ANTONIL, Padre André João (1649-?)
Born on 8th February, 1649, in the Italian city of Lucca, and named Giovanni Antonio Andreoni, the author of Cultura e Opulência do Brasil por suas Drogas e Minas became known for posterity by his pseudonym André João Antonil.
This was the name which signed that key work and major source for the study of colonial Brazil, in the transition from the 17th to the 18th century.
Still in his native country, Andreoni began his studies in Law, at the University of Perugia, where he also followed Latin studies, areas in which he demonstrated mastery throughout his life.
After this period of University education, on 20th May, 1667, he was admitted to the Society of Jesus, in Rome, where he became known as a teacher of Rhetoric and Philosophy at the Jesuit seminary. It was also in Rome that he first met and came to know Father António Vieira, a figure who would leave an indelible imprint on the course of his life.
Influenced by the Portuguese Jesuit, Andreoni decided to leave Italy and go to Lisbon. In January, 1681, he departed from Lisbon with Father Vieira and disembarked in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, leaving Europe for good.
Over the following decades he held important offices in Salvador, mainly at the Jesuit College in Bahia, as teacher of Rhetoric, director of the student congregation and master of novices, and twice held the post of rector of the college. He was also secretary to the Jesuit provincial, serving under several offices before being appointed to that post, in 1705, where he worked until 1709, when he resumed the post of rector.
His influence spread to the highest spheres of colonial power, and he was personal confessor to two governors-general. Through this prestige he was able to assume these high functions, even though they were forbidden to foreign clergy by royal charter. He was also close to important ecclesiastical figures, namely the archbishop of Bahia. It was by mingling with the elite of the colonial that enabled Andreoni to gather part of the information for his book.
This factor became crucial given that, despite having spent more than half his life in Brazil, only on rare occasions did the Jesuit priest abandon the bay of Bahia, except for a journey through Pernambuco, as visitator, under the orders of Father António Vieira, and a visit in the 1690?s to the sugarcane plantation in Sergipe do Conde, in the captaincy of Bahia. His work was marked by this connection with Bahia and it was during the days spent at the sugarcane plantation that Father Andreoni learned about the process of sugar production, which he would later write about. Despite brief periods of absence, it was in the city of Salvador that Antonil lived, and died, at 67 years of age, in the College of Bahia, on 13th March, 1716.
In March, 1711, only five years after his death, his work Cultura e Opulência do Brasil was published in Lisbon, under the pseudonym André Joaõ Antonil. In his work, which is divided into four chapters, Antonil tried to describe the economic conditions of the colony during that period.
The first part, which occupies almost half the book, is about the sugarcane economy, described in detail. Antonil gives an account of the various technical stages and processes, from the planting, cutting and processing of the sugarcane to its commercialisation. He also describes the social set-up involved, from the plantation owners to the slaves. This detailed approach shows the importance the author gave to sugarcane production as the dominant economic activity in Brazil.
The following chapters of Cultura e Opulência do Brasil deal with the other major economic activities in the colony. In a brief introduction to what is called the ?Lavra do Tabaco? (?Tobacco Growing?), Antonil describes the different phases of its cultivation and processing, as well as the profits from its sale, and making some considerations on the consequences of its consumption for one?s health.
Particular emphasis is given to gold and silver mining, which began to gain importance at that period. Antonil gives an account of the discovery of gold, the flow of miners to the gold-bearing regions, mining processes and taxation, and methods of extracting the ore. He also makes a critical analysis of the social, economic and moral consequences of these discoveries, which he considered to be pernicious and destabilising for colonial society, leading to the neglect of sugarcane plantations, which he regarded as the major source of wealth in Brazil.
Finally, Antonil analyses the economic impact of raising cattle in large herds, which was the mainstay of the economy of the Brazilian interior, before ending his work by describing the colony?s importance for Portugal.
A few days after its publication, Cultura e Opulência do Brasil was the target of an order for seizure and destruction, dated 20th May, 1711, issued by the Conselho Ultramarino (Overseas Council). The Council was faced by the possible threat that the divulgation of Antonil?s work might pose, due to the detailed descriptions of the location and access to mining areas. If such information were available to outside powers it could threaten the economic and military security of the colony and of the Portuguese realm. Even though this royal order was carried out, a few copies of the work escaped destruction, becoming a future legacy of Father Antonil?s description of the socio-economic transformations in Brazil at the beginning of the 18th century.
ANTONIL, André João, Cultura e opulência do Brasil por suas drogas e minas, introdução e comentário crítico por Andrée Mansuy Diniz Silva, Lisboa, Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, 2001.
Author: José Ferreira
Translated by: Kathleen Calado