“What do Brazilians think of the violence and dangers in big cities like Rio and Sao Paulo”, I ask Fernando. Breakfast has just finished as we strike up a conversation in the pousada Ibiscus in Jericoacoara where he, his wife Genôva and I are staying.
I had asked the same question before of a young Brazilian professional woman over breakfast in Paraty. She also spoke decent English, like Fernando who has spent 11 years in the US, but she had said it was: ’too complicated’.
“Well, it certainly has something to do with poverty and the great differences between rich and poor”, Fernando ventures. I agree, but also point out that there are many places with equally harsh disparities (Brazil has been improving on that note over the last twenty years or so, rather than deteriorating), which do not have the high levels of crime and the no-go favellas that Brazilian cities have. “Maybe it is a relic of colonial times, you know, the Portuguese only came here to rob the country and put nothing back in”, Fernando muses. I am no defender of Portugal’s colonial record, but blaming that for rapes and murders in Rio after almost 200 years of independence..., really?. “It is probably because we in Brazil never really had to fight for anything, no war of independence, nothing; everything just came to us”. Hmm, there’s an interesting thought, because indeed Brazilian independence from Portugal is a special case, compared to most other colonial independence cases that is, but entirely without struggle or bloodshed, it was not.
The ‘derrama’ of February 1789 was the day chosen by the conspirators of the Inconfidência Mineira for the planned uprising against Portuguese colonial rule. The derrama, i.e. the day upon which (extra) taxes were to be paid, was very unpopular with the local population in Vila Rica (now Ouro Preto) and the band of revolutionaries, intellectuals and military men, hoped that that unpopularity would spill over into support for the coup they were planning.
Mining had been waning over the years and in order to keep up the monarchy’s income, extra taxes had been imposed, leading to more resistance to a colonial regime seen as harsh and illegitimate. With the eleven British American colonies gaining independence in 1776, thus setting an inspiring example, and with writings of the French Revolution providing intellectual inspiration, several dozen intellectuals, priests and military men from the Minas Gerais’ elite had conspired to take control of Vila Rica and, if successful, the Capitania of Minas Gerais and the country.
‘Badly organised, badly planned and with no real leader’, is the hindsight judgement of the Inconfidência; it was betrayed by one of the co-conspirators to the Governor of the Capitania (ironically in return for waiving his due taxes), who cancelled the derrama and went on to round up the conspirators.
Jaoquim José da Silva Xavier, who during his three-year trial seemed very keen to take responsibility almost as if to make up for the poor leadership, was born on a poor farm between Tiradentes, the village that now bears his (nick)name ‘toothpuller’ (a name that was pejoratively given to him by the Portuguese during his trial and that stuck even when he became a hero for Brazilian independence), and São João del Rei, the town he had wanted to become the new capital of the Capitania. I plan to visit both the village and the town during this stop.
An arrow points to the right about two kilometres before Tiradentes and I slowly dip off the thick asphalt layer onto the gravel mouth of a track that winds for 700, 800 metres, with rough cobblestone patches first, then dirt, and the narrower it gets, the more I wonder if I was right in choosing Pousada Oléo de Guignard. But after a quick uphill dash over the last 70 metres or so, hoping no car from the other end will lead to a stalemate, the pousada appears and looks very nice indeed.
Built in original mineira-style some ten years ago by an Australian woman, who unfortunately deceased four years ago Roberto the manager tells me, it has all the charm I had hoped for and negotiating the rickety track twice a day is a price I am willing to pay for the verdant country side setting.
As it will turn out not only the pousada is lovely, but also the village of Tiradentes itself is one of those places that has kept all the cobblestone-and-painted-houses-charm that you can hope for and having dinner while dusk falls over the shaded Largo das Forras almost transports you back to the 1700s when most of the village was built. There is not too much to be found on the local hero Tiradentes however, except for a rather innocuous statue on the Largo do Sol. Rather his story is told in the Museo da Inconfidência in Ouro Preto and in the Museo Histórico Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.
“What battle is this”, I ask, pointing at a big painting in one of the halls of the Itamaraty Palace back in Brasilia where a young woman is guiding us around. She actually is an aspiring diplomat standing in for the regular guides who are on strike: “That is not a battle”, she answers, looking a little bit puzzled. And when I look closer, I also note it is not. It is the ‘Grito do Ipiranga’, the Guard of Honour of Prince Pedro shouting: ‘Independência ou Morte’ with their swords raised in salute to his announcement of Brazilian independence on September 7th 1822.
That moment, much like the Inconfidência Mineira, was also a result of the French Revolution. Not so much in terms of inspiration this time, but in terms of the reality of the occupation of Portugal by Napoleon in 1808, which set in motion a chain of events eventually leading up to the scene depicted in the painting.
It was this chain of events that Fernando was probably referring to, when he observed that ‘Brazilians never had to fight for anything’, because indeed there was no ‘real’ war of independence, though skirmishes with troops loyal to Portugal lasted until November 1823.
Upon the occupation of Portugal by Napoleon, the Portuguese royal family moved to Brazil and in 1815 the ‘Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves’ was established by João VI, with Rio de Janeiro as its capital (the first time a European capital was located outside of the continent). After the defeat of Napoleon, João VI returned to Portugal in 1821, leaving Prince Pedro as regent in Brazil. However when the Portuguese parliament wanted to return Brazil back to colonial status in 1822 and ordered Prince Pedro to return to Lisbon, it was his refusal to do so at Ipiranga that led to the formal declaration of Brazilian independence and he was crowned Emperor Dom Pedro I on December 1st 1822.