Before the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, there were already a large number of distinct ethnic groups who inhabited the country. When they first arrived in Brazil in April 1500, they were astonished to find hundreds of thousands of indigenous people living in a “paradise” of natural riches. Most tribes were peripatetic, with only limited agriculture and temporary dwellings. They existed much before the Brazilindians and were classified according four main linguistic groups: Tupi-Guaraní, Gê, Carib, and the Arawak. Their ancestors had lived in this land for as long as 30,000 years. These areas were ravaged with epidemics and slave hunters.
Tupi-Guaraní: The people of Tupi tribes were Tamoio, Guarani, Tupiniquim, and Tabajara. All these tribes settled on the Brazilian coast and were the first Indians to have contact with the Portuguese. The Tupi tribes were professionals in hunting, fishing and also gathering fruit.
Macro Gê: Unlike the Tupi tribe, the Macro-Ge tribes were seldom seen in coastal areas. Of course with an exception of some tribes in the mountains to the sea, they were found mainly in the central plateau. This tribe was further divided into 6 major groups: Timbira, Aimorés, Goitacazes, Carijó, Karaja, and Brocket Botocudo.
The Macro- Gê tribes were usually seen alongside streams and rivers. Their lifestyle primarily included gathering fruit, roots and also hunting. It was only in the 17th century that this tribe was discovered by the settlers.
Carib: This tribe is found in the states of Amapa and Roraima, also called low Amazons. The main tribe was Atroari Vaimiri and these were very aggressive cannibals. This meant that when the Indians defeated their enemies, they ate them, with a belief that the qualities of the dead would be ingested into their own system.
The numerous missionary movements and thinning out of the army throughout the territory in the 17th century, led to the discovery of these tribes.
Arawak: The main tribes were Aruã, Cunibó, Guan and Terena. They were situated in parts of Amazonia and the island of Marajo. The main activity in the tribe was ceramic crafts. According to archeologists, they also had an elaborate crop irrigation system.
Land has always been important to the indigenous people. Unfortunately today, land conflicts involving indigenous population have multiplied considerably. These people are also victims of attacks and unsubstantial medical care. The efforts put in place by the government are moving slowly.
Most of the indigenous population was killed by European invaders and their number dropped. There are 206 indigenous societies and 33,000 Indians that inhabit Brazil. Nearly 519,000 Brazilians classified themselves as indigenous. At the moment there are still 170 different languages spoken by these people. Even though the origin of these groups is still a matter of dispute, they formed the social foundation on which Brazil is standing on today.