views updated


Sertanista (backwoodsman), a specialist in the ways of the Sertão (undeveloped interior) of Portuguese America. Often Mamelucos (mixed bloods), these hardy backwoodsmen were fluent in the língua geral (vulgar Tupi-Guarani), well versed in indigenous forest lore, and indispensable to Portuguese military, slaving, and prospecting expeditions. During the seventeenth century, sertanistas from São Paulo gained significant notoriety for their frequent slave raids on native villages, as royal authorities, sugar planters, and cattle ranchers in the Northeast recruited them to combat recalcitrant tribes and runaway slave communities. In the northern colonies of Maranhão and Pará, sertanistas plied the Amazon region for Indian slaves and forest products throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

See alsoSlavery: Brazil .


John Hemming, Red Gold (1978), describes the sertanistas' activities in detail. Specifically on the backwoodsmen of São Paulo, Richard Morse, ed., The Bandeirantes (1965), provides an excellent introduction. A beautifully written Brazilian account is Sergio Buarque De Holanda, Caminhos e fronteiras (1957).

                                 John M. Monteiro