CAMINHA, Pêro Vaz de (c. 1450-1500)
A knight of the Royal household, he was part of the fleet of Pedro Álvares Cabral that reached Brazil in 1500, an event he recorded. He was born around 1450, maybe in Porto, and died in Calicut in 1500. Pêro Vaz was the son of Vasco Fernandes de Caminha, knight of the house of the duke of Guimarães, and main collector of the income from the fortresses in the north of Africa and from the district of Entre Douro e Minho and Trás-os Montes; he was also Master of the Balance of the Mint of Oporto. Even if he were not born in that city, Pêro Vaz must have lived there since an early age. He married Catarina Vaz de Caminha and they had a daughter, Isabel.
Most likely, Caminha participated in the Battle of Toro with King Afonso V, leading a contingent of people from Oporto; as a consequence of that battle, as a reward for services provided, the king appointed him Master of the Balance of the Mint of Oporto (still in March 1476), an office he would inherit from his father. He was Master of the Balance at least from 1479 on and his nomination was later confirmed by King João II and by King Manuel I.
In November 1479, Caminha was among those elected by the Municipality of Oporto for debating and writing the chapters to be presented to the Court the following year, so his role in the city was quite important.
On 9th March, 1500, he was the clerk of the second fleet sent to India, a fleet captained by Pedro Álvares Cabral, which sailed from the Tagus River that day. He was on board of the admiral ship and would take the position of clerk at the trading post to be built in Calicut.
The ships sailed to the Canary Islands and from there to Cape Verde. Then there was a detour to the west. Having sighted land on 22nd April, on the 24th the carrack ships dropped anchor close to Porto Seguro (Cabrália Bay) and the following day they entered the bay. Caminha was sent ashore with captains Nicolau Coelho and Bartolomeu Dias in order to return the two Tupiniquim natives that had been taken on board.
The voyage to Porto Seguro and the nine days the fleet there remained were described by Pêro Vaz de Caminha in a letter sent to the king, a kind of log written between 26th April and 1st May. Jaime Cortesão regards this letter as the ?description of the birth? of Brazil and it is one of the three documents (among all the documents registering the events of that Easter, written by other members of the fleet) that lived till today.
Authors praise Caminha?s narrative ability, a sign of good writing skills. The clerk portrayed with large detail the actions of the Portuguese, as well as the attempts made to contact the natives and the Easter religious services. He described the scenery, fauna and gave a positive impression of the natives. He was charmed by their facial features and their innocent nakedness, which he compared to Adam?s. The fact that he used African people as means of comparison may indicate, if not that he had previously travelled to the western coast of Africa, at least that he was knowledgeable of the reports of such travels. In his letter he also suggested an apparent easiness to convert the natives to Christianity and the advantages of using the land. To him, the territory then beneath Portuguese feet was an island.
Sending the letter to King Manuel was understood as a provision of services, for in the end he pleaded with the king to end the exile of his son-in-law, Jorge de Osório, in São Tomé.
While the ship of Gaspar Lemos returned to Lisbon with the letter, parrots and native handicrafts, the remaining fleet sailed on to India on 2nd May. In Calicut, Cabral negotiated with the Zamorin and obtained permission to build the trading post. This caused an upraise among the Muslim merchants who tried to boycott the supply of spices to the Portuguese, which ended up, with the Zamorin?s connivance, in a surprise attack against the trading post on 16th December, 1500. The attack caused the death of fifty Portuguese, including the factor Aires Correia and the clerk Pêro Vaz de Caminha. The trading post was later transferred to Kochi.
AZEVEDO, Ana Maria de, ?A Carta de Pêro Vaz de Caminha e o Encontro do «Outro»? in Oceanos, n.º 39, Julho/Setembro 1999, Lisboa, pp. 128-142. CORTESÃO, Jaime, A Carta de Pêro Vaz de Caminha, s. l., IN-CM, 1994. COUTO, Jorge, A Construção do Brasil, 2ª ed., Lisboa, Edições Cosmos, 1997. THOMAZ, Luís Filipe, ?Calecute (ou Calicut)? in Dicionário de História dos Descobrimentos Portugueses (direcção de Luís de Albuquerque), vol. I, s. l., Círculo de Leitores, 1994, pp. 161-168.
Author: Pedro Cerdeira
Translated by: Maria das Mercês Pacheco