On 21 April, Tiradentes Day is commemorated in Brazil. This is one of the most important civic dates of the country and is a national holiday. Even though the date is more commonly remembered at schools, here it is worth stressing what this day means for the History of Brazil.
Who was Tiradentes?
Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, better known as Tiradentes (tooth-puller) for his profession as an amateur dentist, was born at the Pombal Farm in the state of Minas Gerais, in 1746. Of Portuguese origin, he lost both his parents very early, when he was only 11 years old, and also lost all his properties due to debts.
He was also a cattle drover, a miner, and member of the military division known as the Minas Gerais Dragoons (Dragões de Minas Gerais). It was in this last role that he started to have contact with groups that were fighting against Portuguese domination of Brazil.
The Inconfidência Mineira
At that time, Brazil was still under the colonial rule of the King of Portugal, as one of Portugal’s most profitable colonies. This, not only due to the country’s wealth, but also through the high taxes that were paid to the Crown. If this did not suffice, apart from removing a member of the local elite from the position of Governor of Minas Gerais, replacing him by a friend of the Portuguese Court, the derrama taxation system was introduced.
With this resolution, the collection of taxes was forced, and the use of arrest or other methods to ensure the receipt of what was due was also authorised. This infuriated the local population, especially the rich, who started to conspire against the Portuguese Crown.
Tiradentes led the movement
Due to his incredible capacity of rhetoric and his leadership spirit, Tiradentes was chosen as leader of the movement. This would initially be in the form of a protest on the day of the derrama tax, with the announcement of plans for liberation and the arrest of the Governor.
However, the plan ended up becoming known to local authorities, and the 34 members of the movement were arrested, on a charge of treason against the Portuguese Crown. However, Tiradentes was the only one sentenced to death, possibly as he was the only one who was not part of the local elite – the others were either exiled or given lax penalties.
Tiradentes became a martyr of the Inconfidência Mineira movement
Tiradentes was then strangled in public on 21 April 1792, then quartered, and his head was shown in a public square. The other parts of his body were scattered around the city, and his blood was used to sign the document for carrying out the sentence, while his memory and his descendants were considered as infamy, and his house was razed to the ground and had the land covered in salt, so that nothing would ever grow there.
Today, Tiradentes é considered a Civic Patron of Brazil, and the Martyr of the Inconfidência Mineira. His name is also in the Golden Book of the Pantheon of Country and Freedom, being considered a National Hero.