Brazil’s Day of Discovery

Portuguese explorer Cabral lands at Porto Seguro on Brazil's Day of Discovery.
The landing of Pedro Álvares Cabral in Porto Seguro, 1500 from the collection of the Museu Paulista at USP. Paulista Museum Fund Collection - FMP (Image: Public domain / Museu Paulista (USP) Collection).

In 1500, explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral left Lisbon, Portugal with 13 ships prepared to sail toward India. Did he have other plans?

Brazil’s Day of Discovery (O Dia do Descobrimento do Brasil) is acknowledged annually on April 22nd.

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Welcome to Brazilian Minute, brought to you by the Consulate-General of Brazil in Chicago and the Brazilian Foreign Ministry’s Cultural Department.

Brazil’s ‘Discovery Day’! In 1500, explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral left Portugal with 13 ships prepared to sail toward India. But storms and strong Atlantic currents took his expedition west into uncharted waters.

On the 44th day, April 22, 1500, The fleet sighted Mount Pascoal near the present city of Porto Seguro in Bahia. Soon they were welcomed by the Tupiniquim Indians who were waiting for them on the beach.

On Easter Sunday, April 26th, 1,000 sailors celebrated the first mass in the New World, curiously watched by 200 of the Tupi tribe.

Brazil’s Discovery Day is observed every April 22nd and interestingly, the word Tupiniquim has come to mean ‘Brazilian’ or ‘National’. As in the phrase Cantor Tupiniquim which means ‘Brazilian singer.’

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Brazil's Discovery Day. The first mass n the New World. Saliors and Ingigenous people gather near a wooden cross.
Celebrating the First Mass in the New World. (Image: Victor Meirelles: A Primeira Missa no Brasil (1861). Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Brasil.)

More on: Brazil’s Day of Discovery

Overview:

April 22nd marks Brazil’s official Day of Discovery observed to commemorate the official discovery of Brazil by Portugal’s Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500. However, the day is not a national holiday.

Today, the joy of discovery comes quickly in our connected world. Importantly, the size of the world was not even defined five centuries ago. This is the challenge that Portuguese explorers, the Vikings, Italy’s Marco Polo, and China’s Zheng He dedicated their lives toward.

What took the Cabral’s fleet several weeks can now be accomplished in just a few hours. You can even fly in first-class comfort if you so choose. It takes mere seconds on your laptop or smartphone.

So, to take you into the moment, we’ve come up with a novel idea.

What if we presented Carbal’s historic voyage as if we were reading the daily diaries of his crew, as it happened?

So, cheers! Here’s to an eventful read, taken from Brazil’s Four Epic Adventures.

Cabral’s voyage to the New World

Friday, March 9th, 1500. Navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral sets sail with a fleet of 13 vessels from the port of Lisbon. He is charged by Portugal’s Emperor to follow in the wake of his fellow Portuguese explorers.

Primarily, Bartolomeu Dias was the first sailor to round Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Secondly, there was Vasco da Gama, the explorer who initiated the trade route to India.

Within a period of 15 short years, Dias and da Gama had elevated Portugal to the status of world power. Cabral had earned the confidence and favor of Portugal’s King Manuel I. He was eager to make his mark.

Initially, Cabral’s fleet tacked along Africa’s coast until it reached the Cape Verde Islands. Then, westerly winds steered them into the unknown.

A few weeks later, Cabral’s lead ship sighted mountains on the horizon and several days later his fleet sailed into a large bay, which would later be given the title of Porto Seguro.

It’s that day, April 22nd, that Brazil annually celebrates ‘Discovery Day’. The day the Portuguese landed in the southern part of the state of Bahia.

Day 1:

We set sail from Lisbon under the command of Pedro Alvares Cabral with sunny skies and cheery dispositions all. Our fleet is quite a sight – fully 13 ships and more than 1,000 men. Expectations and spirits are high for this journey to India, which many have only dreamed about. I had a vision of a woman falling – with arms outstretched – towards the earth. What could it mean?

Day 2:

The Straits of Gibraltar are coming off our port side this afternoon and for many, this will their last familiar sight on this mission of discovery. We learned that we’re following the course of Vasco da Gama, and this news is comforting. Africa lies ahead – a continent filled with rhythms and melodies, which are somehow compelling.

Day 3:

Clear horizon at seven bells this day. Ship’s routine is settling in and time and tide seem to be with us as we prepare for a new day. Seagulls show us that the African coast is not far off.

Day 4:

We’re west of the Canary Islands to avoid rough currents, and stormy weather is ahead. But the troubadour’s song brings us calm. His voice is whisper-soft, yet he can be heard even below decks.

Day 5:

Westerly winds are pushing our fleet into uncharted waters and we’ve spied land – perhaps an island – late in this day. Some say it’s India, but others think we’re looking at the Brazilian Horizon. I expect we’ll learn more tomorrow.

Day 6:

An exciting new land has been claimed for Portugal! The inhabitants welcome us with gifts, food, and music, with the women of their number singing beautifully in unison – we’ve never heard anything like it!

Day 7:

Our last night in Brazil before we sail for India’s spice trade, and our farewell includes music from one of our own – a Scandinavian living in London before he joined up with our expedition. Indeed, we have sailors from Spain, Italy, France, and Germany, too! What will the next adventure bring?

Brazil’s Day of Discovery: Did Spain Get There First?

Perhaps. But ultimately, no.

In 1499, Spain’s Vicente Yáñez Pinzón explored the South American coast. First, he sailed the mouth of the Amazon. Secondly, he followed the coastline south, around Brazil’s ‘hump’ to Pernambuco state. Although there are reports of his landing somewhere near the present-day city of Forteleza, he could not claim the land for Spain.

Keep reading to understand why.

A papal decree

It all begins with the Pope, a treaty, and an undiscovered continent.

After Christopher Columbus “discovered” the new world, Spain and Portugal raced to colonize these new lands. In an attempt to stymie its rival, Spain sought support from the pope, Spanish-born Alexander VI. He created a line of demarcation to divide the nations’ claims as part of the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494.

That miraculous and fateful decision is why Brazilians speak Portuguese.

While it was still early in the exploration of the western hemisphere, the Portuguese must not have known exactly what they were giving up when they signed that treaty with Spain. The line of demarcation ran just east of South America and north into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Spanish were authorized to explore everything west of the line while the Portuguese could only explore lands east of the line – mostly open ocean. Other countries ignored the treaty, but it allowed the Spanish to explore and colonize large portions of North, South, and Central America.

Realizing the folly, the Portuguese re-negotiated the treaty a year later and the line was moved further west. Portugal could then at least lay claim to the area that is now modern-day Brazil after it was discovered by Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500.

Education and Observace

Although not currently a national holiday, Brazil’s Day of Discovery is a learning topic for students.

Lesson plans are created for various grade levels. As Brazilian students progress, learning and discussion expand to include a greater understanding of the world, as it existed at the time.

  • Cabral and The Age of Discovery.
  • Was Cabral’s route to the ‘New World’ accidental or intentional?
  • Why Portugal was a pioneering country in the exploration of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Why the route to India was so important.
  • How did Portugal’s influence within Europe cause Spain to finance the Columbus voyages?
  • The Treaty of Tordesillas.
  • What happened to Cabral’s fleet after it sailed towards India from Porto Seguro?

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Brazil’s Day of Discovery

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Brazil’s Day of Discovery. This four-minute video follows the voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral from beginning to end by presenting images to capture the tenor of the times.