Domingos Jorge Velho.jpg
Romanticized painting of Domingos Jorge Velho, a notable bandeirante
Date 15th-18th century
Location Portuguese colony of Brazil, Portuguese Empire
Participants Paulista bandeirantes
Outcome Bandeirantes explored unmapped regions of the Brazilian colony and captured and enslaved Indians. Expansion of the Brazilian territory far beyond Tordesillas Line.

The Bandeirantes ([bɐ̃dejˈɾɐ̃t(ʃ)is]), literally "flag-carriers", were slavers, explorers, adventurers, and fortune hunters in early Colonial Brazil. They are largely responsible for Brazil's great expansion westward, far beyond the Tordesillas Line of 1494, by which Pope Julius II divided the new continent into a western, Castilian section, and an eastern, Portuguese section.[1]

They mostly hailed from the São Paulo region, called the Captaincy of São Vicente until 1709 and then as the Captaincy of São Paulo. The São Paulo settlement served as the home base for the most famous bandeirantes. Some bandeirante leaders were descendants of first- and second-generation Portuguese who settled in São Paulo,[2] but the bulk of their numbers was made of people of mameluco background (people of both European and Indian ancestries) and natives. Miscegenation was the norm in that society, and its initial family structure was polygamous (the father, his indigenous wives, and their children).

Though they originally aimed to capture and enslave Indians, the bandeirantes later began to focus their expeditions on finding gold, silver, and diamond mines. As they ventured into unmapped regions in search of profit and adventure, they expanded the effective borders of the Brazilian colony.

The "bandeirantes" spoke the Língua Geral, based on Tupi, and were the main source of toponyms in the Brazilian interior.[3]


The term comes from Portuguese bandeira or flag, and by extension, a group of soldiers, a detached military unit or a raiding party. In medieval Portugal a bandeira was a military unit of 36 soldiers. The words were not used by the bandeirantes themselves. They used words like entry (entrada), journey, voyage, company, discovery and rarely, fleet or war. One writer dates bandeira from 1635 and bandeirante from 1740. [4]


Before there were bandeirantes there were Paulistas. Brazil was originally a coastal strip between mountains and sea dominated by slave-worked sugar plantations. When the Portuguese crossed the mountains to the São Paulo plateau they were cut off from the sea and faced a great wilderness to the north and west where they might find their fortunes or die trying. The coastal Portuguese used African slaves while the Paulistas used Indian slaves or workers and many were part-Indian themselves. See Colonial Brazil.


The main focus of the bandeirantes' missions was to capture and enslave native populations. They carried this out by a number of tactics. The bandeirantes usually relied on surprise attacks, simply raiding villages or collections of natives, killing any who resisted, and kidnapping the survivors. Trickery could also be used; one common tactic was disguising themselves as Jesuits, often singing Mass to lure the natives out of their settlements. At the time, the Jesuits had a deserved reputation as the only colonial force that treated the natives somewhat fairly in the Jesuit reductions of the region. If luring the natives with promises did not work, the bandeirantes would surround the settlements and set them alight, forcing inhabitants out into the open. At a time when imported African slaves were comparatively expensive, the bandeirantes were able to sell large numbers of native slaves at a huge profit due to their relatively inexpensive price.

Battle of the militia of Mogi das Cruzes and the Botocudos

By the 17th century, Jesuit missions had become a favorite target of the expeditions. A bandeira that took place in 1628 and was organized by Antônio Raposo Tavares raided 21 Jesuit villages in the upper Paraná Valley, ultimately capturing about 2,500 natives. A bandeira tactic was to set native tribes against each other in order to weaken them, and then to enslave both sides.

In 1636, Tavares led a bandeira, composed of 2,000 allied Indians, 900 mamelucos, and 69 white Paulistas, to find precious metals and stones and to capture Indians for slavery. This expedition alone was responsible for the destruction of most of the Jesuit missions of Spanish Guayrá and the enslavement of over 60,000 indigenous people. Between 1648 and 1652 Tavares also led one of the longest known expeditions from São Paulo to the mouth of the Amazon river, investigating many of its tributaries, including the Rio Negro, ultimately covering a distance of more than 10,000 kilometers. The expedition traveled to Andean Quito, part of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru, and remained there for a short time in 1651. Of the 1,200 men who left São Paulo, only 60 reached their final destination in Belém.

Gold hunting

In addition to capturing natives as slaves, bandeiras also helped to extend the power of Portugal by expanding its control over the Brazilian interior. Along with the exploration and settlement of this territory the bandeiras also discovered mineral wealth for the Portuguese, which they had been previously unable to profit from.

In the 1660s, the Portuguese government offered rewards to those who discovered gold and silver deposits in inner Brazil. So the bandeirantes, driven by profit, ventured into the depths of Brazil not only to enslave natives, but also to find mines and receive government rewards. As the number of natives diminished, the bandeirantes began to focus more intensely on finding minerals.


Monument to the Bandeiras in São Paulo, Brazil

The bandeirantes were responsible for the discovery of mineral wealth, and along with the missionaries, for the territorial enlargement of central and southern Brazil. This mineral wealth made Portugal wealthy during the 18th century. As a result of the bandeiras, the Captaincy of São Vicente became the basis of the Viceroyalty of Brazil, which would go on to encompass the current states of Santa Catarina, Paraná, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Goiás, part of Tocantins, and both Northern and Southern Mato Grosso. The bandeirantes were also responsible for unsteady relations between the Spanish Empire and the Portuguese Empire, as they essentially conducted an undeclared war on indigenous residents allied with Spain or the Jesuits. With only a few outlying Spanish settlements surviving and the majority of Jesuit missions overrun, the de facto control by Portugal over most of what is now the Southeast, Southern, and Central West territory of Brazil was recognized by the Treaties of Madrid in 1750 and San Ildefonso in 1777. Additionally, Portugal officially expelled the Jesuits in 1759, reducing the ability of the Jesuits to fight back even further.

Bandeirantes are generally considered heroes in traditional Brazilian historiography, but protests in 2020 have brought back up the more unsavory aspects of the bandeirantes activity to light.[5]

Notable bandeirantes

Another list of Well-known bandeirantes includes Bartolomeu Bueno da Silva (the Anhanguera), Antônio Dias de Oliveira, Fernão Dias Pais (the Hunter of Emeralds), Domingos Rodrigues do Prado, Antônio Rodrigues de Arzão, Domingos Jorge Velho, Salvador Furtado Fernandes de Mendonça, Antônio Raposo Tavares, Estêvão Ribeiro Baião Parente, Brás Rodrigues de Arzão, Manuel de Campos Bicudo, Francisco Dias de Siqueira (the Apuçá), Pascoal Moreira Cabral, Antônio Pires de Campos, Manuel de Borba Gato, Francisco Pedroso Xavier, Lourenço Castanho Taques, Tomé Portes del-Rei, Antonio Garcia da Cunha, Matias Cardoso de Almeida, Salvador Faria de Albernaz, José de Camargo Pimentel, João Leite da Silva Ortiz, João de Siqueira Afonso, Jerônimo Pedroso de Barros, and Bartolomeu Bueno de Siqueira.

See also