Tag Archives: Brazil

An Oriental foothold in South America

The River Plate (known locally as Rio de la Plata) is perhaps better remembered today as the site of the first naval battle of WWII (known as Battle of the River Plate), but it is also where “this side of the river” led to an Oriental Republic.

In the US the film was retitled “Pursuit of the Graf Spee”

The story starts in late 18th century, when Portugal and Spain agreed to divide South America in a number of treaties, which included an area to the east of the Uruguay River and north of the River Plate that was given to Spain and was called the Banda Oriental del Uruguay, simply meaning “Eastern Strip of the Uruguay River”.

With the independence of the US, and with Spain falling under French control during the Napoleonic wars, this created an atmosphere of defiance and independence which erupted in 1810 with the May Revolution and the eventual creation of United Provinces of the Río de la Plata incorporating most of Spanish South America and based in Buenos Aires.  Despite initially attempting to capture Montevideo and surrounding lands from Spain, the Uniterians became allies, this betrayal prompting the people of Banda Oriental to separate themselves and establish the League of Free People, based in Montevideo.

This new found freedom did not last long, and the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves soon invaded and occupied this area in what was to become the Cisplatine War, renaming it the Cisplatina Province.  Cisplatina simply meant “This side of the River Plate”.

The spanish speaking residents resented the Brazilian occupation and a revolutionary group led by Juan Antonion Lavalleja called themselves the Treinta y Tres Orientales (Thirty Three Orientals) as an objection to the name of the province, as they insisted they were not onBrazil’s side of the River, but rather on the Eastern (Oriental) side of the River Uruguay.

The flag of Uruguay.

By 1825 the revolutionaries decided to declare independence and war broke out, with the Argentine navy coming to the revolutionaries’ assistance.  Neither side was able to gain the upper hand, and by 1828 a stalemate was recognised.  The British, who relied on heavy trade in the region, forced both sides to sign the Treaty of Montevideo, finally giving the Uruguayans their independence.

As a reminder of their revolution, the new country was officially declared as República Oriental del Uruguay, though most people recognise it simply as Uruguay.

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Posted by on Friday 13th July 2012 in History, Places, Wars


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Brazil’s Irish roots

Most countries have a clear definition of where their name comes from, but the 5th largest country on Earth, and certainly the most successful footballing nation, is not one of them.

Do we need a reason to show this girl supporting Brazilian football?

One thing many historians agree on is that Brazil probably got it’s name from the Brazilwood which was traded from that region to Europe.  However, not everyone agrees, and there are some holes in that theory.

There is another theory which exists, which has been around since the 16th century, almost immediately after the country was first discovered, that Brazil may have been named after a mythical island named Hy-Brasil, which was often simply known as Brasil.

The story goes that when Pedro Alvares Cabral landed in South America, his men thought it was an island and called itIlha de Vera Cruz (Island of the True Cross), and that when tales of his discovery reached Europe, those who read his exploits thought this may very well be the mythical island of Brasil, which is why they named it such.

But what was this mythical island?

A 1572 map of Ireland, with Brasil shown to the west.

Many sailors tried to find this magical island, said to be shrouded in mist except for one day in every seven years, and it appeared on many maps from as long ago as early 14th century, and still popped up in some until as late as 1865.  There were a number of expeditions sent to find this island, including one led by John Cabot (credited with discovering North America), and several reported sightings, the last one in 1872.

A number of known islands have been identified at one time or another as Brasil, including Terceira, one of the larger islands in the Azores.

Though mythical, the island of Brasil was famous across western Europe, and it was accepted by some that the name came from the Portuguese word Brasa, which meant Ember, which is where the name for Brazilwood came from, because of the colour of the wood when polished.

However, there was never any proof for this origin of the word, and it’s worth noting that this mythical island was also identified strongly with Ireland, who had strong trading connections with the Iberian coast.  In Ireland, the legend of the island identified it with an ancient clan called Ui Breasil, Ui translates as Clan, and Breasil could mean Beauty, Worth or Great Mighty.

So there we have it, is Brazil actually named after the beautiful and mighty Irish people?

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Posted by on Wednesday 20th July 2011 in History, Places


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