BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY Africans in Brazil
How did they get to Brazil?Brazil's population includes the largest number of people of African descent in the entire Western Hemisphere. How did Africans get to Brazil, a country in South America? As in Mexico and India, in Brazil, Africans were transported to the country as slaves. Here, slavery lasted longer than in any other country in the New World.
Palmares: An African State within BrazilAfrican slaves in Brazil resisted domination and fought for their freedom and independence. Escaped slaves, or maroons, formed communities like those they were forced to leave in Africa. These free communities were called quilombos, and the most famous of these communities was called Palmares. The name Palmares is derived from the palm trees that grew in the province of Pernambuco, the location of Palmares. The community existed from 1630-1697 and fought off several attempts by Portuguese and Dutch colonizers to destroy it.
|….The Palace of their Zombi was crudely sumptuous both in its form and its size; the houses of its citizens were, in their way, magnificent, and lodged more than twenty thousand souls of both sexes, ten thousand of them men capable of carrying arms. The weapons they used were of all types, firearms as well as arms, cutlasses, arrows, darts, and other missiles. Within their settlement there was a very high elevation which served them as a suicide cliff; from it they could sight distant villages and places of Pernambuco which lay far into the horizon. There was a small lake which gave them plentiful fish, and many streams and wells, which they call "cacimbas" (water holes), from which they drew sparkling water. Outside the fortifications they had large orchards and tilled fields, and to guard them they made other small settlements, called "mocambos" (hideaway huts) in which they were aided by their most faithful and experienced soldiers.|
The Legacy of SlaveryBrazil was one of the last countries to end the slave trade and slavery. The end of slavery came with difficulty because the Brazilian economy depended on African slave labor. Brazil abolished the trade in slaves in 1850, and in 1888, all slaves in Brazil were emancipated, or set free. The slaves themselves took the lead in their fight for freedom by escaping slavery and organizing slave revolts. But after earning their freedom, slaves faced severe economic hardship and racial discrimination. They did not own any of the land they had worked, and immigrants who came to Brazil were often given jobs before black Brazilians.
The Black Experimental TheatreIn 1944, Abdias do Nascimento started a theatre group called Teatro Experimental do Negro (TEN), or The Black Experimental Theatre. TEN is an example of one of the ways Brazilians of African descent displayed pride in their African origins and used art to fight for the civil and human rights of Afro-Brazilians.
© Abdias Nascimento
Aguinaldo Camargo (in the background, as Brutus Jones) and Fernando Araújo, in the play The Emperor Jones (Municipal Theater, Rio de Janeiro, 1945).
The members of TEN did not limit themselves to artistic projects. The organization was actively involved in politics. It published the newspaperQuilomobo and formed the Afro-Brazilian Democratic Committee. The Committee defended individuals who were believed to have been put in prison unjustly. TEN also created the first black woman's association in the country, The Brazilian Council of Black Women. TEN organized the first meeting of the National Convention of Blacks. At this convention, participants wrote a bill for a constitutional amendment that defined racial discrimination as a crime against humanity.
- How did Africans get to Brazil? What route did they take?
- In Brazil, what types of work did Africans do?
- What was Palmares? Who was Zumbi?
- How did the Brazilian government discriminate against blacks? How did Afro-Brazilians respond?