By pointing out the supposed origin of Brazilians “in the jungle”, Argentine President Alberto Fernández demonstrated multiple levels of ignorance about the history of the populations that formed Brazil.
The fact is that most of the ancestors of Brazilians today have no historical connection with the rainforest (assuming that’s what he meant by “jungle”). And those of that origin actually “civilized” the forest in far more sophisticated ways than Fernández seems to be able to conceive.
Starting with what is perhaps obvious, the contribution of European immigrants to the country’s population formation was very significant, although not in the majority. It is estimated that between 1500 and the 20th century, between 6 million and 7 million natives of Europe settled in Brazilian territory.
In absolute terms, the number is comparable to the roughly 5 million enslaved Africans that European ships brought here from the 16th to the mid-19th century. It is more difficult to get an exact idea of the total indigenous population at the time of first contact with the Portuguese, but the most recent estimates point to numbers between 5 million and 10 million native inhabitants.
Finally, the Brazilian population “account” also includes smaller but also significant contributions from groups such as Japanese immigrants (about 250,000) and Syrian-Lebanese (about 150,000).
Despite the more or less similar numbers, one should not imagine that the miscegenation between indigenous peoples, Europeans and Africans happened on an equal basis. Members of both non-European ethnic groups suffered much higher mortality due to the brutality of the slave system to which they were subjected and, particularly in the indigenous case, due to the wars of conquest and infectious diseases of the Old World, against which they had no defenses. natural.
The result was an asymmetric ethnic mix, in which men of European descent joined (often forcedly) with African and indigenous women—the reverse was much less likely. This process left marks on the DNA of Brazilians in 2021.
When tracing the maternal lineage of the country’s inhabitants today, the contribution of each population is similar, while, on the paternal side, the European impact is disproportionately greater. Between 75% and 90% of Brazilian men today carry a Y chromosome —the genetic mark of masculinity— that comes from Europe.
The importance of the European population contribution, however, is far from being the only argument against origin “in the wild”. On the African side, it is important to emphasize that the main groups of enslaved people brought to Brazil, such as the Angolans, Congolese and Yoruba, came from societies that dominated sophisticated forms of agriculture, animal husbandry and metallurgy (including the routine use of iron), with urban life, kingdoms and empires.
One of the main uprisings of the enslaved in colonial Brazil, the so-called Malês revolt, held in Salvador in 1835, was led by Africans of Muslim faith and literate in Arabic.
As for the indigenous people, the last decades of archaeological research have shown that several native populations, especially in the Amazon, had dense populations, trade networks and monumental constructions —walls, ditches, large roads and funerary structures — that have nothing to do with the idea of “wild” groups.
The structure of plant species in the forest itself seems to have been influenced by the first Brazilians with a careful management over the millennia, in which the forest became “anthropized”, sheltering more and more useful species for human beings.
The southwestern portion of the Amazon region, moreover, is considered one of the great centers of agricultural origins of prehistory, where species that are economically important today throughout the world, such as peanuts, cocoa and cassava, were domesticated.