In “The Fortuitous Meeting”, Gerard hears mention of Caramuru. Even in the late sixteenth century of Gerard’s adventures, Caramuru was already a legend. His extraordinary life would change Brazil’s history forever.
Born Diogo Álvares Correia, Caramuru was a Portuguese who shipwrecked in Brazil around 1510, at the age of 17. Despite his inauspicious shipwreck, he had the fortune to swim ashore just ten kilometers from the Bay of All Saints, one of the greatest natural ports in the Western Hemisphere. He also had the luck to shortly thereafter meet Paraguaçu: daughter of Morubixaba Taparica, a great Tupinambá warrior-chief in the region.
It is told that Caramuru first impressed the natives by shooting down a flying bird with one explosive shot from a harquebus. But what truly saved him was the love of Paraguaçu. They soon became husband and wife, and with a few other shipwreck survivors and many Tupinambá, he settled his own tribe in what would later become the city of Salvador. The Tupinambá gave him the name Caramuru, which probably came from the Tupi word for the moray eel, in reference to his long, “stinging’ harquebus. There are some, however, who claim it is a distortion of “caraymuru”, which means “wet white man”, since he washed out from the sea.
Scenes from the life of Caramuru
(Image: Anonymous. Mosteiro de São Bento da Bahia)
For years, Caramuru worked with the French and others who visited Brazil looking for Brazilwood and other plunder. The French came to know the area where Caramuru lived as “Pointe du Caramourou”. There are tales of him saving shipwrecked Portuguese, French and Spanish sailors, and rescuing them from other Tupinambá tribes which would have killed or in some cases even eaten them. Charles V, Holy Roman Emporer, once sent Caramuru a letter of thanks for his aid. Some shipwreck survivors and deserters remained with Caramuru, marrying his daughters or other natives.
In 1526, Caramuru and Paraguaçu travelled to France. In 1528 Paraguaçu was baptized and given the name Katherine du Brézil in honor of her godmother, Catherine des Granches (wife of the famous french explorer Jacques Cartier). Upon their return to Brazil, Caramuru and Paraguaçu became the first Christian couple in Brazil on record. As far as is known, no other Christian women were living in brazil at the time, and very few would move there even to the end of the century.
The Portuguese soon became interested in taking advantage of Caramuru’s excellent relations with the natives for their colonization attempts. in 1536, Francisco Pereira Coutinho arrived in Brazil to found the Captaincy of Bahia. He allied himself with Caramuru and officially granted him his tribe’s land: right in the heart of modern Salvador.
When the time came to set up the General Government of Brazil, John III, the king of Portugal, decided to locate the capital in Salvador: in large part to Caramaru’s presence there and his prestige with the local natives. Several other settlements had failed because of fights with the natives, and the Portuguese needed somewhere stable to make their base. John III sent a letter to Caramuru in 1548 asking for his aid in establishing the new government, which Caramuru provided on the arrival of Tomé de Souza a year later.
Caramuru died in 1557, and Paraguaçu in 1582. The name Caramuru became immortalized when José de Santa Rita Durão published an epic poem under his name in 1781.
And if Caramuru had never shipwrecked near Salvador, the entire history of Brazil could have been radically different.