spanish America or the penal exiles of the Portuguese world. Transactional go-betweens possessed complex and shifting loyalties that are difficult for modern historians to reconstruct. Guaman Poma, for example, served as a transactional go-between in Peru following the conquest because of his fluency in Spanish and Quechua; he worked as an interpreter and an informer for Spanish colonial officials. Some of the most interesting of the transactional go-betweens were Indian women, but most still remain invisible in the written historical record.

Europeans as well as Indians perceived the power of the transactional go-between. The visual depictions of Doña Marina and Felipe at Cajamarca appear in documents influenced by Aztec and Andean Indians, who in hindsight saw the power that interpreters had given to the European side during the conquest. Many indigenous groups sought and acquired their own transactional go-betweens. For example, in North America, Hagedorn's work reveals that Iroquois chiefs hired their own interpreters for council fire meetings with English officials, and in Mexico, Indian litigants sought their own scribes, interpreters, and lawyers to pursue their cases before the Spanish courts.

The third, and most powerful, type of go-betweens were those who, to use Greenblatt's term, "represented" America and Native Americans for Europeans, or Europeans to Native Americans. Whereas Greenblatt would see all go-betweens as representational, I draw a distinction between them that is largely based on power and influence. I term representational go-betweens those who, through writings, drawings, mapmaking, and the oral tradition, shaped on a large scale how Europeans and Native Americans viewed each other. Representational go-betweens were the cartographers, letter writers, and chroniclers—most but not all of whom were European. Bernal Díaz del Castillo, who described the role of Doña Marina in his history of the conquest of Mexico, is an example of a representational go-between. He interprets the conquest of Mexico, arguing that the Spanish were justified in what they did. Similarly, the Jesuits were powerful representational go-betweens for sixteenth-century Brazil; much of our knowledge of the crucial first century of Brazilian history is filtered through their words.

Although representational go-betweens on the Indian side are far more elusive to modern historians than their counterparts on the European side, it is important to remember that they most certainly existed. One of the most compelling is Guaman Poma, whose twelve-hundred-page book with nearly four hundred illustrations intended to inform King Philip III of the situation in Peru, and in particular of the poor treatment Indians received from Spaniards. His book, El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno [1615], is today invaluable because it preserves the history of Peru before, during, and after the conquest from the Andean point of view. Similarly, the lienzos from colonial Mexico are another kind of representation—a visual picture of landscapes, land and water rights, sacred places, and genealogies—that reflects how the indigenous peoples of Mexico perceived their changing world. Reconstructing the depictions of Europeans from the Indian side in Brazil is more difficult, but the work of anthropologists is very insightful. Anthropologist Laura Graham illustrates how Warodi, a Xavante elder in central Brazil, interpreted past encounters through dreams, and how these images were shared through expressive performances. These portrayals of the past, Graham argues, influenced modern Xavante strategies for interacting with Brazilian government officials. Similarly, fieldwork by anthropologists in modern Amazonia reveals complex renderings of o branco ("the whites" or "the white man"). Comparable kinds of processes undoubtedly existed in the past that historians may be able to recover from written records and the oral tradition.

Among the representational go-betweens are historians who, positioning themselves between the past and the present, interpret past cultures and represent them for modern readers. I, too, am a representational go-between as I shape an understanding of sixteenth-century Brazil. Like other present-day historians, I see multiple stories in the past, and by choosing to focus on some but not all of the possible themes, groups, series of events, or sets of documents, I construct a narrative of the sixteenth century that reflects what I deem important.

The three kinds of go-betweens that constitute the conceptual framework of this study are summarized in Table 1.1.

This book weaves physical, transactional, and representational go-betweens into a chronological narrative of the first hundred years of Brazilian history. The sixteenth century brought enormous change to indigenous peoples living in what was first called by the Portuguese the Land of the Holy Cross, to the landscape itself, and to the peoples from Europe and Africa who came to live there. In this formative one hundred years, a time when the colony's future was indeterminate and in flux, patterns of interactions were established that would shape Brazil for centuries to come. Yet unlike the sixteenth century in Mexican, Peruvian, or Caribbean history, the sixteenth century in Brazilian history still remains poorly understood. By rewinding the narrative of Brazilian history back to the sixteenth century, and by looking for the go-betweens and listening to their voices, the formation of Brazil comes into focus.

In the sixteenth century are rooted many of the most important themes of Brazilian history: the discovery, exploration, and mapping of the land; the history of indigenous groups; the origins of slavery; the development of commercial agriculture; the influence of the Jesuits; the formation of religious identity; the ecological destruction of the tropical forests. Each of these themes can be developed into a rich narrative spanning the entire century, but it is my intention to tell one story: how the Portuguese won Brazil through the agency of go-betweens. In telling this story, I dip into many of the thematic narratives of the sixteenth century, and in referencing them I hope to provide a synthetic picture of the sixteenth century in Brazil.

This book ends in 1600, not because the story ends there, but because by that time the Portuguese had "won" the battle for key regions along the coast of Brazil. Increasingly during the sixteenth century, the arbitration provided by go-betweens granted the advantage to the Portuguese in their struggle with the Indians over which culture would dominate. With their colonies firmly established along the coast by the end of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese colonists were then able to extend their influence to new regions, where many of the same patterns of interaction would be replicated. Just as go-betweens had been indispensable in the "winning" of coastal Brazil in the sixteenth century, so, too, would they be crucial in tilting new frontiers toward Portugal in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and in fostering the emergence of modern Brazil in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Paradoxically, as the power and influence of the Portuguese increased in Brazil in the sixteenth century, the kingdom of Portugal was losing its influence in Europe. The extensive Portuguese maritime empire that kings of the Portuguese House of Avis had developed systematically from the early fifteenth century began to crack in the last quarter of the sixteenth. In 1578, the death of young King Sebastião in an ill-conceived, medieval-like crusade against Muslims in North Africa plunged Portugal into a dynastic crisis. King Philip II of Spain manipulated Portugal's weakness and imposed his claim to the throne in 1580, thereby bringing to an end the dynasty of the House of Avis. Although the administration of Portugal and Brazil remained separate from that of Spain, Portugal and Brazil immediately felt the effects of the Spanish succession. Philip impressed Portugal's fine merchant fleet into the armada that he sent against Queen Elizabeth in 1588. Its destruction dealt a severe blow to Portuguese mercantile trade. Portuguese possessions in Africa, America, and India fell under increasing attack by Spain's enemies, most notably the Dutch. Appended to Spain, Portugal, the once proud leader of maritime exploration, was destroyed politically, financially, and morally. Yet, despite Portugal's declining power in the sixteenth century, it increasingly "won" Brazil. How was this possible? And when during the long sixteenth century did Portugal "win" Brazil? The answers to these questions lie with the go-betweens who are the subject of this book.

Seeking to understand these go-betweens and their power, I begin this book with the premise that in the encounters of the sixteenth century, hundreds of go-betweens were present—some named, but most not. I then retell the history of the sixteenth century in order to make the roles of these go-betweens visible. By examining the three kinds of go-betweens—physical, transactional, and representational—it is possible to see how go-betweens shaped the birth and evolution of the relationship between Portugal and Brazil. The Portuguese gained significant advantage in Brazil not by controlling all of the go-betweens, but by ensuring that the majority of them arbitrated for the Portuguese side. But the world that the Portuguese won through these go-betweens was not a reproduction of Portugal, nor did the "won" colony take the form that the kings of Portugal had once imagined. By 1600, the landscape and the peoples of Brazil differed markedly from those of Portugal. And even if Portugal could claim Brazil as a colony, that did not mean that Portuguese authority reigned supreme. Go-betweens had their own interests and exercised their own power, and conflicts erupted between them, even between those go-betweens who mediated for the Portuguese world. The interests of go-betweens also cast long shadows over the subsequent formation of Brazil.

I have found no visual representations of go-betweens mediating encounters in Brazil that are comparable to the sketches of Doña Marina in the Codex Florentino or those of Felipillo in Guaman Poma's Primer nueva corónica. But in a sixteenth-century atlas drawn in the French style known as the Dieppe School, several scenes of encounters appear as illustrations drawn over the interior of Brazil. One detail that portrays a European man engaged in trade with Indian men and women is particularly suggestive of the go-between. The European looks out from Brazil, as if across the Atlantic Ocean. With his index finger, he points to the brazilwood logs that Indian men have assembled. By his side is a basket of trading goods. The nameless European man portrayed in this cartographic detail is clearly a physical go-between who had crossed the ocean and entered Brazil. Although the artist does not reveal how, it is clear that this man is in charge of the exchange between the European world and Brazil, thus playing the role of the transactional go-between. And the fact that the artist chose to use him to represent Brazil illustrates the artist's recognition of his importance in the Brazilian trade (Fig. 1.3).

As we shall see, the simple words, exchanges, and interactions hinted at in this drawing carried great and far-reaching consequences. For this nameless man (who is drawn significantly larger and in more detail than the indigenous men with whom he trades) clearly serves the European side. He stands above a carefully drawn coastline that is labeled with names familiar even to this day, and his feet intersect with the radii of the compass rose that the cartographer has drawn just off shore. This man finds himself in Brazil because of the navigational expertise of European mariners, and he uses his skill to acquire the riches of Brazil. Such encounters and the patterns of interaction they began had occurred before and would be repeated over and over again. As this detail suggests, and as this book shows, go-betweens were central to the colonization of Brazil.


“Based on a broad array of sources, including extensive archival research, this book presents a provocatively new interpretation of indigenous-European relations in Portuguese America, as they unfolded over the course of the sixteenth century. . . . The topic is fascinating and the sources extremely rich and suggestive.”
John Monteiro, Anthropology Department, UNICAMP, Brazil, and Visiting Professor of History, Harvard University


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