Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brazil - a Celtic island

I was given a fascinating book on the history of Brazil by the first editor of the Brazilian edition of Hybrids, Camile Mendrot. I met her in São Paulo one evening when we went to an excellent jazz club/bar where a trio of drums, electric bass and electric guitar were crammed into a small corner with us crammed at a table next to them.

She works for a publisher called Callis now, and made me a present of several books, most of them for young children and excellently produced, in English, but this one is by Eduardo Bueno entitled 'Brazil: a Brief History'. Amongst the many fascinating facts I've picked up so far is a connection between the name of the country and Celtic mythology - especially of interest to me since I live in Wales.

Apparently in Celtic the word "bresail" means "blessed land". It refers to a mythical island called Hy Brazil which is the setting for the Celtic legend of Brandon, an Irish saint, who in the year 562 took to the seas to evangelise, arriving at the island some years later, and where he died, allegedly 181 years old. The book says that "from 1351 until at least 1721, the name Hy Brazil could be seen on maps and globes and up until 1624 -" (Brazil was discovered in 1500) "- there was still extinct expeditions looking for it" - rather like Atlantis!

According to "Brazil in Legend and Ancient Cartography", by Gustavo Barroso published in 1941, "the literate men of the 16th century had no doubt that the name Brazil came from the legendary island", rather than the name of the tree, Brazilwood, which the Portuguese and other Europeans systematically exploited and almost eradicated for its reddish dye, and which the simple sailors assumed gave the country's name.

There are others who might prefer the name the original inhabitants of the land had for it - Pindorama.

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