The Biographical Outlines of a few individuals from Portuguese and Spanish America
Damiana De Cunha hailed from the Caiapo tribe. The name Damiana De Cunha was given to her after the Caiapo tribe had given up their resistance efforts against the people of Vila Boa and made peace…
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In the short period following the return of the governor to Portugal in 1783, Damiana De Cunha’s life is a string of uncertain facts. It is speculated that she may have spent some time in the village of Sao Jose de Mossamedes as a “domestic indian” (Karasch 106). It is still not determined whether De Cunha spent her young adult life in Sao Hose or as an interpreter settled amongst her relatives at Maria Pilera. The population of Sao Jose at this time was dwindling due to disease and desertion and had to be relocated to be joined up with Sao Jose, the population of which had also diminished significantly, for more efficient administration of both villages. Damiana De Cunha had been married at some point and it is claimed, romantically so, that her first husband was a Portuguese soldier. Nothing is known about him, except that he died and left De Cunha widowed. Her second marriage was to a Brazilian and ex-corporal of the militia named Manual Periera da Cruz. Da Cruz may have been a poor mulatto, judging from the racial make-up of the captaincy and of Sao Jose. Damian De Cunha was a central figure in the Sao Hose community. In later years she appears to have become the chief Indian leader of the community overseeing its transition from a missionary outpost to a peasant village. She was a loyal supporter of the church and acted as a mediator between the villagers and the colonial and Brazilian states. Her death struck a tragic blow to the existence of the many villages, which began to disintegrate one after the other. The Villages were under the supervision of an intricate hierarchy of Portuguese servicemen, headed by the Chief Administrator of Vila Boa. The result of this long chain of command and the death of the Great Angrai-oxa was the exploitation of the Caiapo. They were made to work under the supervision of mulatto soldiers and in return were given small rations. Much of the harvested products and the goods gained in exchange for these products were raked off by officials at each level. Villagers who slacked off were severely punished. Consequently, the Caiapo were unhappy with the hard work and harsh restrictions, such as needing permission to leave their village. The very location of the village added to their frustrations as it was unsuitable for fishing or good hunting. Some of the Caiapo members escaped from the village to return to their cousins in the backlands. As Damiana De Cunha had been raised in a foreign manner and believed in the religion of her foreign masters, she was more concerned in keeping the structure of the village together rather then in leading a Caiapo revolution. Many of the Caiapo had returned to their old ways of violence and plunder. However, De Cunha undertook an expedition to the Sertao to persuade some of the Caiapo to return with her in 1808. She was successful in convincing about seventy of her fellow tribes-men. She was convinced that civilization and Christianity were the only means of redemption and salvation for the savage Caiapos who were succumbing to starvation and epidemics. In 1819, the then governor appointed her to undertake another expedition to convince more of the Caiapo to return, and De Cunha embarked on a three month long journey to the Sertao. In 1921, she as dispatched on another expedition
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