Landscape and Letterscape in Early Colonial Brazil

Diogo de Carvalho Cabral


This essay discusses alphabetic literacy’s geographic implications to the early-modern European colonization of the Americas, especially of those regions inhabited by tribal groups with no writing systems. Based on the understanding that any written text is as much a folding of as an unfolding in the world – a compressed representation of ‘concrete’ environments and a schema for perceiving and dealing with them –, it is proposed that colonial processes be conceptualized from the perspective of landscape-letterscape dialectics. Through the study of early Brazil, it is shown how Portuguese written procedures and materials rearranged the native socio-ecological fabric through encrypted (i.e., non-transparent to native illiterate people) textual projections – both outward-bound and inward-bound or from the text to the world and vice-versa – of a European-like would-be world. As physical objects, most of these texts circulated through a network of earthbound places that were territorially inaccessible to indigenous people. This colonial spatialization of alphabetic practices overwrote native landscapes and livelihoods while at the same time producing the legibility of the novel human geographies that were being created.

Słowa kluczowe

early-modern colonialism; alphabetic literacy; Portuguese Brazil; Tupi groups

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