Manuel da Nóbrega


Manuel da Nóbrega : biography

1517 – 1570

Missionary Practice

Nóbrega and his men began catechizing and baptizing the natives upon their arrival in Brazil. One of the early encounters they had with the heathens was when Nóbrega and his men tried to stop preparations for a cannibal feast and the natives rose up against the Christians. The Governor’s militia helped to defend the missionaries against the native uprising.

Busy building chapels and schools, the missionaries boasted of the high rate of conversion of the natives. The Jesuits had begun teaching prayers to the natives as well as teaching them how to write and sing. According to a report written by Nóbrega five hundred natives had been baptized within the first five months of the arrival of the Jesuits and many more were catechumens.Helen G. Dominian, Apostle of Brazil, New York: Exposition Press, 1958.

The problems with the Portuguese colonies in Brazil, like many colonies in the Americas, were that slavery and concubinage were common practices amongst the new settlers. Nóbrega was concerned that the Portuguese settlers were not good examples. Nóbrega was unable to limit slavery among the Portuguese so he chose separation instead. He moved toward the physical separation of the natives and the Portuguese to limit their contact with corrupt surroundings and focused on reducing the Jesuits’ reliance on support from the Portuguese crown.Thomas Cohen, "’Who is My Neighbor?’ The Missionary Ideals of Manuel da Nobrega", Jesuit Encounters in the New World: Jesuit Chroniclers, Geographers, Educators and Missionaries in the Americas, 1549-1767. Ed. Joseph A. Gagliano, and Charles E. Ronan, S.J., Instituto Storico S.I.: Roma, 1997.

Nóbrega was encouraged that many natives had converted to Christianity despite being mistreated by the Europeans. The Brazilian sugar plantation colony for example was founded on the extensive use of Indian labor. Although this stage in the development of the Brazilian economy was temporary, the Portuguese eventually began using African slave labor, it had long lasting effects on the moral of the native people. The Portuguese created a society in which the natives had to live by Portuguese rules and conform to new modes of behavior, defined by European social and racial categories.Stuart B. Schwartz, Sugar Plantations in the Formation of Brazilian Society: Bahia, 1550-1835, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

War and Expansion

The exploitation and massacres of Indian villages by the Portuguese colonists continued despite the pacification efforts of Nóbrega. The Tamoio and Tupiniquim tribes, who lived along the Brazilian coast from the present-day states of Espírito Santo to Paraná were most affected. Rebelling, they formed a warring tribal alliance, which became the Tamoio Confederation (Confederação dos Tamoios, in Portuguese) and started attacks on the villages founded by the colonists. São Paulo was attacked several times, but the Portuguese resisted. Hard pressed, Nóbrega tried to make a peace treaty with the Confederation, sensing that all their effort and the Portuguese colonization was in great danger. Under considerable duress and several threats of being killed and eaten by the Indians, Nóbrega and Anchieta stayed for a time in Iperoig (present-day Ubatuba in the Northern cost of São Paulo), in conference with the tribal chieftains, until Nóbrega was able to achieve a temporary peace. Anchieta’s command of Tupi, the language spoken by most of the Indians (of which he had compiled a vocabulary and a grammar) was extremely useful to Nóbrega, who had no such ability.

The arrival of a French invasion force in 1555, in the Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro (the so-called France Antarctique episode), however, tipped the balance again, since the Indians saw an opportunity to rally the Frenchmen’s help to vanquish the Portuguese. Thus, Nóbrega had no alternative other than bless and support the punitive expeditions sent by the third Governor-General from Portugal, Mem de Sá, in 1560 and by his nephew, Estácio de Sá, in 1565. The French colonists were defeated and expelled and their Indian allies were reduced to submission.