The Brazilian Spice Trade

(exotic fruits, etc, from the Amazon)

In the 15th century, Europeans were trying to find a route to India in order to take part in the valuable spice trade. By the 16th century, though, the Americas had already been discovered and, with it, a way to secure other kinds of exotic items. The Portuguese exploration of the mighty Amazon region opened up a whole new area of trade with what became known as “drogas do sertão”, only they weren’t necessarily drugs and they weren’t exactly from the sertão (used today to refer to the semi-arid region of Northeastern Brazil).

In the time of Brazilian exploration and expansion, any rugged inland areas were referred to as the “sertão”, and this included the forested parts such as the current state of Amazonas (which is more than twice the size of Texas) and parts of Pará. With incursion by the Jesuits and Bandeirantes (using Amerindian slaves), and the Portuguese explorers, new curative herbs and plants, in addition to exotic fruits, seeds and roots were discovered.

Upon being brought back to Europe, the “drugs” were hailed as a possible alternative to the Indian spice trade. Due to those items that were medicinal in nature, they were given the collective name “drogas”. In reality, the “drugs” consisted mostly of plants, herbs, cocoa, cinammon, vanilla, cloves, pepper, Brazil nuts and guaraná. Nonetheless, they were highly valued on the European market.

By the early 1600s, many explorers of different nationalities were trying to collect and sell the contraband, and thus a Portuguese fort was built at the mouth of the Amazon. The fort did its job and the area around it eventually became the capital city of Belém do Pará. While the Portuguese were defending their new territory, the Amerindians started to resist the Jesuits and others who needed them to locate and extract the exotic items. Nonetheless, the “drugs” ended up playing a large part in the expansion of the Brazilian territory, beyond the preordained limits decided by the Treaty of Tordesillas. If not for the Brazilian “spice” trade, the country would surely be a lot smaller in size. 


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