By pointing to the supposed origin of the Brazilians “in the jungle”, Argentine President Alberto Fernández has demonstrated multiple levels of ignorance about the history of the populations that formed Brazil.
The point is, most of the ancestors of today’s Brazilians have no historical connection to the rainforest (assuming that’s what he meant by “jungle”). And those of this origin have actually “civilized” the forest in a much more sophisticated way than Fernández seems capable of conceiving.
From what is perhaps obvious, the contribution of European immigrants to the formation of the population of the country has been very important, 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 on Brazilian territory.
In absolute terms, the number is comparable to the roughly 5 million African slaves 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 put the number between 5 and 10 million indigenous inhabitants.
Finally, the Brazilian population “count” also includes smaller but also large contributions from groups such as Japanese immigrants (around 250,000) and Syrian-Lebanese (around 150,000).
Despite more or less similar figures, it should not be imagined that the interbreeding between indigenous peoples, Europeans and Africans took place on an equal footing. Members of the two non-European ethnic groups suffered much higher mortality due to the brutality of the slave system to which they were subjected and, especially in the indigenous case, due to the wars of conquest and infectious diseases of the Ancient World, against which they had no defenses.
The result was an asymmetrical ethnic mix, in which men of European descent joined (often by force) with African and indigenous women – the reverse was much less likely. This process left traces in the DNA of Brazilians in 2021.
Tracing the maternal line of the inhabitants of the country 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 – which comes from Europe.
The importance of the contribution of the European population is however far from being the only argument against the origin “in the wild”. On the African side, it is important to point out that the main groups of slaves brought to Brazil, such as Angolans, Congolese and Yoruba, came from societies that dominated sophisticated forms of agriculture, animal husbandry and metallurgy ( including iron use), with city life, kingdoms and empires.
One of the main slave uprisings in colonial Brazil, the so-called Malê revolt, held in Salvador in 1835, was led by Africans of Muslim faith and literate in Arabic.
As for indigenous peoples, the last decades of archaeological research have shown that several indigenous populations, especially in the Amazon, had dense populations, commercial networks and monumental constructions – walls, ditches, main roads and funerary structures – which 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 early Brazilians with careful management over the millennia, during which the forest became “anthropized”, housing more and more species useful for the man.
The southwestern part of the Amazon region is also considered to be one of the great centers of agricultural origin in prehistoric times, where economically important species were domesticated today in the world, such as peanuts, cocoa and cassava.