Procurator of the Indians

The position of procurator of the Indians was officially established in Portuguese America with the alvará e regimento of 1596. However, at least since the 1560s, there are records indicating its existence and attempts to formalize it. The efforts in this regard were initially associated with the idea that the indigenous people should be tutored, grouped, and kept in fixed locations. The aim was to facilitate the process of evangelization, avoid the countless conflicts between the different groups and, above all, guarantee the availability of indigenous people to work and defend the territory. In this sense, the creation of the position of procurator of the Indians must be seen in the context of the formation of the aldeamentos and the attempt to establish greater control over the indigenous populations. It is also directly linked to the tensions that existed between the interests of the Crown, the settlers, and the Jesuit priests in relation to the indigenous people.

The aldeamentos project was conceived by the priests of the Society of Jesus, mainly through the work of Manuel da Nóbrega, who arrived in Portuguese America in 1549 as part of the expedition commanded by the first governor-general of Brazil, Tomé de Souza. However, it is worth noting that the implementation of the project, i.e. the functioning of the aldeias, underwent transformations throughout the colonial period according to the specificities of each context. One of the first strategies devised by the priests, which sought to change the way the indigenous people were converted to something more effective, was to stop the itinerant baptisms, which had previously been carried out in masse, and start a more intensive and systematic work (Pompa, 2003: p. 61; Sposito, 2012: p. 123). After an unsuccessful attempt to obtain the support of governor-general Duarte da Costa in 1556 for the formation of the aldeias, Nóbrega’s project gained real strength with the backing of another governor-general, Mem de Sá, from the 1560s onwards (Eisenberg, 2000). With the indigenous people gathered and kept under the spiritual and temporal administration of the Jesuits (Pompa, 2003: p. 69), the question arose as to what participation the Portuguese settlers would have in this system.

It was in the context of this process of establishing the villages that the first known record of an attempt to create the position of procurator of the indians in Portuguese America appeared. This record is part of the “Resoluções da Junta da Baia sobre as aldeias dos padres e os índios”, of July 30, 1566[1]. With the aim of giving support and a new shape to the aldeamentos run by the Jesuits, the Junta was attended by: Mem de Sá (governor-general of Brazil), Pedro Leitão (bishop of Salvador), Bras Fragoso (ouvidor-general of Brazil) and some priests from the Society of Jesus, including Manuel da Nóbrega (Marques, 2017: pp. 7 and 93). According to the third item of the resolutions: “E porque a justiça dos Indios perece muitas vezes por falta de quem por elles procure, ordenarão que se instituisse hum Procurador dos Indios com competente salario”[2]. In short, in an agreement between the local authorities and the Jesuits, it was established that in order to make good use of the indigenous labor force in the aldeias, it was necessary for a white intermediary to be appointed as the Indians’ attorney and, therefore, to be in charge of applying for justice on behalf of those who “could not” or “were not capable” of applying for justice themselves.

According to Serafim Leite, the position of procurator of the Indians, as it appears in the Junta of 1566, would have been an evolution of the idea of “father of those who convert”, proposed as early as 1552 in a document written by father Manuel da Nóbrega[3]. In the document in question, Nóbrega ordered that the Portuguese Diogo Alvares be appointed as the “língua” of the Caramoru Indians, as he had lived among them for many years. With the right to receive an order from the king, he was to go around the aldeias with the priests and preach against the abuses that were being sown among the natives[4]. However, this proposition that there was an “evolution” of the idea of a “father of those who convert” towards what became the procurator of the Indians, and which has as its starting point a suggestion of appointment made by Nóbrega, is problematic. From the very document mentioned by Serafim Leite, we can see that Nóbrega’s intentions were far removed from those proposed by the Crown in the following decades for this position. Despite reproducing a rhetoric of protecting the Amerindians, the Jesuit was more interested in incorporating into his project a kind of translator who, because he was already “familiar” with the local indigenous world in 1552, could act as a mediator in this process[5].

Considering the documentation widely used by historiography, it was possible to find only two records of direct mentions of the existence of the position of procurator of the Indians in the period between the Junta da Bahia of 1566 and the promulgation of the alvará e regimento of 1596, which later made the position official. The first of these is the law of 1587, which had the freedom of the Indians as its central theme. Among other things, King Felipe II ordered that a book be created in the Câmara of each of the captaincies, in which there should be a record of the indigenous people who worked in the engenhos and farms, as well as the aldeia in which they lived. This register should include the number of indigenous people, their names, and ages. In addition, it was determined that the ouvidor-general should make two visits a year, accompanied by the procurator of the Indians, to check that the Indians working in the engenhos and farms corresponded to those listed in the Câmara’s register[6]. In this way, the law complemented the functions attributed to the position of procurator of the Indians, established in the Junta da Bahia of 1566, including that of accompanying the ouvidor-general on periodic visits to the places where the “free” Indians served the senhores de engenho and other settlers.

The second record is a mercy granted to Manuel Carvalho, on January 23, 1595, “na cidade de Salvador das partes do Brasil do cargo de procurador dos índios na dita cidade”[7]. It should be noted that the position was vacant due to the death of the previous procurator, which indicates that during this thirty-year period, at least in Bahia, the position existed, albeit discreetly. However, these mentions are parallel to the use of the term “juiz dos índios”, which in some contexts could mean a position with similar functions.

The conflict of interests over access to indigenous labor, especially between settlers and Jesuits, is perhaps the key to understanding what encouraged the creation of positions such as procurator of the Indians, but also capitão de aldeia[8], juiz dos índios, among others. An emblematic document of this conflict are the “Capítulos” that Gabriel Soares de Sousa, a senhor de engenho, delivered to D. Cristóvão de Moura against the priests of the Society of Jesus in 1587. Among the accusations, Soares de Sousa claimed that the Jesuits were taking advantage of the work of the indigenous without need, as well as receiving numerous exemptions and rights of jurisdiction within the aldeias. These and other attitudes would have “scandalized” the colony’s inhabitants, making the priests very “odious to the people”. In response to this accusation, the Jesuits defended themselves by claiming that the aldeias were “de El-Rei e do povo”, who benefited from the work of the indigenous people, and that only the use of Amerindian labor by private individuals resulted in aggravation. In such cases, according to the priests, the aldeamentos were consumed “pelos contínuos serviços em que os trazem, de guerras, rebates de Ingleses, fortes, baluartes, ir às minas com o informante, e coisas semelhantes”[9].

Despite the attempt by Mem de Sá and the Jesuits in 1566, the reference in the law of 1587, and considering the context of the dispute over indigenous labor, the position of procurator of the Indians was only officially instituted in Portuguese America after an alvará e regimento of 1596. In the first part of this document, King Felipe II assigned the priests of the Society of Jesus the responsibility of “descimento” the Indians from the sertão, with the justification that this activity was important for the “conversão do gentio” and the maintenance of “order” in the colony. In addition to instructing the indigenous people in the Catholic faith, the Jesuits were also tasked with “taming”, “teaching” and “guiding” the Amerindians in the “cousas de sua salvação”, as well as in matters of “common life”, in this case referring to relations with the white inhabitants. In addition to the duties assigned to the Jesuits, the king reaffirmed the freedom of the indigenous people, which had been institutionally established in the law of 1570[10].

Although the document of 1596 determined that the indigenous people should not be made captives and that they should therefore be “senhores de suas fazendas”, it established a limit of two months in which the inhabitants could “make use of them”. Once the two months had elapsed, the indigenous people had to be paid and returned to their settlements, so that “se aião como homes liures, e saião como tais tratados”. Finally, it is stated that any resident should only enter the indigenous settlements with the license of the governor and the consent of the religious of the Society of Jesus[11]. From these first points, we can see an attempt by the Crown to control the access of settlers to the indigenous aldeias. In this sense, this contact should be supervised by the colonial administration and the Jesuits, which would make it easier to intervene in any conflicts.

After outlining the rules of access to the Indians in order to make use of their labor and the control functions that should be exercised by the Jesuits, in an attempt to maintain a certain type of “order”, the alvará e regimento of 1596 gave the first instructions for the creation of the position of procurator of the Indians: the governor, with the opinion of the religious of the Society of Jesus, should elect a “procurador do gentio” for each settlement, who should serve in the position for a period of up to three years – extendable, “tendo dado satisfação de seu serviço”. The document also discusses payment for the office and states that the governor and other “justices” should favor any demands made by the procurator of the Indians. It goes on to state that in addition to the procurator of the indians, each aldeia should have a juiz dos índios, who should be Portuguese, know the causes that the Indians had with the inhabitants and have “dalçada çivel ate dez cruzados”[12].

As a general definition of the position, it can be said that the procurator of the Indians was the “secular” person responsible for supervising the aldeamentos in each region, usually a town, city, or captaincy, and was supposed to act as a kind of “representative” of the Indians. According to Maria Regina Celestino de Almeida, the procurator of the Indians had to be “acima dos administradores de cada aldeia e tratar de todos os assuntos referentes aos índios e suas relações com os demais segmentos sociais da colônia, sobretudo no que se refere a questões de justiça” (Almeida, 2000: p. 124). Reinforcing the emphasis on justice, according to Pedro Cardim, “entre outras funções, este oficial tratava das relações entre as populações indígenas e a justiça régia portuguesa” (Cardim, 2019: p. 54).

Despite the recurrence in historiography of confusing the two positions and treating them as if they were different nomenclatures for the same office, it is important to differentiate between the procurator of the Indians, responsible for a group of aldeias, and the capitão de aldeia, who acted directly in the daily life of the aldeamentos, and were even responsible for organizing the distribution of indigenous workers among the residents and directing them to work on public works. The confusion is explained by the fact that in some contexts the same person could be mentioned in documents with both titles, as in the case of Manoel João Branco, mentioned in a session of the village of São Paulo in 1632 as “capitão e procurador dos índios de Barueri”[13]. In other cases, however, the difference between the two positions became more evident: also, in the village of São Paulo, in 1607, the procurator of the Indians, Gaspar Nunes, accompanied by the “principais das aldeias” filed a petition against the captain of the Indians, João Soares. The argument was that the indigenous people no longer wanted to continue obeying João Soares’s orders due to the numerous offenses committed by him[14].

Furthermore, it is important to remember that in Gabriel Soares de Sousa’s own “Capítulos” of 1587, the author mentions the presence of a “captain” in the villages, which would have been something instituted “in the time of Governor Mem de Sá”. In this case, however, he seems to be referring to the position of procurator of the Indians, not only because of the period referred to, but also because of the description offered. Gabriel Soares de Sousa even offers an explanation for the low number of residents taking up the post. According to him, an atmosphere of disagreement arose between the orders that the captain – probably in reference to the procurator of the Indians – wanted to give to the Indians and the Jesuit priests. Once these conflicts had been established, “não achou o governador semelhantes pessoas que quisessem aceitar este cargo”[15]. In the process of escalating these conflicts, the effort to structure the position of Indian procurator, especially observed from 1587 onwards, should be considered as part of a broader policy during the Union of Crowns period (1580-1640). Linked to the set of indigenist legislations formulated during this period, the position is integrated into this comprehensive framework of regulations concerning indigenous labor that was attempted to be applied in Portuguese and Spanish Americas in the context of the so-called “império Filipino”.

Finally, it should be noted that little is known about exactly who the people were who held these positions and whether they may have somehow facilitated or generated some influence in relation to the access of indigenous populations to colonial justice in Portuguese America. What is clear is that the position of procurator of the Indians can be thought of as one of the attempts, which was reiterated in the indigenous legislation of the period, to introduce into the context of the villages – where in principle only indigenous people and Jesuits should live – a figure who represented the local government, a settler chosen by the authorities and who should act as a kind of intermediary. Anchored in a discourse that brought him closer to the idea of a “lawyer” or “protector” of the indigenous people and, in theory, representing their interests, the position of procurator of the Indians seems to have been received as a potential obstacle to the exploitation of the indigenous labor in the aldeamentos.


[1] “Resoluções da Junta da Baia sobre as aldeias dos padres e os índios, Baía 30 de julho de 1556”, Monumenta Brasiliae, v. 4, pp. 354-357.

[2] Ibidem, p. 355.

[3] Ibidem, nota 3.

[4] “Carta do P. Francisco Pires aos padres e irmãos de Coimbra, Baía 7 de agosto de 1552”, Monumenta Brasiliae, v. 1, pp. 397-398.

[5] The case of Diogo Alvares is one of the most emblematic of the presence of Portuguese castaways who arrived in America before the first efforts at more effective colonization, and who lived among the indigenous people. Another striking example is João Ramalho, who probably arrived on the Brazilian coast in 1512 and, living among the indigenous people, acted as an interpreter at the founding of the village of São Vicente in 1532. In addition, Father Manuel da Nóbrega himself, in the processes of founding the village of Santo André da Borda do Campo (1553) and the Jesuit College in São Paulo (1554), “passou a ver Ramalho e seus filhos mamelucos como figuras indispensáveis” (Monteiro, 2004: p. 30).

[6] “Lei que SM passou sobre os Indios do Brasil que não podem ser captivos e declara os que podem ser. 24/02/1587”. In Perrone-Moisés, Bratriz (org.). Documentos de legislação indigenista colonial: Parte 1 (1500-1700). São Paulo: Centro de Estudos Ameríndios, 2001, pp. 67-68.

[7] “Alvará de Procurador dos Índios da cidade de Salvador, a Manuel Carvalho, 23 de janeiro de 1595”. ANTT, Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, Chancelaria de D. Filipe I, Doações, livro 30, fl. 12.

[8] Although the position of village captain was officially instituted in the law of 1611, it had existed previously, at least since the first attempts to establish villages under the government of Mem de Sá. The first record found is from 1563, when Domingos Luis was appointed “captain of the Indians” in the village of São Paulo. “Sessão de 9 de março de 1563”. Atas da Câmara da cidade de São Paulo: vol. I (1562-1596). São Paulo: Divisão do Arquivo Histórico do Departamento de Cultura, 1967, p. 24. In a report made the following year by the Jesuit Antonio Blázquez, in Bahia, it is mentioned that in an agreement between the provincial of the Society of Jesus and the governor-general of Brazil, it was ordered to “poner en cada población un hombre honrrado, que tuviesse nombre de Capitán y fuese como protector dellos, defendiéndolos en las iniurias y agravios de los christianos”. “Carta do P. António Blázquez, Baía 31 de maio de 1564”, Monumenta Brasiliae, v. 4, p. 65.

[9] “Capítulos que Gabriel Soares de Sousa deu em Madrid ao sr. D. Cristovam de Moura contra os padres da Companhia de Jesus que residem no Brasil, com umas breves respostas dos mesmos padres que deles foram avisados por um seu parente a quem os ele mostrou”. In Anais da Biblioteca Nacional, v. 62. Rio de Janeiro: Imprensa Nacional, 1940, pp. 350-351.

[10] “Alvará e Regimento. Sobre a liberdade dos índios e atribuições do Procurador dos Índios, 26/07/1596. In Perrone-Moisés, Bratriz (org.). Documentos de legislação indigenista colonial: Parte 1 (1500-1700). São Paulo: Centro de Estudos Ameríndios, 2001, p. 75.

[11] “Alvará e Regimento. Sobre a liberdade dos índios e atribuições do Procurador dos Índios, 26/07/1596. In Perrone-Moisés, Bratriz (org.). Documentos de legislação indigenista colonial: Parte 1 (1500-1700). São Paulo: Centro de Estudos Ameríndios, 2001, p. 75.

[12] Ibidem. The order to have a judge of the Indians was repeated later in the law of 1609: “o governador lhe ordene um juiz particular que seja português e cristão velho, dê satisfação o qual conhecerá das cousas que o gentio tiver com os moradores, ou os moradores com ele e terá de alçada no civil até dez cruzados”. “Lei em que se determina que por ser contra o Direito natural o cativeiro não se podem cativar os gentios do Brasil, 30/07/1609”. In Perrone-Moisés, Bratriz (org.). Documentos de legislação indigenista colonial: Parte 1 (1500-1700). São Paulo: Centro de Estudos Ameríndios, 2001, p. 86.

[13] “Sessão de 22 de maio de 1632”. Actas da Camara da Villa de S. Paulo: vol. IV (1629-1639). São Paulo: Archivo Municipal de S. Paulo, 1915, p. 121. In the 1590s, the council of the village of São Paulo had already recorded a similar situation. The aldeamento of São Miguel had a “capitão dos índios forros”, who acted as procurator and distributor of the Indians. RGCVSP, 1590 apud Vilardaga, José Carlos. D. Francisco de Souza e a jurisdição das minas na Capitania de São Vicente (1599-1611). In Caetano, Antonio F. P. (org.). Dinâmicas sociais, políticas e judiciais na América Lusa: hierarquias, poderes e governo (século XVI-XIX). Recife: UFPE, 2016, p. 64.

[14] “Sessão de 20 de janeiro de 1607”. Actas da Camara da Villa de S. Paulo: vol. II (1596-1622). São Paulo: Archivo Municipal de S. Paulo, 1915, p. 185-186. Vilardaga, José Carlos. Terras, ouro e cativeiro: a ocupação do aldeamento de Guarulhos nos séculos XVI e XVII. Revista do Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, v. 26, 2016, p. 54.

[15] “Capítulos que Gabriel Soares de Sousa deu em Madrid ao sr. D. Cristovam de Moura contra os padres da Companhia de Jesus que residem no Brasil, com umas breves respostas dos mesmos padres que deles foram avisados por um seu parente a quem os ele mostrou”. In Anais da Biblioteca Nacional, v. 62. Rio de Janeiro: Imprensa Nacional, 1940, p. 373.

DOCUMENTARY REFERENCES

  • “Alvará de Procurador dos Índios da cidade de Salvador, a Manuel Carvalho, 23 de janeiro de 1595”. ANTT, Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, Chancelaria de D. Filipe I, Doações, livro 30, fl. 12.
  • “Alvará e Regimento. Sobre a liberdade dos índios e atribuições do Procurador dos Índios, 26/07/1596. In Perrone-Moisés, Bratriz (org.). Documentos de legislação indigenista colonial: Parte 1 (1500-1700). São Paulo: Centro de Estudos Ameríndios, 2001, pp. 75-76.
  • “Capítulos que Gabriel Soares de Sousa deu em Madrid ao sr. D. Cristovam de Moura contra os padres da Companhia de Jesus que residem no Brasil, com umas breves respostas dos mesmos padres que deles foram avisados por um seu parente a quem os ele mostrou”. In Anais da Biblioteca Nacional, v. 62. Rio de Janeiro: Imprensa Nacional, 1940, pp. 347-381.
  • “Carta do P. António Blázquez, Baía 31 de maio de 1564”, Monumenta Brasiliae, v. 4, pp. 52-65.
  • “Carta do P. Francisco Pires aos padres e irmãos de Coimbra, Baía 7 de agosto de 1552”, Monumenta Brasiliae, v. 1, pp. 390-400.
  • “Lei em que se determina que por ser contra o Direito natural o cativeiro não se podem cativar os gentios do Brasil, 30/07/1609”. In Perrone-Moisés, Bratriz (org.). Documentos de legislação indigenista colonial: Parte 1 (1500-1700). São Paulo: Centro de Estudos Ameríndios, 2001, p. 85-88.
  • “Lei que SM passou sobre os Indios do Brasil que não podem ser captivos e declara os que podem ser. 24/02/1587”. In Perrone-Moisés, Bratriz (org.). Documentos de legislação indigenista colonial: Parte 1 (1500-1700). São Paulo: Centro de Estudos Ameríndios, 2001, pp. 67-69.
  • “Lei sobre a liberdade do gentio da terra e da guerra que se lhe pode fazer, 10/09/1611”. In Perrone-Moisés, Bratriz (org.). Documentos de legislação indigenista colonial: Parte 1 (1500-1700). São Paulo: Centro de Estudos Ameríndios, 2001, pp. 88-93.
  • “Resoluções da Junta da Baia sobre as aldeias dos padres e os índios, Baía 30 de julho de 1556”, Monumenta Brasiliae, v. 4, pp. 354-357.
  • “Sessão de 20 de janeiro de 1607”. Actas da Camara da Villa de S. Paulo: vol. II (1596-1622). São Paulo: Archivo Municipal de S. Paulo, 1915, p. 185-186.
  • “Sessão de 22 de maio de 1632”. Actas da Camara da Villa de S. Paulo: vol. IV (1629-1639). São Paulo: Archivo Municipal de S. Paulo, 1915, pp. 121-122.
  • “Sessão de 9 de março de 1563”. Atas da Câmara da cidade de São Paulo: vol. I (1562-1596). São Paulo: Divisão do Arquivo Histórico do Departamento de Cultura, 1967, p. 24.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Almeida, M. R. Celestino de (2000). Os índios aldeados no Rio de Janeiro colonial: Novos Súditos Cristãos do Império Português. (Tese de Doutorado). Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas.
  • Bonciani, Rodrigo F. (2010). O dominium sobre os indígenas e africanos e a especificidade da soberania régia no Atlântico: da colonização das ilhas à política ultramarina de Felipe III (1493-1615). (Tese de Doutorado). Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo.
  • Cardim, Pedro (2019). Os povos indígenas, a dominação colonial e as instâncias de justiça na América portuguesa e espanhola. In Domingues, Angela; Resende, Maria L. C. de Resende; Cardim, Pedro (orgs). Os Indígenas e as Justiças no Mundo Ibero-Americano (Sécs. XVI-XIX). Lisboa: Centro de História da Universidade Nova de Lisboa, CHAM e PPGH/UFSJ.
  • Eisenberg, José (2000). As missões jesuíticas e o pensamento político moderno: encontros culturais, aventuras teóricas. Belo Horizonte: Ed. UFMG.
  • Marques, Marisa Pires (2017). Mem de Sá: um percurso singular no Império quinhentista português. (Tese de Doutoramento). Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisboa.
  • Monteiro, John Manuel (1994). Negros da terra: índios e bandeirantes nas origens de São Paulo. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras.
  • Monteiro, John Manuel (2004). Dos Campos de Piratininga ao Morro da Saudade: a presença indígena na história de São Paulo. In Porta, Paula (org.). História da cidade de São Paulo: a cidade colonial. São Paulo: Paz e Terra, pp. 21-67.
  • Perrone-Moisés, Beatriz (1992). Índios livres e índios escravos. Os princípios da legislação indigenista do período colonial (séculos XVI a XVIII). In Cunha, Manuela Carneiro da (org). História dos índios no Brasil. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras/Secretaria Municipal de Cultura/FAPESP.
  • Pompa, Cristina (2003). Religião como tradução: missionários, Tupi e “Tapuia” no Brasil colonial. Bauru: EDUSC.
  • Santos Pérez, José Manuel. “Duas instituições de governo local em dois sistemas coloniais: o corregedor de índios e o comissário para os assuntos indígenas. Uma perspetiva comparada”. In Histórias conectadas. Ensaios sobre história global, comparada e colonial na idade moderna (Brasil, Ásia e América hispânica). Rio de Janeiro: Editora Autografia, 2016, pp. 189-206.
  • Thomas, Georg (1981). Política indigenista dos portugueses no Brasil: 1500-1640. São Paulo: Ed. Loyola.
  • Vilardaga, José Carlos. D. Francisco de Souza e a jurisdição das minas na Capitania de São Vicente (1599-1611). In Caetano, Antonio F. P. (org.). Dinâmicas sociais, políticas e judiciais na América Lusa: hierarquias, poderes e governo (século XVI-XIX). Recife: UFPE, 2016, pp. 51-79.
  • Vilardaga, José Carlos. Terras, ouro e cativeiro: a ocupação do aldeamento de Guarulhos nos séculos XVI e XVII. Revista do Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, v. 26, p. 42-61, 2016.
  • Zeron, Carlos A. de M. R. (2011). Linha de Fé: A Companhia de Jesus e a Escravidão no Processo de Formação da Sociedade Colonial (Brasil, Séculos XVI e XVII). São Paulo: EDUSP.

Author:

Bruno Felipe Ferreira Inocencio (Universidad de Salamanca)

How to quote this entry:

Bruno Felipe Ferreira Inocencio. “Procurator of the Indians“. In: BRASILHIS Dictionary: Biographic and Thematic Dictionary of Brazil in the Spanish Monarch (1580-1640). Available in: https://brasilhisdictionary.usal.es/en/procurator-of-the-indians/. Date of access: 25/06/2024.

Keep Reading

Previous