Skip to main content



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

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Sertanista." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . 20 Aug. 2019 <>.

"Sertanista." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . (August 20, 2019).

"Sertanista." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . Retrieved August 20, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.