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Flag of Pernambuco adopted from the 1817 Revolution Flag

The history of Pernambuco begins since before discovery by the Portuguese, with Indigenous populations of the Caeté and Tabajara indigenous peoples. The name has represented different entities at different times: a captaincy, a province, an independent Republic (briefly) and a state.


In a recent research[1] it has been found that Pernambuco derives from "Boca de Fernão" (Fernão's Mouth) the place, now known as Canal de Santa Cruz, is where Fernão de Noronha would load his ships with Brazilwood to trade in Europe. The name was spoken by the Tupi as "Pernãobuka" and by the french written as "Fernambouc" in their documents would later be known as it is today.

It was long believed to be a distortion of Tupi para-nã (wide river) + mbuka (hollow or broken), referring to the coastal reefs; it came to mean the place where the Brazilwood tree (Caesalpinia echinata) was found, and by derivation its wood, now called Brazilwood. Brazilwood trees, source of a brilliant red dye, grew in abundance on the Atlantic coast of Brazil, and were the chief trading commodity of precolonial and early colonial times.

Prehistory and AntiquityEdit

The Brazilian northeast has some of the most ancient arqueological sites of the country, which date more than 40,000 years BCE. In the region that today corresponds to Pernambuco were identified vestiges of human occupation from around 9,000 BCE in the regions of Chã do Caboclo, in Bom Jardim, Furna do Estrago, and Brejo da Madre de Deus. In this last region an important necropolis was found, out of which 83 skeletons were recovered.[2][3]

Among the indigenous groups that inhabit Pernambuco, there's Itaparica who are responsible for stone instruments from about 4000 BCE. Cave paintings dated to around 0 BCE, attributed to the Cariris people. In the time of Portuguese colonization the Tabajaras and the Caetés lived in the coast, but have since become extinct. In certain parts of the state it is still possible to find indigenous groups, like the Pankararu and the Atikum.[2]

Portuguese arrival and precolonialEdit

At the time of discovery of Brazil, the region of the modern state of Pernambuco near the Atlantic coast was populated chiefly by Tabajara Indians.[citation needed]

Years later, in 1516, Cristóvão Jacques was charged with patrolling the coast of Pernambuco against vessels of other nations. The feitoria (literally 'factory', a Portuguese trading post) of Cristóvão Jacques, erected at the entrance of the Canal de Santa Cruz, Itamaracá, aimed to establish a bond with the natives, seeking information about possible riches inland as well as repelling possible attacks by other nations on the Brazilian coast. The French under Bertrand d'Ornesan tried to establish a French trading post at Pernambuco in 1531.[4][relevant? ]

Colonial period: the Captaincy of PernambucoEdit

In 1534 King John III of Portugal granted the captaincy of Pernambuco to Portuguese nobleman Duarte Coelho Pereira. The captaincy of Pernambuco originally stretched for 60 leagues between the Igaraçu River, Pernambuco and the São Francisco River, and was called New Lusitania.

Coelho Pereira, an influential navigator and soldier, directed military actions against the French-allied Caetés Indians and, upon their defeat in 1537, established a settlement at the site of a former Marin Indian village, henceforth known as Olinda, as well as at another village Igaraçu, at the Igaraçu River. In addition, he started the cultivation of sugar-cane, which would have an important role in the economic history of the colony. Coelho Pereira took responsibility for most of the production of sugar, the so-called "white gold", in America and made New Lusitania one of the most flourishing captaincies.

During the Colonial Period for centuries the captaincy of Pernambuco was the most prominent of Brazil, due to growing of sugar-cane. The importance and influence of the then captaincy had become evident as early as the mid-1550s, when the governor-general Sousa oversaw all of the captaincies of the colony, except that of Pernambuco, by the requirement of its donee Duarte Coelho. Due to the cultivation of sugar, Pernambuco had become one of the few prosperous captaincies (the other notable one being São Vicente). In 1612, Pernambuco produced 14,000 tons of sugar; in the 1640s, more than 24,000 tons of sugar were exported to Amsterdam alone. While the sugar industry relied at first on the labor of indigenous peoples, especially the Tupis and Tapuyas, high mortality and economic growth led to the importation of African slaves from the late 17th century. Some of these slaves escaped the sugar-producing coastal regions and formed independent inland communities called mocambos, including Palmares.

In 1595 the captaincy suffered a severe blow. The English privateer James Lancaster, after picking up a chance-met separate squadron under Captain Henry Middleton, led an assault landing, seized the town of Recife and (with the assistance of a flotilla of Dutch traders who also threw in their lot with him) held it for several weeks, sailing away with the cargo of an East Indian carrack along with local plunder such as Brazil-wood.[relevant? ]

Pernambuco and Northeastern Brazil in the golden age of Dutch exploration and discoveryEdit

Dutch Brazil flag

In February 1630 the Flemish fleet sighted Pernambuco and landed on the shore of Pau Amarelo. The invading troops went into the village of Recife, which would oppose a higher resistance due to already having built a Fortress.

Revolt against the DutchEdit

On May 15, 1645, meeting on the São João Plantation, 18 insurgent leaders[citation needed] in Pernambuco signed a commitment to fight against the Dutch rule in the captaincy. With the agreement signed, thus started the counter-attack on the Dutch invasion. The first major victory of the insurgents took place on the Mount of Tabocas (now located in the municipality of Vitória de Santo Antão) where 1200 mazombos insurgents armed with guns, sickles, sticks and arrows defeated 1900 well-armed and well trained Dutch, in an ambush. The success has given leading Antonio Dias Cardoso the nickname Master of Ambushes. The Dutch who survived went on to Recife, and again defeated by an alliance of mazombos, Indians native and black slaves.

View of a sugar-producing farm (engenho) in colonial Pernambuco by Dutch painter Frans Post (17th century).

They retreated back to the fortification in Cabo de Santo Agostinho, Pontal de Nazaré, Sirinhaém, Rio Formoso, Porto Calvo and Forte Maurício, was successively defeated by insurgents. Finally, Olinda was recovered by the rebels.

Surrounded and isolated by rebel bands in their colony known as New Holland, going from Recife to Itamaracá, the invaders began to suffer from lack of food, which led them to attack cassava plantations in the villages of São Lourenço, Catuma, and Tejucupapo. On April 24, 1646, there was the famous Battle of Tejucupapo, where peasant women armed with farm implements and arms drove out the Dutch invaders, humiliating them permanently[editorializing]. This historic fact established itself as the first major military participation of women in defence of the Brazilian territory.[relevant? ]

On April 19, 1648, the Dutch broke the siege, turning to Cabo São Agostinho. The site was the scene of two important battles of Brazilian military history – the two Battles of Guararapes. The fate of the invaders was sealed with the second Battle of Guararapes, but the invaders retained a surrounded presence until 1654. On January 20 that year, the last Dutch defences were penetrated, forcing the invaders to conclude a treaty of surrender. After 24 years of Dutch rule over Pernambuco, after 62 hours of negotiation,[citation needed] on January 27, 1654 in Treaty of Taborda, the Dutch surrendered unconditionally.

The uprising was a milestone in Pernambuco, both militarily with the consolidation of ambush and guerrilla tactics, and socio-politically, with the increase of miscegenation between the three races (black African, white European and native Indian) and was the beginning of a sense of nationhood.[editorializing]

Pernambucano revolts and conspiraciesEdit

See Also Rebellions and revolutions in Brazil
The 1817 revolution flag, with three stars representing Pernambuco, Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte

Within Pernambuco were several riots, revolutions and conspiracies in general inspired by the French Revolution, Freemasonry and the Enlightenment. European ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity were scattered among the more fortunate Pernambucanos, usually the aristocrats of the literary devices of cane sugar. Pernambuco even existed a few months as the Republic of Pernambuco, the result of the 1817 revolution. The flag of the modern State of Pernambuco was adapted from that of the 1817 revolution.

Empire of BrazilEdit

Brazilian IndependenceEdit

Independence from Portugal was not accepted right away, soon after D. Pedro I declared Brazilian Independence he would have to consolidate his power in Brazil.

Cabanada was a popular revolt which began in 1832 after the abdication of Dom Pedro I in the areas of forest and Agreste (with reflections in the neighboring state of Alagoas), against the government of the Regency. The rebels, in general, were humble people who lived in huts, or "cabanas" in Portuguese,

Independence or Death: oil on Canvas painting by Pedro Américo (1888).

a fact which gave rise to the name of the movement.

The government mobilized a large contingent to meet the rebels, but the fighting became meaningless with the emperor's death in 1834. The rebels were dominated in 1835.

Cabanada is also the movement that resulted in the ouster of President of the province of Alagoas, Bernardo de Sousa Franco, October 5, 1844. The rebels (about a thousand armed men) were commanded by Vicente Tavares da Silva (known as Vincente de Paula), but the movement was extinguished in little over a month by troops led by Brigadier General Antônio Correia Seara.

20th centuryEdit

The Modern stateEdit

Cassava Scandal

One of the largest financial scandals in the history of Pernambuco, occurred in 1980 at the Bank of Brazil in Floresta, involving ~$700 million and several influential people in the state.

Loans were made by the bank for planting cassava, then it was alleged that drought had destroyed the plantations (which were never actually planted) and damages were recouped by crop insurance. Even the bank manager was involved. In July 1981, the Pernambucano press exposed the hoax, and a federal court inquiry ensued. The money was never actually diverted.

On March 3, 1982, District Attorney Pedro Jorge de Melo in charge of the inquiry was assassinated in Olinda. The crime had national repercussions. The trial of seven defendants in the death, among them MP Major José Ferreira dos Anjos, in October 1983 at the jury of Recife, resulted in sentences of 31 years imprisonment for each of the defendants.

In Nov. 1983, Major José Ferreira escaped from prison. He was recaptured in Jan. 1996, in the interior of Bahia and returned to prison in Recife.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Etimologia de "Pernambuco" teria origem no português, e não no tupi, diz pesquisador da UFRPE em livro". (in Portuguese). Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Gabriela Martin. "Pré-história do Nordeste do Brasil". Google Books. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
  3. ^ "Sítios arqueológicos de Pernambuco: uma abordagem cultural" (PDF). Unicap. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  4. ^ Renaissance Warrior and Patron: The Reign of Francis I by R. J. Knecht p.375 (Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Further readingEdit