The Madre de Dios shipwreck

In “The Fortuitous Meeting”, Piraju tells Gerard:

“I am called Piraju, but long ago I was known as Miguel.  I was a sailor on the Spanish carrack Madre de Dios, which shipwrecked here in the Bay of All Saints in 1535. Most who survived the wreck were killed by the Indians, but some twenty of us were taken prisoner, to be used in one of their cannibalistic feasts. Just as they prepared to cook us, Caramuru arrived and convinced them to set us free. Most of my shipmates eventually returned to Spain, but Caramuru’s daughters with the Indian princess Paraguacu were the most beautiful women I had ever laid eyes on, so I convinced one of them to marry me and I joined the tribe.”

The carrack Madre de Dios did indeed shipwreck off the coast of Brazil in 1535, on the island of Boipeba.  Over 100 of the 110 sailors made it to shore, but most of them were massacred by Tumpinambá natives.  Seventeen escaped on on a small boat to the nearby Tinharé Island.  There they were captured by other natives and would have been slain if not for the arrival of the famous Caramuru, who convinced the natives to let them go.

Shipwreck by Joseph Vernet

A famous legend arose from this event, that Caramuru went seeking the survivors because his wife Paraguaçu dreamt of a shipwreck.  In her vision, she saw a shipwreck of many men, dead or exhausted, and among them a single woman carrying a child.  Caramuru discovered the shipwreck and found only men, but inside the wreckage he recovered a statue of the Virgin Mary with child, the very own “Madre de Dios” his wife had seen in her vision.

Painting by Manuel Lopes Rodrigues representing Paraguaçu’s vision

Whatever the case, Caramuru rescued the survivors, and while most returned to Spain, four of them remained to live with him and his tribe in Bahia.  The Holy Roman Emporer Charles V wrote a letter to Caramuru thanking him for the aid given to the survivors.

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