Wednesday, 27 November 2013


                                BLACK                SOCIAL               HISTORY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   The Malê Revolt  also known as The Great Revolt) is perhaps the most significant slave rebellion in Brazil. On a Sunday during Ramadan in January 1835, in the city of Salvador da Bahia, a small group of black slaves and freedmen, inspired by Muslim teachers, rose up against the government. Muslims were called malê in Bahia at this time, from Yoruba i male that designated a Yoruba Muslim.
The uprising also took place on the feast day of Our Lady of Guidance, a celebration in the Bonfim’s church’s cycle of religious holidays. As a result, many worshippers would travel to Bonfim for the weekend to pray or celebrate. Authorities would also be present in order to keep the celebrations in line. Consequently, there would be less people and authorities in the city, making it easier for the rebels to occupy Salvador.
Brazilian slaves knew about the Haitian Revolution (1791−1804) and wore necklaces bearing the image of President Dessalines, who had declared Haitian independence.

Islam in Bahia

In Bahia the Hausas were primarily identified with practicing Islam because they adopted Islam before coming over to Brazil. Over time however, the Nâgo slaves made up a majority of Muslims in Bahia due to the rise of Islam in Yoruba kingdoms. In fact, by 1835 most of the Mâles were Nâgos. Furthermore, many of the key figures important in planning the uprising were Nâgos including: Ahuna, Pacífico, and Manoel Calafate.
Within the Muslim community the Mâles had power and prestige, especially the Muslims that had long standing. These members tried to attract new Mâles. They did so not passively, but through proselytizing and conversion.
In the African Islamic culture in Brazil there were several external symbols that became associated with the Mâles. One symbol came about through the adoption of amulets. In Bahia amulets were common because they were thought to have protective powers and wore worn by both Muslims and non-Muslims. These amulets consisted of pieces of paper with passages from the Koran and prayers that were folded and placed in a leather pouch that was sewn shut. They were made and sold by álufas or preachers. These amulets, however, did not signify a strong commitment to Islam because they were associated with traditional, pagan African religions. Another symbol of Islam in Bahia was the wearing of a long white frock called an abadá. In Bahia this garment was worn in private so they would not attract attention from law officials. It was only during the rebellion in 1835 that they were worn in public for the first time and were referred to as “war garments” by police. A third symbol which was used by Mâles to identify themselves prior to the uprising were white, metal, silver, or iron rings placed on their fingers. However, when the Mâles were defeated, these rings were no longer effective because now everyone knew what they meant.

Growth of Islam in Bahia

The urban environment of Salvador facilitated the spread of Islam due to the greater mobility of slaves, the large number of freemen, and the interactions between these two groups, which created networks. All Mâles slave or free that knew how to read and write Arabic would spread this knowledge on street corners. The houses of freedmen also provided a place for practice of Islam, as well as slaves own quarters (in their masters house) or “private mosques” which were rooms the Mâles rented out (the majority of which were in downtown Salvador). At these places Mâles met to pray, memorize verses from the Koran, and how to read and write (on wooden writing slates) Arabic. The Mâles also wrote matters of their faith on paper, despite its high cost. These papers are evidence that slaves in Bahia were highly instructed in Arabic with correct grammar and good calligraphy at a time when the majority of whites were illiterate.
Women were absent from Mâle rituals. This makes sense due to a women’s subordinate role in Muslim culture. However, as time passed women became more integrated in Muslim rituals.
In Bahia the Mâles had to innovate some aspects of Islam (because they feared persecution by officials), but tried to maintain its basic characteristics. For example, the Mâles gathered frequently to eat suppers together. This represented their effort to commit themselves to the aspect of Islam to only eat food prepared by Muslim hands. They ate mutton often, which signifies ritual sacrifices. During Ramadan their diet consisted of yams, bugloss, rice, milk, and honey. They ended Ramadan by sacrificing a ram. In addition, the Mâles celebrated main religious days such as Lailat al-Miraj, which was a sign of success in Bahia because Mâles had become a well-defined segment of the Bahian black community.

The Revolt

While the revolt was scheduled to take place on Sunday, January 25, due to various incidents, it was forced to start before the planned time. On Saturday January 24, slaves began to hear rumors of an upcoming rebellion. While there are multiple accounts of freed slaves telling their previous masters about the revolts, only one was reported to the proper authorities. Sabina da Cruz, an ex-slave, had a fight with her husband, Vitório Sule the day before and went looking for him. She found him in a house with many of the other revolt organizers and after they told her tomorrow they would be masters of the land she reportedly said, “on the following day they’d be masters of the whiplash, but not of the land.”. After leaving this house, she went to her friend Guilhermina, a freedwoman, who Sabina knew had access to whites. Guilhermina then proceeded to tell her white neighbor, André Pinto da Silveira. Several of Pinto de Silveira’s friends were present, including Antônio de Souza Guimarães and Francisco Antônio Malheiros, who took it upon themselves to relay the information to the local authorities. All of these events occurred between the hours of 9:30 and 10:30 pm on Saturday January 24.
President Francisco de Souza Martins informed the Chief of Police of the situation, reinforced the palace guard, alerted the barracks, doubled the night patrol, and ordered boats to watch the bay, all by 11:00 pm. At around 1:00 am on Sunday, justices of the peace searched the home of Domingos Marinho de Sá. Domingos reported to the patrol that the only Africans in his house were his tenants. However, sensing Domingos’ fear, the justices asked to see for themselves. They went down into his basement and found the ringleaders, discussing last minute details. However, the Africans were able to turn the officers out into the streets.
Out on the streets, the fighting saw its first real bloodshed; several people were injured and two Africans were killed, including Vitório Sule, Sabina da Cruz's husband. After securing the area, the rebels split up to go in different directions throughout the city. Most of the groups did very little fighting because they were recruiters, calling slaves to war. However, the largest group traveled up the hill toward Palace Square (modern-day Praça Municipal), and continued to fight.
The rebels decided to first attack the city palace of the jail, attempting to free a Muslim leader, Pacífico Licutan. However, the prison guards proved too much for the rebels, who perhaps were looking to supplement their weak supply of arms with the jailers’. Unfortunately for the rebels, the reinforced palace guard began firing on them from across the square and they found themselves caught between lines of fire in front of the jail. Under heavy fire, the slaves withdrew from the prison and retreated to the Largo de Teatro. Reinforcements arrived on the slaves side, and together they attacked a nearby post of soldiers in order to take their weapons. They marched toward the officer's barracks, and put up a good fight, however, the soldiers were able to pull the gate guarding the barracks shut. The slaves had failed.
The rebels worked their way towards the Vitória neighborhood, where a number of Muslim slaves lived in the English community there. They regrouped at Mercês Convent where the sacristan, a Nagô slave named Agostinho, was a member of the conspiracy. The convent was a pre-determined spot for regrouping. A police patrol came across the rebels here, but retreated from their counter-attack to Fort São Pedro—a stronghold the rebels did not try to assault. By now the rebels numbered several hundred, but they had not been able to achieve any of their goals. They now headed towards Cabrioto, outside the city to rendezvous with slaves from plantations outside Salvador. In order to get to Cabrioto, however, they would have to pass the cavalry barracks. And when they met in Água de Meninos, the most decisive battle of the revolt took place. At about 3:00 AM, the rebels reached Água de Meninos. The footsoldiers immediately retreated inside the confines of the barracks while the men on horseback stayed outside. The rebels, who now only numbered about 50–60, did not attempt to attack the barracks. Instead, they sought a way around it.
However, they were met with fire from the barracks, followed by a cavalry charge, which proved too powerful for the rebel slaves. After the rebels were completely devastated, more slaves arrived. After assessing the situation, the slaves decided that their only hope would be to attack and take the barracks. However, this desperate attempt proved futile, and the rebels quickly decided to flee. The cavalry mounted one last charge that finished them off.


  • Ahuna - Ahuna was a Nagô slave who lived in Salvador. He travelled frequently to Santa Amaro where his owner had a sugar plantation. It has been suggested that his presence was a key factor in the timing of the rebellion.
  • Pacífico Lucatan - Lucatan was a Nagô slave who worked as a tobacco roller. He was in prison at the time of the rebellion, and one of the main goals was to free him.
  • Luís Sanim - Sanim was a Nupe slave who also worked as a tobacco roller. He ran a fund where each member contributed a day's wages for slave labor, presumably monthly, and this money was divided into three parts: one part for cloth to make Muslim garments; a part to masters' portions of slave wages—since Malê slaves did not work on Fridays; and one part to help buy letters of manumission.
  • Manoel Calafate - Calafate travelled to Santo Amaro to mobilize rebels on the eve of the uprising. He took an active part in the fighting and appears to have been killed in Palace Square.
  • Elesbão do Corma - Elesbão do Corma was a Hausa freedman who was known in the African community as Dandará. He owned a tobacco shop which was also used as a meeting place for Malês. He also travelled through the Recôncavo for his business, and brought the Muslim faith to slaves on the plantations there.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Aftermath
Fearful that the whole state of Bahia would follow the example of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and rise up and revolt, the authorities quickly sentenced four of the rebels to death, sixteen to prison, eight to forced labour, and forty-five to flogging. The remainder of surviving leaders of the revolt were then deported back to Africa by the authorities; it is believed that some members of the Brazilian community in Lagos, Nigeria, Tabom People of Ghana are descended from this deportation, although descendants of these Afro-Brazilian repatriates are reputed to be widespread throughout West Africa (such as Sylvanus Olympio, the first president of Togo). The term "Aguda" on the other hand refers to the mainstream, predominantly Christian Brazilian returnees to Lagos who brought Roman Catholicism in their wake; which is why that denomination is often referenced in Yoruba as "Ijo Aguda" (The Portuguese Church). Fearing the example might be followed, the Brazilian authorities began to watch the malês very carefully and in subsequent years intensive efforts were made to force conversions to Catholicism and erase the popular memory and affection towards Islam. However, the African Muslim community was not erased overnight, and as late as 1910 it is estimated there were still some 100,000 African Muslims living in Brazil.
Many consider this rebellion to be the turning point of slavery in Brazil. While slavery existed for more than fifty years following the Malê Revolt, the slave trade was abolished in 1851. Slaves continued to pour into Brazil immediately following the rebellion, which caused fear and unrest among the people of Brazil. They feared that bringing in more slaves would just fuel another rebel army. Although it took a little over fifteen years to happen, the slave trade was abolished in Brazil, due in part to the 1835 rebellion.

João José Reis's Book: Slave Rebellion in Brazil

A lot of the information cited on this page had come from Joâo José Reis’s book Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia. This is a reliable source according to many well known historians.
B.J. Barickman says that by using court records from the aftermath of the uprising, this book makes the best study to date available in English. Barickman believes “Reis skillfully combines those records and various other sources to reconstruct a detailed narrative of the revolt and to locate it within the context of social-political turmoil that overtook Bahia in the early-nineteenth century”. Reis connects the rebellion to the life experiences of the African born slaves delving deeper. Additionally he maps the social, cultural, and economic contours of urban slave life in Brazil during the nineteenth century. Barickman concludes this summary saying Reis’s book is “a superb example of the very best recent Brazilian scholarship on slavery,” and that this book would appeal to those interested in New World slavery as well as a wider audience.
Donald Ramos begins his review saying that Reis’s book adds complexities of slavery in Brazil to our knowledge. Reis contributes to the history of slave rebellions throughout Latin America, especially to Brazil where there were several rebellions before the uprising in 1835. He begins by examining life in 19th century Salvador and its African population. This is necessary because the author describes the uprising as African, not as black, slave, or a broadly social rebellion. Reis is able to link the uprising into the broader context of Brazil, as well as Africa. Even though the rebellion involved mainly Muslim Africans, it can be seen more broadly as an African movement because the objective of the rebels was to destroy all those born in Brazil. This book is “largely successful” and “Reis makes available to the broader audience a series of insights into the world of Africans living in New World bondage and their efforts, violent and nonviolent, to redress the injustices and indignities they suffered.
Peter Blanchard believes that Reis has provided new details of Brazilian slavery through his analysis of a particular case in the 19th century in this revised and expanded version of his earlier book. In his analysis Reis talks of developments in Salvador the year after it gains independence, the connection this movement has to Africa, and the leading role of Muslims in the event. Additionally, besides details about the uprising itself this book leads to broader discussions slave life, slave resistance, and the dynamics of slavery systems in the Americas.
Thomas Skidmore begins his review saying that this book has majorly contributed to knowledge of slavery, race relations, and the history of Africans in the Americas. Reis is a historian from the region he writes about (Brazil) and is a pioneer in writing about Brazilian social history. In his book it is confirmed that slave rebellions were easier in urban settings compared with the countryside. Skidmore concludes by saying how “Reis has produced a superb analysis of these important events that will be of interest to ethnohistorians and anyone interested in the development of modern race relations in the Americas.
Verene Shepherd describes the book as “highly acclaimed” and a “gripping account” of the “most effective urban slaver rebellion ever to occur on the American continent.” The book starts with an overview of the geography of Bahia then provides details on the economic and social characteristics of Salvador that served to catalyze the uprising. Next the author discusses the uprising itself and its consequences. He devotes a significant amount of time to repression in Bahia. Shepherd feels that “readers will agree that this meticulously researched book is a good contribution to the subject of urban slavery.” Not only does Reis focus on the urban sector of Bahia’s slave society, there is also an overview of the rural regime; for there were interactions between both sectors, which Africans took advantage of during the uprising. The book is also good for scholars in the role of Islam in resistance movements in the Americas before and after slavery.