by Leighton Gage
Brazilians speak Portuguese.
But the rest of South America speaks Spanish.
Ever wondered how that came about? Read on.
In the last decade of the fifteenth century, the two great maritime powers of the age, Spain and Portugal, were engaged in a struggle for the riches of the Orient. The key to unlocking those riches was a sea route to the East. Since the time of Prince Henry the Navigator, dead by then for over thirty years, the Portuguese had been working the hypothesis that the discovery of The Route lay to the South, around the tip of Africa. They weren’t even sure there was a tip ofAfrica, but that was their theory and they were clinging to it.
|Bartolomeu Dias - First Navigator to round the Cape of Good Hope|
Then, in 1488, they hit the jackpot. Bartolmeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope – the “good hope” being an expectation that they’d found their way at last.
|Vasco de Gama|
But before another Portuguese navigator, Vasco de Gama, was able to convert the hope to a proven reality, and sail from Portugal all the way to India, Columbus was back from his first voyage.
Old Chris started spreading the word that he’d found The Route by sailing West, not South.
The Portuguese didn’t believe it for a minute. They thought (and time would prove them right) that Columbus had grossly underestimated the circumference of the earth. They weren’t, however, about to share their conviction with their rival, Spain.
But now, all of a sudden, the Spanish were laying claims left and right.
And those claims were supported by the Spanish-born Pope, Alexander VI, who issued bulls giving dominion over the newly-discovered territories to Spain.
Concerned, King John II of Portugal opened negotiations with theSpanish Court.
Those negotiations culminated in the Treaty of Tordesillas (a small town near Valladolid, in Spain) in which it was agreed that a line of demarcation would be drawn 370 leagues (a league was about 4.2 kilometers) west of theCape Verde Islands. It's the westernmost meridian (the one on the left) on this map:
Any newly-discovered lands to the east of that line would be recognized as Portuguese territory, anything to the west as Spanish.
The Spanish figured they’d negotiated a good deal, because they now had the right to “the Indies”. And the Portuguese were pleased because they were quite convinced that the Spanish were barking up the wrong tree.
The treaty was signed and ratified in 1494.
In 1498, de Gama landed in India.
Two years later, the fleet of Pedro Àlvares Cabral embarked on a follow-up voyage, carrying colonists and supplies to the new Portuguese colonies on the Indian subcontinent.
On board was de Gama’s pilot, who’d discovered doldrums off the coast of Africa on his previous voyage. He advised Cabral to try to pick up wind by sailing west before turning south.
Cabral did – and bumped into Brazil.
Look at the map.
See the way Brazil sticks out from the rest of the continent? And how close it is to Africa?
One of the first things the Portuguese did after setting foot on shore was to carry out some astronomical observations.
They quickly determined that the spot they’d landed upon was to the east of the line of demarcation. That made it Portuguese territory.
And that’s why today, more than five hundred years later, Brazilians speak Portuguese.