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Retrospect

20th century Bandeirantes (Trailblazers)

121 years ago a wild region of São Paulo began to be explored

At the end of the 19th century, the state of São Paulo had an enormous area that was no different from any other unknown region of Brazil. An 1868 map shows a colored patch covering over 25% of the São Paulo territory with the following words: “Terrain occupied by fierce natives”.

Almost 30 years afterwards, engineer Gentil Moura was to reinforce this information in his Exploration Report of the Rivers Feio and Aguapeí: “the crowned Indian has been an obstacle to the settlement of this region. Jealous of his liberty, zealous of his lands, of his family and of his, he defends them with ardor, with all sincerity, against the whites, whose entry into the backlands he sees without any other aim than to kill them and to take their lands”. Moura had taken the place of Olavo Hummel, wounded by an arrow.

The expeditions to the wild lands began to be organized in 1885, when the president of the then Province of São Paulo, João Alfredo Corrêa de Oliveira, invited the American geologist who was working in the National Museum, Orville Derby, to create an exploration plan.

The objective was to obtain geographic, topographic, itinerary, geological and agricultural information on the unknown region. Once the creation of the Geographic and Geological Commission (CGG) was approved, in March 1886, Derby was appointed head. To start with, the team was made up of civil engineer Theodoro Sampaio and by mining engineers Francisco de Paula Oliveira and Luiz Felipe Gonzaga de Campos. Soon afterwards, botanist Alberto Löfgren and first class adjutant João Frederico Washington de Aguiar were incorporated into the commission. In April, Sampaio, Oliveira and Aguiar, besides 11 experienced men, took to the field in the direction of Itapetininga, the center of the first exploratory operations.

From 1889 onwards, bulletins, maps and reports began to the published, with geological, meteorological, botanical, archeological, ethnographic and historical information, amongst others. But in 1905 Derby resigned from the CGG for disagreeing with the orientation of the new president of the state, Jorge Tibiriçá (1904-1908), who ordered priority for the conquest of the territories dominated by the Indians, with the objective of colonizing the region and getting land for agriculture.

“Derby was fantastic, he was considered the father of geology in Brazil, but he published the results slowly and resisted the desires of the government and of the farmers for occupation”, explains Fernando Cilento Fittipaldi, a researcher from the Geological Institute and the coordinator of the book “The 120 Years of the Creation of the Geographic and Geological Commission – 1886-2006” (Geological Institute).

The expeditions of these new trailblazers made their way to the “far backlands” by the four main rivers of the region: Feio, Peixe, Tietê and Paraná. On these occasions, the researchers often had the company of soldiers to protect them from the Indians. Afterwards, they investigated the Ribeira de Iguape, the River Juqueriquerê and the River Grande, the northern and southern coasts and the Paraíba Valley.

As an institution, the CGG lasted until 1931 and was extinguished after having fulfilled its mission. One of his greatest merits was to have originated various scientific research centers in São Paulo, such as the Geological, Forestry, Botanical, Geographic and Cartographic, Astronomic and Geophysical, institutes, and the São Paulo, Zoology, Archeology and Ethnology museums.

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