The land now called Brazil, was first discovered by Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, a Spanish navigator that had accompanied Colombus in his first trip to the American continent. PinzÃ³n arrived to today's Pernanbuco region on 26 January of 1500. In April 1500, however, Brazil was claimed by Portugal on the arrival of the Portuguese fleet commanded by Pedro Alvares Cabral. The Portuguese encountered stone age natives divided into several tribes, most of whom shared the same Tupi-Guarani linguistic family, and fought among themselves.
Until 1530 Portugal had very little interest in Brazil, mainly due to the high profits gained through commerce with India, China, and Indonesia. This lack of interest led to several "invasions" by different countries, and the Portuguese Crown devised a system to effectively occupy Brazil, without paying the costs. Through the Hereditary Captaincies system, Brazil was divided into strips of land that were donated to Portuguese noblemen, who were in turn responsible for the occupation of the land and answered to the king. Later, the Portuguese realized the system was a failure, only two lots were successfully occupied (Pernambuco and SÃ£o Vicente, in the current state of São Paulo), and took control of the country after its European discovery, the land's major export giving its name to Brazil (another contested hypothesis) was brazilwood, a large tree (Caesalpinia echinata) whose trunk contains a prized red dye, and which was nearly wiped out as a result of overexploitation. Starting in the 17th century, sugarcane culture, grown in plantation's property called engenhos ("factories") along the northeast coast (Brazil's Nordeste) It became the base of Brazilian economy and society, with the use of black slaves on large plantations to make sugar production for export to Europe. At first, settlers tried to enslave the Natives as labor to work the fields. (The initial exploration of Brazil's interior was largely due to para-military adventurers, the bandeirantes, who entered the jungle in search of gold and Native slaves.) However the Natives were found to be unsuitable as slaves, and so the Portuguese land owners turned to Africa, from which they imported millions of slaves.
During the first two centuries of the colonial period, attracted by the vast natural resources and untapped land, other European powers tried to establish colonies in several parts of Brazilian territory, in defiance of the papal bull ( Inter caetera ) and the Treaty of Tordesillas, which had divided the New World into two parts between Portugal and Spain. French colonists tried to settle in present-day Rio de Janeiro, from 1555 to 1567 (the so-called France Antarctique episode), and in present-day São Luis, from 1612 to 1614 (the so called France ‰quinoxiale).
The unsuccessful Dutch intrusion into Brazil was longer lasting and more troublesome to Portugal ( Dutch Brazil ). Dutch privateers began by plundering the coast: they sacked Bahia in 1604, and even temporarily captured the capital Salvador. From 1630 to 1654, the Dutch set up more permanently in the Nordeste and controlled a long stretch of the coast most accessible to Europe, without, however, penetrating the interior. But the colonists of the Dutch West India Company in Brazil were in a constant state of siege, in spite of the presence in Recife of the great John Maurice of Nassau as governor. After several years of open warfare, the Dutch formally withdrew in 1661. Little French and Dutch cultural and ethnic influences remained of these failed attempts.
Mortality rates for slaves in sugar and gold enterprises were dramatic, and there were often not enough females or proper conditions to replenish the slave population indigenously. Some slaves escaped from the plantations and tried to establish independent settlements (quilombos) in remote areas. The most important of these, the quilombo of Palmares, was the largest slave runaway settlement in the Americas, and was a consolidated kingdom of some 30,000 people at its height in the 1670s and 80s. However these settlements were mostly destroyed by government and private troops, which in some cases required long sieges and the use of artillery. Still, Africans became a substantial section of Brazilian population, and long before the end of slavery (1888) they had begun to merge with the European Brazilian population through miscegenation and mulatto work rights.