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brazilwood

brazilwood, common name for several trees of the family Leguminosae (pulse family) whose wood yields a red dye. The dye has largely been replaced by synthetic dyes for fabrics, but it is still used in high-quality red inks. The bright red wood, which takes a high polish, is used in cabinetwork and for making violin bows. The East Indian redwood, or sapanwood (Caesalpinia sappan), was called "bresel wood" when it was first imported to Europe in the Middle Ages; Portuguese explorers used this name for a similar South American tree (C. echinata), from which the name Brazil for its native country purportedly derives. The latter species has been severely depleted in its native range, and international trade in the raw wood is now regulated. Brazilwoods are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Leguminosae.

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Caesalpinia

Caesalpinia (family Leguminosae, subfamily Caesalpinoideae) A genus of 100 species of tropical plants, many of which are woody climbers. Wood of C. sappan yields a red dye (sappan or Brazilwood).

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Brazilwood

Brazilwood

Brazilwood, a dyewood from various tropical trees (especially genus Caesalpinia) whose extracts yield shades of red and purple. Caesalpinia enchinata, Brazil's first important export, lured French and Portuguese traders to the coast in the early 1500s; its similarity to Caesalpinia brasiliensis, a species indigenous to the Near East and long familiar to Europeans, gave Brazil its name.

Although Brazil's earliest permanent settlements sprang from brazilwood trading forts and factories, participants in the trade did not intend to settle the region. In the 1530s, however, Portugal's increased interest in colonization stemmed in part from the crown's desire to establish control of the dyewood trade in the face of French competition.

European traders depended on indigenous peoples to fell the dyewood trees and transport the wood to collection points. The Portuguese employed a factory system: the Indians brought the wood to forts on the coast, where ships later called for it. The French, on the other hand, collected cargoes by anchoring offshore and sending crewmen to arrange an exchange with local tribes.

Initially, the brazilwood trade was based on peaceful barter between Europeans and Indians, but these arrangements soon degenerated into coercion of indigenous peoples.

Bow makers prefer brazilwood because of its quality. However, since the eighteenth century, brazilwood has been in decline as a result of over-harvesting. The World Conservation Union in 2007 declared brazilwood an endangered species.

See alsoPortuguese Trade and International Relations .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alexander Marchant, From Barter to Slavery: The Economic Relations of Portuguese and Indians in the Settlement of Brazil, 1500–1580 (1942).

John Hemming, Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians (1978).

Additional Bibliography

Cunha, Manuela Carneiro da, and Francisco M. Salzano. História dos índios no Brasil. São Paulo: Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo: Companhia das Letras: Secretaria Municipal de Cultura, 1992.

Metcalf, Alida C. Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil, 1500–1600. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.

Smith, Nigel J. H. The Amazon River Forest: A Natural History of Plants, Animals, and People. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Wood, Charles H., and Roberto Porro. Deforestation and Land Use in the Amazon. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002.

                                          Cara Shelly

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