Tiradentes: The Day of a National Hero (21 April)
April 18, 2010
Written by Stephen Guild
Joaquim Jose da Silva Xavier, also known as Tiradentes (Tooth Puller), was the leader of the first organized movement against Portuguese rule in Brazil in 1789.He was born to a poor family in São José de Rey, which is now called Tiradentes, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.
During his lifetime he was a cattle driver, miner and dentist (hence his name), but it was in his job as a low-level public official that he became aware of the exploitation of Brazilians. He was sent to missions in cities along the road between Vila Rica (the capital of Minas Gerais) and Rio de Janeiro, which was the path most of the gold mined in Brazil took on its way to Portugal. Here he saw firsthand how much gold was leaving Brazil, and he knew how valuable it was.
In his travels he became aware of the ideas that had sparked the French and American Revolution. He organized the Inconfidencia Mineira in Minas Gerais, which advocated complete independence from Portugal. An attempt by Portuguese officials to collect back taxes (not too different from the collection of tea taxes by the British in the thirteen American colonies) touched off the call for a rebellion.
The plans were revealed to the governor by Joaquim Silverio dos Reis, who was a participant in the movement and betrayed the group in exchange for waiving of his due taxes. Tiradentes fled to Rio, where he tried to reorganize the movement. Not knowing who had denounced the group, he went to meet Joaquim Silverio dos Reis in Rio, and Tiradentes was arrested.
The trial lasted almost three years. Tiradentes assumed the entire responsibility for the movement. Ten members of the group were sentenced to death; all of them, except Tiradentes, had their sentences commuted.
On April 21st, 1792 (today the date of a national holiday in Brazil), Tiradentes was hanged in Rio de Janeiro, in the plaza today named Praça Tiradentes. His body was cut into several pieces. With his blood, a document was written declaring his memory infamous. His head was publicly displayed in Vila Rica. Pieces of his body were exposed in the cities between Vila Rica and Rio, in an attempt to scare the people who had listened to Tiradentes’ ideas about independence.
Tiradentes’ martyrdom made him a national hero. Thirty years after his death the king designate of Portugal declared Brazil’s independence and became its first emperor. April 21 is a national holiday.
The author gratefully acknowledges the many sources that were consulted in the writing of this article. While they provide the foundation, the interpretation and opinion are entirely those of the author.
Stephen Guild is Executive Editor of Recife Guide.