Brazil comes to terms with its slave-trading past ( Brazil)

Slavery in Brazil.

Explore History of Slavery in Brazil past 16th Century – Slavery in Brazil covers more than 3 centuries of history from the mid of 16th Century to the Golden law of 1888. It is the fundamental element of the History of Brazil. From our point of view, it is the one that brings to Brazil its most original and colored characteristics.

Slavery in Brazil, through its origins, myths, history, and legends is one of the most powerful ferments of Brazilian unity. How to way up until the heart of the culture of the country, until modifying, for example, the long-lasting structures of Portuguese language enriching it with African or Indian words.Slavery in Brazil

The hell of the Black

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Slaves had obviously no right. A royal decree ruled on the condition of the African, which could be sold, exchanged, beaten, mutilated or executed. He was a good, alienated to the powerful will of the Master.

In fazendas, the division of labor was made by sex and by age, which already foresees from the big differentiation in the positions of the slaves.

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Without surprises, the main part of the women was linked to housing works. Gilberto Freyre insisted for a long time on their conditions of existence and their social role in the construction of the Brazilian family: it is the basis of his book Masters and Slaves :

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The host house-made slaves’ houses rise, for the most intimate and the most delicate services of the Lords, a certain number of individuals- nursemaids, chambermaids, and kids playing with little white children. Individuals who were more part of the family than slaves. Kind of poor parents, stemming from European families. A heap of small mulattoes sat down at the patriarchal table as if they belonged to the family house. Foster sons. Companions of games. Valuable kids. Some of them used to go by car, with masters, accompanying them in their walks as if they were their sons. slavery

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As for the nursemaids, all the traditions agree to recognize the place of honor they occupied within the patriarchal family. Having acquired their freedom, they became round almost always in enormous Negresses. Negresses whose domination was despotic. Children asked to be blessed by them; slaves called them “Madam”, coach drivers took them in their cars. And to see them,party, magnificent and captivating, among the whites, who would have guessed that they were former slaves of the senzala and not born as Ladies? “

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Men, for the main part, worked the exploitations of sugar canes or on the mill. Their working conditions were extremely difficult. Katia of Queirós Mattoso estimates men were working between 15 and seventeen hours a day.

Their living conditions, already extremely difficult, became unbearable when we add the material deficit they were suffering from: lack of clothes, health, and medicines…

Resistance or survival conducts

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Isolated, exhausted by hard labor, deprived of everything a man needs to live, exposed to the epidemics, we consider that the survival of the slaves did not exceed ten years, everything was being conditioned by the conduct of the Lords of the mill who ” had the choice” between two strategies. brazil

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Either they tried to extend the life of their slaves by bringing some care to food and hygiene, by granting time for sufficient rests.

Either, cynically, ensured that the slave traders guaranteed a constant offer of slavish population, they could consider more lucrative to exploit up to the extreme their working strength, because, even if the slaves did not resist, they could renew the staff“

Bartolomé Bennassar, Histoire du Brésil 1500-2000, fayard, 2000.

African slaves were sad by so many misfortunes, had the choice between two ways of acting.

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First of all, a survival conducts learning the Portuguese language to end the relative isolation they suffered of, with the hope to be part of a community in a process which Queirós Mattoso calls the “re-personalization”.

It is an initiative which was encouraged by Masters who, conscious that a slave trying to adapt itself was more profitable than a desperate slave on his own, saw a means there to improve the productivity. slavery in brazil

Slavery 9

Thus, Catholicism (which was partly in charge to teach the Portuguese language) through a very subjective interpretation of principles of humility, obedience, resignation, and fidelity that it advocates, becomes a powerful conveyor of partial integration for Black populations.

It is blatant through the role of the brotherhoods which developed by opening itself to colored people since the middle of the XVIIth, century) that Katia de Queirós Mattoso describes in the history of slavery in Brazil “as an element of social cohesion, corporate type, a regulator of behaviors and social relationships between groups separated by the color, the economic power, and the cultural life.”


The other conduct based on a logic of riot, resistance against slavery in Brazil that can lead to murder, flight, and even suicide.

“There, some niggers, killed themselves by eating the soil, hanging themselves, poisoning themselves with herbs and potions of wizards. Many of them disappeared because of the nostalgia of being in an isolated country. Some of them became crazy or stupid. They did not die, but they were dying slowly. With no taste in life, they indulged in every excess like brandy, opium abusing, and masturbating.


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