When I majored in History at university, the pre-Columbian civilizations have always fascinated me. The Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas in specific, since they were such powerful civilizations. Sometimes, when talking to friends about Brazilian History, they usually ask me if these civilizations were present in Brazil as well.
There is no evidence of the Aztecs, Mayans or Incas ever settling in what is known as Brazil today. The indigenous people that lived in Brazil were not as advanced as the Aztecs and Incas, so they did not build a lot of artifacts or temples that withstand the pass of time.
However, this doesn’t mean there were not indigenous people in Brazil. In fact, there were several tribes, and some of them are still present to this day, and there are possibly some that have not even been discovered by our civilization yet!
Did Any Brazilian Tribe Ever Encounter The Main Pre-Columbian Civilizations?
By the time the Aztecs and Incas were an influential civilization, Brazil was not yet a country. However, as most of the Amazon forest area is now what is considered Brazil, we will refer to them as Brazilian tribes.
In reality, each tribe had its own culture, language, customs, and we cannot put them in the same bucket. Some of them lived by the coast, near the beaches, and were the firsts to have contact with the Portugues once they arrived in America; some others lived deep down in the Amazon forest.
It is unlikely that most of the tribes inhabiting Brazil have ever encountered the Incas and even more so the Aztecs. Several tribes in Brazil would inhabit the coast, which is very far from the regions where those two civilizations thrived (The Andean Mountains for the Incas and Central America for the Aztecs).
Some of the forest-dwelling tribes are likely to have been in contact with Incas and to trade with them. There were also some incursions for pillaging the capital, Cusco, several times, according to Inca oral tales.
These tribes were the ones in the western part of the Amazonia forest, but the Amazon forest also covers parts of Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guyana.
As per the Aztecs and Mayans, they had trading routes that would go down through most of Central America and reach the northern part of South America, and several civilizations would trade with them.
Because of that, there likely was trading occurring between the northern Amazonia tribes and the Aztecs and Mayans.
As there are not many written documents or evidence, it is hard to say if the tribes that are in what is now considered Brazilian territory have ever had contact with these civilizations.
However, the Marajoaran, a tribe that inhabited a big island at the delta of the Amazon river, has some pottery aesthetics that resemble the Inca patterns, so it is possible that they were influenced by them and also that they had commercial routes.
Another theory is that they are descendants of the Incas that left the Andes and settled on the island.
It is unknown if the other tribes from the Amazonian forest or the coast would have had contact with these civilizations, however there are studies being done so the theories are always being updated.
Which Tribes Were There In Brazil?
Brazil had many tribes, with a total population estimated to be up to 3 million people divided into around 2000 tribes before the Portuguese arrived in America. Currently, 500 years later, it is believed only approximately 900,000 indigenous people in Brazil, in 305 ethnic group are still present in Brazilian territory.
Due to the deforestation, taking of their land and resources, the indigenous people see their habitat shrink.
Back in the 1500s, there were two main “mega-groups,” and they were constantly at war: the Tupi (mainly at the coast) and the Tapuia (primarily in the interior). The Tupi were the ones to have the first contact with the Portuguese, and their language still influences a lot of words in Brazilian Portuguese.
A few examples are abacaxi (pineapple), mandioca (cassava), and Ipanema (meaning “stinky lake” – now that I know this, the neighborhood in Rio doesn’t have the same appeal anymore for some reason…).
Currently, the tribes on the coast are almost extinct, and only a few tribes still preserve old ways of living, and those are in the center-west and north of Brazil.
There are, however, some tribes that have never had contact with the white people and still live deep in the forest. The most recent discovery was made in 2017 with a drone in a hardly accessible part of the Amazonian jungle by the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI). These tribes usually are hostile and do not wish to be contacted.
They are vulnerable to common diseases as they have never been exposed to them nor to the way we live. It is not advised nor encouraged to get in touch with those tribes.
Are There Indigenous Ruins In Brazil?
There are not many indigenous ruins in Brazil. Most tribes were nomadic or semi-nomadic, so they never built strong foundations for their buildings. The primary material used in the buildings was wood, and this decomposes over time, which leaves no ruins like the Mayan pyramids or Macchu Picchu.
There are some archeological sites where pottery, weapons, and bones have been found, especially in the north and northeast of the country. These items were usually easier to be carried around as well as traded with other civilizations. Most museums in the country would have an exhibit with indigenous artifacts as well.
Can I visit Sites Or Ruins?
Luckily, there are a few sites that can be visited, and some of them will even precede indigenous tribes, having paintings made by cavemen from prehistoric times. If you like hiking and adventure, this is the right activity for you, as most of these national parks are surrounded by waterfalls, hiking trails, and beautiful nature.
I have separated a few of the National Parks you can visit in Brazil according to the region of the country they are located in. Most of them are quite far from the capitals of each State, so I have put some rough timings on how to get there from the relevant State Capital or the closest town with an airport. From there, you will need to rent a car to reach the national parks.
Serra da Capivara National Park, in Piauí – Take a flight to Petrolina and then it will be a 5 hour drive to the park
Inga Stone, in Paraíba – 3 hours from Recife or 1:30 hours from João Pessoa
Catimbau National Park, in Pernambuco – Take a flight to Garanhuns and then it will be a 2:30 hours drive to the park
Solstice Archeological Park, in Amapá – 5:30 hours drive from Macapá
Pedra Pintada, in Roraima – 3 hours drive from Boa Vista
Jesuits Reductions, in Rio Grande do Sul – Take a flight to Passo Fundo, then it will be a 4-hour drive to São Miguel das Missões. Alternatively, you can fly to Porto Alegre and take an overnight bus from there.
You can check on the Official Brazilian Touristic information website for further information.
This can be an excellent idea for visiting often off-the-beaten-path places, as our Natural Parks are not very well known, even for most Brazilian people! Not only can you see ruins and nature, but you will also likely encounter several of the Brazilian national animals, such as the maned wolf, capybaras, macaws, and toucans.
In most cases, flying to the nearest capital and renting a car to drive to the national park or hiring a private tour is the best option. However, please check on safety, park working hours and if you can camp onsite or stay nearby in a lodge or hotel.