This year Brazil celebrates the "5° centenário do descobrimento": 500 years ago, on April 22, 1500, a fleet of 13 ships under the command of Pedro Alvares Cabral sighted land near the modern Brazilian city of Porto Seguro.
Cabral didn't come as a discoverer to the
new world like Columbus who reached continental America two years
earlier far more in the north. He was sent by King Manuel I
of Portugal to sail around Africa to India. To avoid the
dangerous seas and unfavorable currents and winds at the coast of
Africa the fleet sailed a wide curve into the ocean. So it
touched the coast of the Southamerican continent. We do not know
why the fleet sailed so far to the west. It is possible that 40
year old Cabral, a Portuguese nobleman with little experience in
navigation, took a wrong course too far to the west. But we can't
exclude that he had the secret order to sail beyond the line of
demarcation which seperated the Portuguese sphere of possession
from the Spanish one.
Six years earlier, in June 1494,
Spain and Portugal did agree in a decree of Pope Alexander VI
which established a boundary between both the countrie's spheres
of influence. The treaty which was signed in the town of
Tordesillas in Spain, place of the third international seminar of
the CCPS in 1997, was an immediate political result of Columbus'
first voyage in 1492/93. Spain needed the legalization of its new
possessions in the west, especially against Portuguese claims.
Portugal on the other hand wanted to protect its exclusive rights
to explore a route around Africa to India.
The treaty of Tordesillas
established a line of demarcation which ran due north to south
370 leagues (about 1770 kilometers or 1110 miles) west of the
Cape Verdes Islands. At the time of its ratification - Columbus
was on his second voyage and had just discovered Jamaica - nobody
in Europe suspected that a part of the just discovered new world
stuck out past the line into the Portuguese zone. But when Cabral
reached it in 1500, he immediately realized the importance of his
discovery. He officially took possession of the land and sent one
of his ships back to Portugal to inform his king. The rest of the
fleet continued the voyage to India on May 2.
it wasn't Cabral who came to Brazil first. Already in July 1499
Amerigo Vespucci probably touched its coast and saw the Amazonas.
And there was another one who came before Cabral: Vicente Yáñez
Pinzón, commander of the "Niña" on Columbus' first
journey. Pinzón reached Brazil in December 1499 near Cape São
Roque at the mostwestern point of the continent. The Spaniards
landed and took possession of the land, obviously not knowing
that they still were in the Portuguese half of the world.
Portugal, a small country, for
many years did not care much about its new possession in America,
but concentrated on India. Two or three expeditons, one lead by
Vespucci, were sent out to explore the land which mainly served
as an intermediate station on the way around the Cape of Good
Hope to India. It was only in 1526 that Portugal founded the
first settlement and started the colonialization of the unknown
land. The land was named after the "pau brasil", a
colored wood, which Amerigo Vespucci and Gonçalo Coelho found
there and brought to Portugal in 1501. Cabral, who thought to
have discovered an island, called it Ilha da Vera Cruz.
Cabral's landing in South America was not
very important as a discovery. First of all it was of political
significance, as it enforced the line of demarcation between
Spain and Portugal and established Portuguese influence on South
America for several centuries. But there is one aspect which is
mostly neglected. Spain, without Columbus, didn't have ambitions
to go west across the ocean. If Columbus wouldn't have sailed to
America, and there were many nearly insurmountable obstacles,
probably Cabral or another Portuguese sailor would have been the
discoverer of the new world. Portugal's ships were the only ones
since 1492 which sailed independently on the Atlantic, with an
absolutly different destination. It was nearly inevitable that
one of them would sail far enough to the west. All other
discoverers like Vespucci or Pinzón followed the traces of
The world today would be
completely different. Try to imagine the effects on the
post-columbian history of America if conquest and colonialisation
would have started later and in Brazil but not in Central
America. Imagine the effects that the discovery had on Spains
influence and authority in Europe, mainly caused by the fortune
Spain pressed out of Mexico and Peru. Only this short moment of
reflection shows us the extraordinary importance of Columbus and
his first voyage. It was one of the very few moments in which
history really stood at a forked way.
The landing of Cabral in America
can easily be documentated with Brazilian stamps. Brazil was the
one and only country which issued a stamp to commemorate the
fourth centenary in 1900 (Michel # 138). This year's jubilee has
been accompanied by a couple of Brazilian issues since 1996 (so
far: Michel # 2693, 2747, 2816/2817, minisheet # 108).
Pedro Alvarez Cabral himself was also
honored on Brazilian stamps. There were two issues in 1968 to
commemorate the 500th anniversary of his birthday. One stamp
(Michel # 1171) shows a realistic portrait of the sailor. The
other stamp (Michel # 1175) shows a painting of the first holy
mess in Brazil officiated on April 26 by Friar Henrique Soares de
Coimbra, the leader of the eight Franciscan friars of Cabral's
fleet. Another, more idealistic portrait of Cabral is shown on a
1984 issue on occassion of the stamp show "Brasil '84";
the other stamp of the set (Michel # 2033-2034) shows Columbus.
The treaty of Tordesillas has
been commemorated with a mini-sheet in 1994. The stamp (Michel
minisheet # 95) shows a ship and an old map of Brazil with the
line of demarcation on it.
Portugal twice issued stamps to
commorate Cabral: One in a set on discovers and explorers from
1945 (Michel # 677). A set of three (Michel #1067-1069) was
issued 1968 on occassion of Cabrals 500th birthday. The treaty of
Tordesillas was commemorated with a stamps in 1994 (Michel #
2014). It shows King John II of Portugal and King Ferdinand of
Aragon who signed the document