The Bandeirantes


The bandeirantes were entrepreneurs, not government employees, operating in large expeditionary groups, some numbering into the hundreds, known as bandeiras. In the slave trade, the bandeiras would capture indigenous people and walk them, shackled, to the coast. Those who were still alive by the time they arrived were sold, providing the bandeirantes a lucrative profession.
The bandeirantes used a variety of strategies to obtain their merchandise. When conditions were right, they could use the direct attack. Burning indigenous settlements to the ground proved a useful technique. They were not above deception, sometimes posing as Jesuits, to gather tribal members together into an area where they could be easily captured.

On the subject of slavery, the bandeirantes and the Jesuits did not agree, though the Jesuits were not averse to baptizing the captives. Considering the Jesuits a threat to their livelihood, the Bandeirantes joined colonists in attacking the Jesuit settlements that resulted in the religious order’s expulsion from Brazil in the 1750s.

As indigenous resistance grew, the task of locating mineral deposits during their sojourns into the unexplored interior became increasingly the bandeiras’ focus. It was the bandeirantes who discovered gold in the Minas Gerais, setting off a gold rush. They put down temporary roots as they went, constructing roads, building shelters and creating food sources through agriculture and cattle-raising.

Eventually, the need for their services waned. The bandeirantes settled down, moved into other professions and found their way into the country’s lore. Visitors on Brazil tours will see acknowledgements of the bandeirantes’ impact. Monuments and statues are found in various places, especially Sao Paulo where government business is conducted in a building called the Palacio dos Bandeirantes. A famous sight that most visitors on Brazil tours see during their travel to Sao Paulo is the Monumento as Bandeiras. It is located in Parque do Ibirapuera, one of the city’s most popular attractions during travel to Brazil. Erected in 1953, the mammoth piece by Brazilian sculptor Victor Brecheret depicts a Bandeira on expedition. In planning their travel to Brazil, visitors may find the 1960 film, Os Bandeirantes, by French director Marcel Camus of interest.