SÁ, Mem de
Mem de Sá was the son of Gonçalo Mendes and Inês de Melo, brother of the poet, Francisco Sá de Miranda, and cousin of the humanist, Diogo de Sá, with whom he had in common the study of law in Salamanca.
Mem de Sá married Dona Guiomar de Faria and together they had six children: João Rodrigues de Sá, who was killed in Ceuta in 1553, at the side of Dom Pedro de Meneses, Fernão de Sá, who was killed in 1558 fighting Indians in Espirito Santo, Dona Beatriz de Sá, Dona Maria de Sá, wife of Dom Rodrigo de Figueiredo, and Dona Filipa de Sá, widow of Dom Fernão de Noronha, 3rd Count of Linhares, heiress to her father and brother, Francisco de Sá.
A nobleman of the Royal House and licentiate in law, he was part of the ruling elite that served the centralized state, functioning as a Chief Judge in the palace, as Corregidor of the Court´s Civil Lawsuits, Chief Judge of Casa da Suplicação [House of Pleading, a second instance court], and as Royal Councilor.
Administrator of the Chapel of Pinheiro in the church of Santa Maria of Amial in the town of Torres Vedras, prototype of the learned soldier, combining military life and learning, Mem de Sá was at the service of the state apparatus for thirty-nine years, both in the Kingdom and in Brazil. Twenty-four years were spent in the Kingdom and fifteen in Brazil, after 1557, as captain of Salvador City and General Governor of the territory, with an annual salary of 400,000 reais.
Despite the initial three-year nomination, which was common in nominations to this position, Mem de Sá´s government which occurred for the most part during the regencies of Queen Dona Catarina and Cardinal Dom Henrique, was marked by originality: he was the first lawyer nominated to an overseas government position and performed the functions of the position for fifteen years.
At the end of his government, we can say that, through the organization of public power and legal administrative functioning, which guaranteed the strengthening of political and territorial unity and the exercise of government authority over settlers and Indians, the basis for consolidation of Portuguese presence in the territory had been established.
However, at the time of his arrival in the city of Baía, on 28 December, 1557, the territory was experiencing great social instability, which had already been present during the government of his predecessors, as a result of the distance at which the King and the structures of justice were located, due to the insecurity and fear caused by successive attacks by the Indians and the French, as well as by the reliance on exiles to populate the territory.
To reverse these circumstances, he instituted a new order for residents and donatary captains: it was desirable that they would be honorable and of good conscience, so as to promote settlement and investment by the ship managers for Espírito Santo, for example. To achieve this, and at the residents´request, he took over the captaincy for the Crown.
He forbade the residents from gambling, ended the extension of claims and conflicts between parties, and prohibited them from enslaving the Indians, which was accomplished via theft and imprisonment, and was illegal due to being based on the force and deceit to which the latter were subjected; Indians were to be taken from the villages only with authorization from the Governor or the magistrate.
As a result, he antagonized all parties, who did not provide him military aid as they should have. This was the case during the Wars of the Ilhéus and in Porto Seguro in 1558, in Espírito Santo and in Paraguaçu in 1559, and in Rio de Janeiro in 1560 and 1567; he definitively defeated the French, who with the support of the King of France, Henry II, had been established in Guanabara Bay since 1555, under the leadership of Villegagnon. Despite the lack of support, because of his victories, his actions gained credibility in the eyes of the population, increasing his charisma and, with it, came personal and political respectability as the King´s representative.
A true soldier according to Nóbrega; from the success of his military activities resulted the security of the land, as well as the subjugation and obedience of Indians and Christians to achieve the stability and peace necessary for its management and economic viability. To achieve this, expenses had to be contained, incentives had to be created for investment by ship managers, work had to be promoted via exemptions and privileges in building sugar mills, assigning sesmarias letters [a system by which the Crown granted the development of uncultivated land to private parties], promoting commerce of brazilwood, mining, and searching for gold and precious stones.
To guarantee the management of the land, he had to assure the swiftness of justice and efficacy of settlement, which made it necessary to forgive offenses more easily. To insure this in light of the experience he had with the land, which he wanted to preserve since he had won again, he requested the crafting of laws that took into account the specific needs of the territory, and increased jurisdiction for his position vis-à-vis that of General Magistrate.
In order to secure the obedience of Indians and settlers to the Portuguese Crown´s sovereignty, it was necessary that they submit to the same law and faith and, to achieve it, it was necessary to establish dialogue with the other power structures. Temporal power was represented by the magistrates, Brás Fragoso and his successor, Fernão da Silva, and spiritual power was represented by Bishop Dom Pedro de Leitão and the priests of the Company of Jesus. Embassadors of Christianity to the Indians and settlers, as well as spiritual bridges for the conversion of the former, they opened ways into the sertão [backlands] and, with them, new dominions over tribes and geographical areas, as can be seen in Paraguaçu and Baía.
He created incentives for missionary work, which went hand in hand with grants, either in individual or institutional terms, to the Company of Jesus, whose opinion he should hear every time he worked with the Municipality of Baía regarding distribution of lands, according to the explicit orders of Dona Catarina in 1558. For this purpose, he granted a sesmaria to the Indians in Village of Espirito Santo of the College of Baía, the sesmaria of Camamu to the same College in 1563 and, in 1566, the sesmaria of Jaraibatiba to the College of São Paulo; on 30 August, 1567, he confirmed the sesmaria of Iguaçu in Rio de Janeiro, which Estácio de Sá, who was his nephew and governor of the city, granted on 1 July, 1565.
Dilligent on all matters pertaining to serving God and King, he was godfather to Indians, supporting them after baptism. For their devotion, he endowed the colleges with their own possessions, had churches and Misericórdias [Houses of Mercy] built, so that, through his contribution, both cities and churches became material and spiritual symbols of Portuguese sovereignty over the territory.
Despite the land´s slow subjection to God and the Governor, returning to the Kingdom was the best reward that he could receive from the King, which he requested numerous times, because the three years of his initial nomination were long past. However, and despite his requests, Mem de Sá did not return to the Kingdom (his successor, Dom Luís de Vasconcelos died during the trip to Brazil, in a corsair attack) being buried on 2 March, 1572 in Baía de Todos os Santos, in the church of the College of the Jesuits, whose construction he had ordered.
BOSHI, Caio César, O Brasil nos Tempos Coloniais, Lisboa, David Corazzi, 1984. CORTESÃO, Jaime, A colonização do Brasil, Lisboa, Portugália, 1969. COSTA, João Paulo Oliveira e, «A Política Expansionista de D. João III (1521-1557. Uma Visão Global», in D. João III e o Mar. Ciclo de Conferências, Lisboa, Academia de Marinha, 2003, pp. 7-37. COUTO, Jorge, «Os Modelos de Colonização no Brasil na Primeira Metade de Quinhentos», in A Universidade e os Descobrimentos, Lisboa, CNCDP e Casa da Moeda, 1993, pp. 149-173. SCHWARTZ, Stuart B., Da América Portuguesa ao Brasil, Algés, Difel, 2003. WEHLING, Arno, «Governo-Geral», in Dicionário da História da Colonização Portuguesa do Brasil, dir. Maria Beatriz Nizza da Silva, Lisboa, Verbo, 1994, pp. 370-380.
Author: Marisa Pires Marques
Translated by: Maria João Pimentel