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Pedro Álvares Cabral

c. 1467 – 1520
Portugeuse Navigator
Exploration Ranking 17th of 26
Portuguese stamp from 1945 celebrating Cabral's discovery of Brazil in 1500.
Pedro Álvares Cabral was one of the first Europeans to sail to India and is generally credited as the discoverer of Brazil on April 22, 1500. Cabral’s trip to Brazil opened the way for eventual Portuguese control, such that Brazil became the largest Portuguese-speaking country in the world. The Portuguese introduced to Brazil from Europe basically the same plants and domesticated animals as had the Spaniards in the Caribbean. In addition, just like the Spaniards earlier, the Portuguese introduced plantation agriculture and plantation slavery with the cultivation of sugar in the 1530s.


Following Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a viable sea route to India in 1499, King Manuel I of Portugal was determined to establish Portuguese hegemony over the lucrative spice trade with the subcontinent. Cabral was chosen as a successor to da Gama, tasked with establishing permanent trading relations in India and spreading Catholicism, by force of arms, if necessary. ​


Cabral left Lisbon, Portugal on March 9, 1500 with thirteen ships and 1,500 men. He was to follow the route taken earlier by Vasco da Gama by sailing southwest so as to bypass the becalmed waters of the Gulf of Guinea. Cabral’s fleet however, veered too far to the west and by April Cabral reached Brazil. He took formal possession of the country and dispatched one of his ships to Portugal to inform the King. Under the Treaty of Tordesillas Cabral established a legal Portuguese claim in the Americas.


After a stay of only ten days in Brazil, Cabral sailed for India, in a voyage plagued by a series of misfortunes. On May 29, while the fleet rounded the Cape of Good Hope, four ships were lost with all hands aboard; Bartolomeu Dias, the Portuguese who had discovered the cape in 1488, was one of those who perished in the disaster. The remaining ships cast anchor on September 13, 1500, at Calicut, India.

Within a short time, the Portuguese took the spice trade out of the hands of the Arab and Italian merchants who transported the spices overland to the Mediterranean. In 1505, the Portuguese extracted tribute from Sri Lanka. Six years later, their galleons crossed the Bay of Bengal and seized control of Malacca, the richest port in the Far East at the time.
The 'Columbian Exchange' in Brazil
The Portuguese introduced to Brazil from Europe essentially the same plants and domesticated animals as did the Spaniards for the Caribbean and circum-Caribbean, Central American, and Andean regions.(1) This generalization would apply equally to the dissemination of New World plants to Europe, although here the Spaniards pre-empted the Portuguese. The plants introduced to Brazil from Europe included wheat, barley, broad bean, sugar cane, chickpea, melon, onion, radish, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, turnip, cucumber, pumpkin, lentil, mint, parsley, dill, coriander, citrus (orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime), grape vines, fruit trees (pomegranate, pear, fig, peach, quince), and bananas. Some were of Indian or Asian origin or from the Indo-Pacific region.
Perhaps no commodity of Asian provenance could match sugarcane in terms of westwards migration. Its origin has variously been attributed to Polynesia, to the region Vavilov (Russian botanist) refers to as the Indo-Malayan center of origin (Malay archipelago, Java, Borneo, Sumatra, Philippines, Indochina), and to India. Arab traders brought sugarcane to Europe, cultivated around Granada in the twelfth century, in the Algarve while still under Muslim control, and carried to Hispaniola by Columbus on his second voyage. But already it had been cultivated for sixty years by the Portuguese on Madeira Island in the north Atlantic, soon to be joined by Sao Tome Island (in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa) as a major producer, and later in the Azores and Cape Verdes islands also in the north Atlantic.​
The Portuguese introduced plantation agriculture and plantation slavery into the American continent with the cultivation of sugar by the proprietary lords of Pernambuco and Sao Vicente in the 1530s as had the Spaniards earlier in the Caribbean. Subsequently, no single crop had such an enduring impact on the Portuguese Atlantic world.(2)
(1) A. J. R. Russell-Wood, The Portuguese Empire, 1415-1808, (Baltimore, 1998), p. 158.
(2) Ibid., p. 161.
Key Reference


1. Voyage of Pedro Álvares Cabral to Brazil and India by William Brooks Greenlee, translator, 1995.
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