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Domingos Jorge Velho, a notable bandeirante.

The Bandeirantes (Portuguese pronunciation: [bɐ̃dejˈɾɐ̃t(ʃ)is], "those who are of the banner") were 17th-century Portuguese settlers in Brazil, fortune hunters and adventurers from the São Paulo region[Note 1] (known officially until 1709 as the Captaincy of São Vicente; subsequently the Captaincy of São Paulo). They led expeditions called bandeiras (Portuguese, "flags") which penetrated the interior of Brazil far south and west of the Tordesillas Line of 1494 that officially divided the Spanish (west) domain from the Portuguese (east) domain in South America.

The São Paulo settlement served as the home base for the most famous bandeirantes[Note 2]. Most bandeirantes were descendants of first- and second-generation Portuguese who settled in São Paulo,[citation needed] but their numbers also included some Spanish (Galicians, Basques, Castilians), and in some cases Italians (Neapolitans, Calabrese). Though they originally aimed to capture and force Indigenous Americans into slavery, the bandeirantes later began to focus their expeditions on finding gold, silver, and diamond mines. As they ventured into unmapped regions in search of profit and adventure, they expanded the effective borders of the Brazilian colony.


The bandeiras were the expeditions by citizens of the São Paulo region (Paulistas), known then as the Captaincy of Sao Vicente, designed to enslave indigenous peoples and to find precious metals and stones. Bandeiras were composed of Indians (slaves and allies), caboclos and whites, who were the captains.

Bandeiras were not state organized – they were privately run, and hence the men paid for their own equipment, and willingly and knowingly traversed into the wilderness for months or years[citation needed] at a time.

Bandeiras participated in the Battle of Mbororé, (March 11, 1641): Guaranís from Jesuit Reductions against bandeirantes, and Portuguese explorers after the separation of the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal.

The course of the bandeira route was a difficult and perilous one. The men were faced with hunger, fatigue, disease and death. Often there was little food.

The Monument to the bandeiras, a stone sculpture group by Victor Brecheret, located in São Paulo, Brazil

Despite the fact that the Jesuit missionaries were the chief opponents of the bandeirantes, priests accompanied the bandeira for two reasons: 1. to shrive the dying and the dead, 2. to ease the conscience of the men. The bandeira heard mass before leaving on their expedition. From 1628–1670 the bandeiras focused on slave hunting, then from 1670 - early 18th century they focused on mineral wealth.

Slave raids[edit]

In the beginning, the main focus of the bandeirantes was to enslave natives. They carried this out by disguising themselves as Jesuits, often singing mass to lure the natives out of their settlements. However, more often they relied on surprise attacks. If luring the natives with promises didn’t work, the bandeirantes would surround the settlements, and set them alight in order to force out the natives. The natives would be captured and placed into a large outdoor pen, until there were enough of them enslaved to justify a trip back to the coast, where they would be sold as slaves. It could be weeks or months until this was the case, and so hundreds of captives died of exposure. On the journey to the coast, the captives would be stripped, and tied to a long pole to prevent them from trying to flee the group.

There were over 2.5 million Indigenous peoples in Brazil in 1500.[1] By the middle of the 18th century, the number had dropped to estimated 1 million to 1.5 million.[citation needed] Many tribes living close to the Atlantic coast intermixed with Portuguese or died of diseases. Others had fled into the interior, and their flight created an ever-greater need for slaves, one that was not entirely satisfied by importing them from Africa. Native slaves sold for about $30–$40, while the imported African slaves sold from $100–$500. The bandeirantes were able to sell many native slaves due to their relatively unexpensive price, thus profting at large.

The first bandeira was in 1628, organized by Antonio Raposo Tavares. This bandeira raided 21 Jesuit villages in the upper Paraná Valley. They captured about 2,500 natives. A bandeira tactic was to set native tribes against each other in order to weaken them, and then to enslave both of them.

In 1628, Antônio Raposo Tavares led a bandeira, composed of 2,000 allied Indians, 900 mamelucos and 69 white Paulistanos, to find precious metals and stones or to capture Indians for slavery or both. This expedition alone was responsible for the destruction of most of the Jesuit missions of Spanish Guayrá and the enslavement of over 60,000 indigenous people. From 1648 to 1652, Tavares also led one of the longest known expeditions from São Paulo to the mouth of the Amazon river, investigating many of its tributaries, including the Rio Negro, and covering a distance of more than 10,000 km. The expedition arrived in Andean Quito, part of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru, and stayed there for a short time in 1651. Of the 1200 men who left São Paulo, only 60 reached their final destination in Belém.

Gold hunting[edit]

Besides the purpose of capturing natives as slaves, bandeiras were also used[ambiguous] to extend the power of Portugal by expanding its control over the Brazilian interior. Along with this development of property[disputed ] the bandeiras also allowed for the Portuguese to gain a hand in the discovery of mineral wealth, which they were previously unable to lavish in.

In the 1660s, the Portuguese government offered rewards to those who discovered gold and silver deposits in inner Brazil. So, the bandeirantes, who were driven by greed, ventured into the depths of Brazil not only to capture natives to sell as slaves, but to find mines and get government rewards. As the number of natives diminished, the bandeirantes began to focus on the precious minerals.


The bandeirantes were responsible for the discovery of mineral wealth and, along with the missionaries, for the territorial enlargement of central and southern Brazil. This mineral wealth made the fortune of Portugal during the 18th century. As a result of the bandeiras, the Capitaincy of São Vicente became the basis for the vice-kingdom of Brazil and encompassed current states of Santa Catarina, Paraná, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Goiás, part of Tocantins and both Northern and Southern Mato Grosso. With the few outlying Spanish settlements and missions overrun, the de facto control over most of what is now the Southeast, Southern and Central West regions of Brazil was recognised by the Treaties of Madrid in 1750 and San Ildefonso in 1777.

"In spite of the lack of geography, a science ignored by the Paulistas of old times, without other help than the Sun, they penetrated the interior of the Americas, conquering tribes. Some would go to the hinterland of Goias, until the Amazon river. Others to the coastline from the river of Patos until the river Plate, going to the river Uruguay and Tibagi. And going up through the Paraguay river until the Paraná [...] Some went through the vast hinterland beyond the river Paraguay going through the high mountains of the Kingdom of Peru. The Paulistas had to fight against the enemies and against nature: the latter with the weather and the former with wrath and hate. The lack of supplies could have made them cowards, if they were not used to eating the fruits of the hinterland, the honey of bees, the nuts of the forests, the sweet and bitter palmitos, and the roots of the plants known to be digestable". (Pedro Taques de Almeida Paes Leme)

"However a new breed of men was growing, wild yes and untractable, but one with which the native American blood infusion would soon acquire unrelentless building up activity. While the Spaniards, in Paraguay, stayed where Irala had placed them, treated generally the discoveries which the first Conquistadores had done with indifference, the Brazilians continued, for two centuries, to explore the country. These determined adventurers would spend months and months in the wild hunting slaves and looking for gold and silver, following the information they learnt from the native Americans. And finally, they managed to secure, to themselves and to the House of Braganza, the richest mines, the largest portion of South America, of all inhabited Earth, the most beautiful land". (Robert Southey, 1819)


  1. ^ Hence, they are also loosely called Paulistas, though the two terms are not quite synonymous - not all Paulistas were bandeirantes.
  2. ^ Well-known bandeirantes included: Bartolomeu Bueno da Silva (the Anhanguera), Antônio Dias de Oliveira, Fernão Dias Pais (the Hunter of Emeralds), Domingos Rodrigues do Prado, Antônio Rodrigues de Arzão, Domingos Jorge Velho, Salvador Furtado Fernandes de Mendonça, Antônio Raposo Tavares, Estêvão Ribeiro Baião Parente, Brás Rodrigues de Arzão, Manuel de Campos Bicudo, Francisco Dias de Siqueira (the Apuçá), Pascoal Moreira Cabral, Antônio Pires de Campos, Manuel de Borba Gato, Francisco Pedroso Xavier, Lourenço Castanho Taques, Tomé Portes del-Rei, Antonio Garcia da Cunha, Matias Cardoso de Almeida, Salvador Faria de Albernaz, José de Camargo Pimentel, João Leite da Silva Ortiz, João de Siqueira Afonso, Jerônimo Pedroso de Barros and Bartolomeu Bueno de Siqueira.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Leme, Luís Gonzaga da Silva, "Genealogia Paulistana" (1903-1905)
  • Leme, Pedro Taques de Almeida Paes, "Nobiliarquia Paulistana Histórica e Genealógica", Ed. São Paulo University (1980, São Paulo).
  • Taunay, Afonso de E., "Relatos Sertanistas", Ed. São Paulo University (1981, São Paulo)
  • Taunay, Afonso de E., "História das Bandeiras Paulistas", Ed. Melhoramentos (São Paulo)
  • Franco, Francisco de Assis Carvalho, "Dicionário de Bandeirantes e Sertanistas do Brasil", Ed. São Paulo University, São Paulo, Ed Itatiaia, Belo Horizonte (1989)
  • Deus, Frei Gaspar da Madre de, "História da Capitania de São Vicente", Ed. São Paulo University (1975, São Paulo)
  • Crow, John A., “The Epic of Latin America,” (London, 1992)
  • Cheney, Glenn Alan, Journey on the Estrada Real: Encounters in the Mountains of Brazil, (Chicago: Academy Chicago, 2004) ISBN 0-89733-530-9
  • Hemming, John, "Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians, 1500–1760 (London, 1978)