Indigenous people in Brazil (Portuguese: povos indígenas no Brasil), or Native Brazilians (Portuguese: nativos brasileiros), comprise a large number of distinct ethnic groups who have inhabited what is now the country of Brazil since prior to the European invasion around 1500. Unlike Christopher Columbus, who thought he had reached the East Indies, the Portuguese, most notably Vasco da Gama, had already reached India via the Indian Ocean route when they reached Brazil.
Nevertheless, the word índios (“American Indian”) was by then established to designate the people of the New World and continues to be used today in the Portuguese language to designate these people, while a person from India is called indiano in order to distinguish the two.
At the time of European contact, some of the indigenous people were traditionally mostly semi-nomadic tribes who subsisted on hunting, fishing, gathering, and migrant agriculture. Many of the estimated 2,000 nations and tribes which existed in the 16th century suffered extinction as a consequence of the European settlement, and many were assimilated into the Brazilian population.
The indigenous population was largely killed by European diseases, declining from a pre-Columbian high of millions to some 300,000 (1997), grouped into 200 tribes. However, the number could be much higher if the urban indigenous populations are counted in all the Brazilian cities today. A somewhat dated linguistic survey found 188 living indigenous languages with 155,000 total speakers.
On January 18, 2007, FUNAI reported that it had confirmed the presence of 67 different uncontacted tribes in Brazil, up from 40 in 2005. With this addition Brazil has now surpassed New Guinea as the country having the largest number of uncontacted people.
Brazilian indigenous people have made substantial and pervasive contributions to the world’s medicine with knowledge used today by pharmaceutical corporations, material, and cultural development—such as the domestication of tobacco, cassava, and other crops.