top of page



Historical Background

The historical relationship between the Netherlands and Brazil goes back more than 400 years. Dutch ships had been sailing up the Amazon River to trade from the late 16th Century, and these trading relations intensified over time, following the expansive ambitions of the Dutch West India Company- WIC. Between around 1630-1654 the WIC began to occupy the northeastern areas of Brazil, and established a colony here- known as 'Dutch Brazil', or 'New Holland'. However these ambitions were short-lived. In 1654 the WIC were defeated by the Portuguese and the Dutch colonial ambitions in Brazil came to an end. 


In the 17th century Brazil was an important trading point for the WIC, especially attracted by the profits in sugar amongst other tradeable goods, and soon became involved in supplying forced labour to the large plantations, through the slave trade.  This was not the only time in which the Dutch came to settle in Brazil however. In the 19th and 20th Centuries many Dutch people migrated to Brazil and founded several new settlements. Today, many of these settlements are still in use by these immigrants and their descendants, who continue to maintain links with their Dutch heritage. 


Heritage Cooperation

Cooperation in the form of heritage activities is in fact no new phenomena between the Netherlands and Brazil. As far back as the 19th Century, an archival project was set up by Jose Duarte Pereira Hyginio, who visited the Netherlands in order to research and create a collection from manuscripts concerning Dutch Brazil. 


This strong and long-lasting relationship continues to this day. Brazil is one of the priority countries for the Netherlands, in relation to the Dutch Mutual Cultural Heritage Policy. In 2008 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed, committing both sides to future cooperation, collaboration and development. This framework structures the joint activities with a focus upon; increasing awareness and knowledge, preserving the existing tangible and intangible heritage, as well as creating positive social and economic impacts on education, employment, tourism and science. Four prioriy themes wer identified for cooperation within CIE heritage activities with Brazil; tangible and intangible heritage, the mutuality of mutual heritage, as well as academic cooperation and archives. 


There are two main areas for joint cooperation with Brazil and CIE; Maritime Heritage and Migration Heritage, in fitting with our four core themes;

Museums and Collections  

Research and Academic Cooperation


In 2011 Brazil celebrated the 'Year of Holland', with the purpose of reaffirming and reframing these historical and contemporary ties. It was within this context that the CIE organised two Heritage Days in Brazil. 


Maritime Heritage

The northeast of Brazil was for a short time occupied by the WIC, using Recife as their headquarters. As well as the tangible heritage left behind from the Dutch colonial settlements, plantations, mills and sunken shipwrecks relating to the WIC, there are also many other intangible elements and stories which reference the heritage of this era. These are all areas for collaboration between the two countries, which CIE have actively been involved with. 


For example one of the key figures of Dutch Brazil was Johan Maurits van Nassau, who was governor of Dutch Brazil between the years of 1637-1644. During his term in office, the Dutch territory in Brazil expanded and so did Recife, undergoing major urban and architectural development. Van Nassau sponsored a large amount of public works as well as commissioning artists and scientists to document this new land. Many of these documents and paintings survive today, thus providing us with a window into what 17th Century Dutch Brazil looked like, and how it was percieved by the Europeans. Van Nassau is remembered fondly by both Brazilians and the Dutch also for his policy of tolerance. For instance he protected the Brazilian Jews, who had previously been ostracized by society, allowing them to continue practicing their religion. Van Nassau has become a central figure in Dutch-Brazilian heritage cooperation, particularly in the areas of academic research and museum exhibitions. 


Migration Heritage 

The WIC was a very diverse company, with soldiers and merchants from many different nationalities employed within its ranks. Their ports became multicultural hubs where different cultures and traders were brought together. Along with the WIC's trading activities also came many West Africans forced into the slave trade and indentured workers from Asia who were taken to Brazilian plantations to work. There are even records of some native Brazilians travelling back to the Netherlands with the WIC. 


More recently there have been further periods of migration from the Netherlands to Brazil. At the beginning of the 20th century, as well as following the end of World World Two, many migrants left the Netherlands for Brazil to begin a new life. They were given land and founded new settlements predominantly around the southern Brazilian states, in and around Sao Paulo, Parana and Rio Grande do Sul. Many in these communities maintain Dutch customs and traditions such as growing Dutch flowers and celebrating the Sinterklaas festival for example. 


In 2011 the settlement at Carambei celebrated their 100 year anniversary, this was marked with many commemorative events celebrating their joint ties to the Netherlands and Brazil. 



Above and below; images of Forte Do Brum in Recife, Brazil

bottom of page