The massacre of Tracunhaém

a.k.a. how a beautiful woman can change the course of history

The Portuguese arrived in Brazil on April 22nd, 1500. The territory along the coast was divided in capitanias (similar to states) and each capitania had a ruler. The Royal Capitania of Paraíba didn't exist back then, the region was part of the Capitania of Itamaracá.


A half-white/half-native adventurer came upon a native tribe of the Potiguara clan and was given a friendly reception, so he decided to stay for a while. There he met the daughter of the chief, the stunning Iratembé (Honey Lips) and it was love at first sight.


The chief allowed him to marry the native princess, with one condition: he would have to spend the rest of his life in that tribe. The Potiguara were allies of the French corsairs, who illegally made business with the local natives and smuggled brazilwood to Europe.

Détail van de kaart: Præfecturæ de Paraiba, et Rio Grande (Engenho na Paraíba 1645.)
Détail van de kaart: Præfecturæ de Paraiba, et Rio Grande (Engenho na Paraíba 1645.)

As expected, the adventurer was unable to stay long on the same spot and took his chance to escape as soon as the chief was away, taking his wife with him.


When the chief came back and realized his daughter had been abducted, he promptly commanded his two sons to send for the local authority in order to recover his daughter. Coincidently, the governor of Rio de Janeiro was in town, who ordered the rescue of the princess, he even provided the two brothers with supplies for the travel back to the tribe.


On their way back, the two sons and the daughter of the chief made a stop to overnight at the farmland of Diogo Dias, located at the Tracunhaém Valley. Diogo Dias fell in love with the irresistible Itarembé as soon as he laid eyes on her. In the middle of the night, he abducted her.


In the next morning, the raging brothers went back to the tribe and reported the occured to their father. The chief then commanded 2000 warriors to burn Diogo Dias' farmland to the ground. Historians argument that the Potiguaras were constantly incited by the French against the Portuguese, what might have played a role in this tragic outcome.


More than 600 people were killed in the massacre: men, women, children... even the animals around were killed by the native warriors. All the buildings and crops in the farmland were burnt down. It's told that the natives impaled the heads of the inhabitants on the fence surrounding the farmland.


This deadly episode shocked the Portuguese Crown, who took the Indigenous and French menace as a very serious matter and determined the end of the Capitania of Itamaracá and the creation of the Royal Capitania of Paraíba, which should be immediatelly colonized and protected by Portugal.


The massacre of Tracunhaém showed the King of Portugal the power of the local natives and his response to that changed the course of Brazilian history.