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Maranhão and São Luís - History
The first attempt to establish settlements in the region where today is Maranhão was by means of the Capitanies; in 1535, the king chartered the use of land to three noblemen: João de Barros, Fernando Alvares de Andrade and Aires da Cunha.
However, the first exploratory fleet, commanded by da Cunha, sank off the coast of Maranhão, and many men (including da Cunha) died; those who survived had tough times fighting the indians, before being rescued.
For the following decades, Maranhão was open to the visits of French, both officials and corsaries. Instead of trying to subdue the indians, the Frenchmen adopted the strategy of becoming friends with them; a French captain, Charles des Vaux, learned the language of the indians, and promised to protect them from the Portuguese.
Back to Paris, des Vaux struggled during 15 years to convince noblesse and bankers about the feasibility of a project he called France Equinocial (France had already invaded Rio de Janeiro, in a venture called France Antarctica - read more about Rio de Janeiro); eventually, he found entrepreneurs willing to (with consent of the Queen Mary of Medicis) establish a settlement in the north of Brazil.
The French arrived on 26th July 1612 to a small island; on September 8th, a fortress had been built, and a mass was celebrated in glory of Saint King Louis XIII. That small island was the same where today lies the city of São Luís, capital of Maranhão.
The missionaries which accompanied the fleet wrote reports about the new land, describing the wealthiness of the nature and the richness of the indian culture. Indians were taken to France, where they speeched at the Louvre and were christianized before the king. (Notice: according to Encyclopedia Britannica, two relevant French reports are Histoire de la mission des pères capucins en l'isle de Maragnan et terres circonvoisines, by Claude d'Abbeville, and Suite d'histoire des choses plus mémorables advenues en Maragnan, ès annés 1613 et 1614, by Yves d'Évreux).
The Portuguese, however, stroke back. By 1615, all the area around the São Luís bay had been occupied by Portuguese forces. The French proposed an agreement: occupy only the island, leaving the continent for the Portuguese; the agreement was refused. On November 3rd of 1615, to avoid a massacre, the French left Maranhão.
In 1619, ships arrived with 300 couples from Azores, an attempt to populate the region.
In 1621, Portugal creates the State of Maranhão and Grão-Pará; this state was subordinated directly to the court in Lisbon, and comprehended the modern states of Maranhão, Piauí, Ceará e Pará.
In 1624, fray Cristóvão de Lisboa wrote the first book about Natural History of Brazil: História dos Animais e Aves do Maranhão (History of Animals and Birds of Maranhão), which would be published only in 1967.
As it happened in other states where Portuguese needed to tame the indians, the jesuits were called in to Maranhão.
In 1641, São Luís was invaded again. The Dutch, who since 1630 had taken Olinda and Recife (read more in the section about Pernambuco), decided to invade São Luís, in search of indians to be used as slaves in the sugarcane farms of Pernambuco.
The Dutch occupation was brief; in 1644, tired of fighting against Portuguese, Brazilians, indians and jesuits, they left. Although brief, the Dutch occupation left their marks: like it happened in Olinda, Dutch painter Frans Post portrayed some images of the life in the ancient São Luís, which today are exposed at the British Museum.
After the Dutch left, the Portuguese domination was consolidated.
In 1682, the Trading Company of Maranhão was created, in an attempt to boost the economy of the region; the company had monopoly to trade goods and slaves.
Against the excessive privileges of the Trading Company and of Portuguese in general over the Brazilians, an upheaval soon ecloded. Led by Manuel Beckmann, a Braziian born with German background, the movement demanded freedom of commerce and authorization to enslave the indians (coliding with the then powerful jesuits). The movement was crushed, Beckmann was arrested and sentenced to death, only to enter History of Maranhão.
In 1822, D. Pedro declares independence of Brazil, in São Paulo. However, the state of Grão-Pará and Maranhão had a larger presence of Portuguese in key positions (both economic and political), which caused a greater resistence to join the independence movement (read History of Pará).
In São Luís, the war against Portugal was won easierly than in Belém because of two factors: the engagement of indians and other Brazilians, and the presence of the fleet of British captain Thomas Cochrane, who was hired by the Brazilian government to combat the Portuguese fleet.
During the first half of 19th century, the new Brazilian government had to face several insurgences, both from those who wanted to remain linked to Portugal, and from those who wanted the Republic. The most important movements became known as balaiada (self-organized by the poor classes) and Confederation of Equador (which wanted to create the Republic of Equador, formed by all states in north and northeast of Brazil).
The second half of the century was much calmer; Maranhão was, indeed, one of the quietest provinces of the Empire. The economy developed, based on an agrarian structure of large properties and slave labor.
The Republic proclamation, in 1889, had prompt acceptance in Maranhão.
The economy suffered the impact of the slavery abolishion, but the social structure, based on the oligarchy of large rural properties, didn´t change much.
After 1966, with the creation of SUDENE and SUDAM, federal agencies with the aim to foment economic progress of Northeast and North of Brazil, Maranhão experienced a faster progress. Infra-structure was improved (the port of Itaqui was extended, the road São Luís - Teresina was paved, the electric plant of Boa Esperança was finished), and a few large industries were attracted (the best known of which are Cepalma, a large pulp and paper producer which utilizes local raw material, and a subsidiary of Alcoa, the largest aluminum producer in the world). In 1987, the city of Alcântara was chosen to host the rocket launching basis of Brazil.
All the progress was not enough, however, to exclude Maranhão from the list of poorest Brazilian States.
During the past few decades, a name became tightly associated with Maranhão: the family Sarney, with origins in the rural oligarchy.
In 1966, José Sarney da Costa was enpowered governor, during the military period. Sarney would have many other positions during that period, always besiding the military. In 1985, after the premature death of elected President Tancredo Neves, the vice-President, José Sarney, became President, until 1990; after leaving Presidency, Sarney was elected to Congress, where he actually is a Senator.
José Sarney, however, is a Senator by the State of Amapá, where he never lived. He changed his electoral residence to Amapá to clear space in Maranhão to his allies, who were competing for the same power. His daughter, Roseana Sarney, was ex-governor of Maranhão, and is currently a Senator (by Maranhão). His older son, Zequinha Sarney, also occupied positions in municipal, state and federal governments (Zequinha was elected Federal Deputy in 2000).
It is no doubt that Maranhão owes much of its current situation, for good or for bad, to the family Sarney.
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