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The first known European to explore Maranhão was the Spanish explorer Vicente Yáñez Pinzón in 1500.

KIng John III of Portugal, wishing to attract settlers to Brazil, divided it into captaincies. That of Maranhão was granted to João de Barros in 1534 as a Portuguese hereditary captaincy. Barros with two partners, prepared an armada of ten vessels, carrying nine hundred men each, which set sail in 1539 but shipwrecked as a whole.

The arms of João de Barros are documented by the Livro da Nobreza e Perfeição das Armas of Antonio Godinho (1541) fol 40. [1]

They are:


Arms: Bendy of seven Gules and Azure fimbriated Or, 9 six-pointed stars Argent 1, 3, 3 and 2 in the bends gules.

Crest: On a helmet to the dexter, lambrequined Gules and Argent a bend Azure and a bend Gules from the arms in saltire charged with five six-pointed stars Argent. [2]


The first European settlement, however, was made by a French trading expedition under Jacques Riffault, of Dieppe, in 1594, who lost two of his three vessels in the vicinity of São Luís Island, and left a part of his men on that island when he returned home. Subsequently Daniel de La Touche, Seigneur de La Ravardière was sent to report on the place.

Daniel de la Touche had explored the South American coast before and had explored the Cayenne river in 1604. The assassination of Henry IV in 1610 however deprived him of support to colonize the region. Through intercession of Maria de Medici, he was commissioned by the French crown to found a colony in the region. In 1612 he could set sail from Cancale in Brittanny and settled on an island which he called Saint Louis after King Louis XIII (1610-’43). On 8 September 1612 the construction of Fort St Louis started. In 1615, only three years later, the French were expelled by the Portuguese.

On 13 June 1621 Ceara, Maranhão, Piaui and Pará were united by King Philip III of Spain, then also king of Portugal and called the “Estado do Maranhao”, which was separated from the southern captaincies.  

The Dutch held the captaincy of Maranhão from 1641 but they were in 1644 before they could have settled there.

In 1751 Maranhão was renamed Estado do Grão-Pará e Maranhão (State of Great Para and Maranhão) but it was divided in 1772 into the Estado do Maranhão e Piauí with São Luís as its capital and Estado do Grão-Pará e Rio Negro, with Belém as its capital.

Ceara was subsequently detached, but the state of Maranhao remained separate until 1774, when it again became subject to the colonial administration of Brazil.

Maranhão did not join in the Brazilian declaration of independence of 1822, but in the following year the Portuguese were driven out by British sailor and liberator Admiral Lord Cochrane and it became part of the Empire of Brazil. For this achievement Lord Cochrane became 1st Marques of Maranhão and Governor of the Province of Maranhão.



The achievement of Cochrane Earl of Dundonald was:


Arms: Argent, a chevron Gules between three hogs-heads erased Sable.

Crown: The crown of a count.

Crest: On a helmet to the dexter lambrequined Argent and Gulesa a horse passant Gules.

Supporters: Two greyhounds Argent.

Motto: VIRTUTE ET LABORE.(Virtue and Work).


In the time of the Empire the arms used by the provinces were the Imperial Arms. At the proclamation of the Republic the states  were granted the right to adopt their own achievements.


The present arms of Maranhão were created by Decree n° 58 of 30-12-1905 by the First Vice-Governor Alexandre Colares Moreira Jr. and adopted by Law n° 416 of 27-08-1906 signed by Governor Benedito Pereira Leite. The arms are:


Arms: Quarterly 1. Of the national flag of the state being of nine breadths red, white, black, white, red, white, black, white and red and a blue canton with a white five-pointed star; 2 Vert; 3. Argent, a scroll radiant charged with a quill proper; 4. Or.

Crest: a crown of laurel proper.

Compartment: Mouldings Or.


ð See illustration in the head of this essay.


·                 The colors of the flag, adopted 21 December 1889, symbolize the Maranhão nation.

·                 The green and yellow are the colors of Brazil.

·                 The scroll and quill probably refer to João de Barros who was a great scholar and chronicler.


The Constitution of the Federation of 1934 abolished the symbols of the states and their achievements were replaced by the national emblem.

The Federal Constitution of 1946 restored the autonomy and also the achievements of the states.


Armed Forces






Maranhão is a part of the 10th Military Region, together with Ceará and Piauí.

Its headquarters are in Fortaleza (CE).

The communities of Açailândia, João Lisboa, Imperatriz, Amarante do Maranhão, Montes Altos, Sítio Novo, Porto Franco, Estreito and Carolina, all in the state of Maranhão, are a part of the 8th Military Region of which the headquarters are in Belém (PA).


Arms of the Maranhão Military Police






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© Hubert de Vries 2011-11-11


[1] See Instituto dos Archivos Nacionais

[2] Antonio Godinho. fol. 40.