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When the Portuguese arrived, in the 16th Century, the Tupiniquim occupied the area between present-day Camamu, in the State of Bahia, and the São Mateus (or Cricaré) River, in Espírito Santo. They also lived in the region of the Piraquê-Açu River, where, in 1556, the Jesuit Afonso Brás founded the village of Aldeia Nova. An epidemic of smallpox and the founding of the Aldeamento dos Reis Magos, in 1580, explain the decay of Aldeia Nova, which was also affected by the attacks of ants, which destroyed the fields the Indians planted. The Jesuits and the local indigenous groups then concentrated at Reis Magos, which soon became a populous aldeamento (village inhabited by Indians but administered by missionaries). According to Serafim Leite, in his História da Companhia de Jesus no Brasil, the Indians there were almost all Tupinanquins. Reis Magos gave origin to the present-day city of Nova Almeida, and Aldeia Nova to the village of Santa Cruz.


It was in 1610 that the Jesuit superior of Reis Magos village, Father João Martins, obtained for the Indians a sesmaria (land grant) of “six square leagues”, according to Serafim Leite. However, the area was measured only in 1760, when, through a Termo de Concerto e Composição (Term of Concertation and Composition), the Indians of Nova Almeida and the inhabitants of the Freguesia (Parish) da Serra established the limits of the domains whose possession they had, transformed, through a Sentença (Sentence), in amicable measuring and demarcation. Below the Sentença of the minister that established the territorial agreement, it was mentioned that “there were no outsiders” in the measured and demarcated lands. This Sentença, which reduced the limits of the land grant, was confirmed by a royal alvará (writ) in the same year of 1760. By the time the Sentença was issued, the Jesuits had gathered more than 3,000 Indians in Nova Almeida. In the end of the 18th Century, the governor of the Captaincy of Espírito Santo described this village as being inhabited mostly by Indians. When traveling through Espírito Santo in the beginning of the 19th Century, the French naturalist Auguste de Saint-Hilaire was informed that the Nova Almeida Indians owned an inalienable territory, granted to them by the Portuguese Crown, that extended to the North all the way to the Comboios River.

During the 19th Century, travelers reported running into isolated residences or small villages of ‘civilized Indians’ in the region between the Doce River and the village of Nova Almeida. In 1860, Emperor Pedro II in person, while visiting the region, had contact with a Tupiniquim woman in Nova Almeida, as well as with other Indians from Santa Cruz and the mouth of the Sahy creek which he did not identify in his diary. The Tupiniquim say that, when he visited Santa Cruz, the Emperor ratified the grant of the sesmaria lands.

Painter Auguste François Biard portrayed the way of life of the ‘civilized Indians’ in the forests of Santa Cruz in mid-19th Century, described the landowners who exploited the woods for export using Indian workforce and reported the presence of indigenous families scattered through the forest, who sold wood and planted subsistence roçados (small planting fields). In 1877, the Núcleo de Colonização de Santa Cruz (Colonization Nucleus of Santa Cruz) had 55 Indians from the Province populating the area, along with Italian immigrants.

Created in 1910, the Serviço de Proteção aos Índios – Service for the Protection of the Indian – (SPI), the first official organ dedicated to the government policy towards the Indians in Republican Brazil, made Northern Espírito Santo one of its foci. In the area, the SPI Inspector Antonio Estigarríbia visited several villages of ‘civilized Indians’ of Tupi origin, established on the Lower Doce River and on the coast nearby. Estigarríbia kept in contact with those Indians until 1919; his successor, Inspector Samuel Lobo, met in this area, in 1924, a few Tupiniquim Indians.

01:: photo: Carlos Augusto Freire, 1994

Carlos Augusto da Rocha Freire
Museu do Índio (Museum of the Indian)
july 1998
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