Hans Staden

In “The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara”, Gerard cites Hans Staden as one of his influences in making the voyage to Brazil.  Truth be told, Hans Staden was one of my influences in creating the character of Gerard van Oost.

Hans Staden was a German mercenary from Homberg who made two voyages to Brazil in the middle of the sixteenth century.  On his first voyage, he participated in a naval raid in the Madeira Archipelago, fought French corsairs off the coast of Brazil, and was one of forty men who broke a siege of eight thousand natives around a small fort in Igaraçu.


Battle against the French near Paraíba

But even all that was nothing unusual in his time–it was in fact his second trip which made him famous.   He was shipwrecked near São Vicente island, where he and other survivors were contracted by the Portuguese to man artillery at Bertioga Fort.  The Portuguese and their Tupiniquim allies were in constant conflict with the neighboring Tupinambá.


Shipwreck near the island of São Vicente

While he was out hunting alone one day, Hans was captured by the Tupinambá.  They kept him prisoner for nine months.  During his time among them, he participated in battles, tried to convince French traders (allies of the Tupinambá) to rescue him, and did everything possible to escape, but all to nought.  He was also introduced to the original Brazilian barbeque: capturing and eating someone from a neighboring tribe.


The Tupinambá roast an enemy while Staden protests

The Tupinambá intended to eat Staden as well, but with various excuses he managed to delay them until his rescue.  In the end, the French captain Guillaume Moner rescused him, tricking the natives into letting him go.


Hans Staden returns home

Upon his return to Europe, Staden wrote of his travels in a book with the extremely descriptive title: “True Story and Description of a Land of Nude and Cruel Man-Eating Savages, Situated in the New World of America, Unknown before and after Jesus Christ in the Lands of Hessen until the Last Two Years.”  It is more commonly known as “Two Voyages to Brazil”.

This book became a European “bestseller”, so popular that fake versions were common (proving that pirate copies are nothing new).

Luís Alberto Pereira directed a fabulous movie in 1999 relating Hans Staden’s second voyage.  The movie is an impressively accurate recreation of the book.  To give one example, it is one of the only movies ever made which uses Old Tupi, the language spoken on most of the coast of Brazil when the Portuguese first arrived there in 1500.  What is impressive is that Old Tupi became extinct as a spoken language two hundred years ago!  The actors took lessons in Old Tupi from Brazilian historians, and had to memorize their lines one by one.  The movie is called Hans Staden, and I highly recommend it for anyone who can find a copy (which isn’t easy, even in Brazil).

(Images: From the original text by Hans Staden (1557). Scribd version can be found here.)

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