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Slavery in Brazil

It is estimated that 4 million Africans landed in Brazil between 1550 and 1850, brought by force from their continent, from regions where today are Angola, Benin, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali and Mozambique. In contast, the number imported to the United States amounted to fewwer than 1 million.

At the time of their cessation of the Atlantic slave trade, both Brazil and the United States each had approximtely 1,500,000 slaves. By the time of each nation's respective abolition, however, by one estimate the number of slaves in Brazil had dropped to around 800,000, while the number of slaves in the United States had soared to over 4,000,000.

In the legal structure of the United States, the black slave became property. As such the slave was without the rights to marriage, to children, to the product of his work or to freedom. In Brazil, however, while remaining at the bottom of the social order, the slave was still considered a human being with certain rights and some means by which to achieve freedom.

One of the major issues in Brazil's history revolves around the question of slavery, which began during the colonial period, probably in 1532, and lasted until 1888. The slaves came from different African regions. Most slaves came from the Yoruba nation, today's Nigeria and Benin; many others came from Angola.

It is unknown exactly when African slaves first arrived in Brazil. However, historians believe that Martim Afonso de Sousa, a Portuguese fidalgo (a man of noble birth), brought slaves with him, when he arrived in Brazil in 1531. This is significantly earlier than the arrival of African slaves to North America in 1619.

Aristotle stated that "No advanced community ever existed in which one part did not live off the labor of another." Black slaves came from an extended family culture which had elements of polygamy and concubinage. European culture viewed this as an invention of the devil. Late Renaissance Europe viewed the world as full of devils and demons, and Africa personified this trend. Blacks were seen as libidinous, related to the sexual connotation in the biblical account of Ham's offense. Huxley postulates that black is not as valuable as white through his valuation of races.

Long before the arrival of Europeans in Africa, trade in slaves existed with North Africa and Asia to supply domestic servants or to fill the harems of Arabia. A few slaves were exported to Europe, but compared to the later Atlantic slave trade, the geographical extent and the volume of traffic was minute. The North African trade always remained limited both by supply and demand and the difficulties of the Saharan Crossing. The trade with Asia was similarly circumscribed by supply and demand and the strength of the Zanj city-states of the East-African coast.

At the beginning of the colonization of Brazil, the Portuguese sought to enslave the Indians in a systematic way. But the initiative has had a number of drawbacks. "They were not accustomed to regular and intense work, they were incapacitated by the diseases brought by the Europeans and, whenever possible, they penetrated the interior of the territory, which was familiar to them. The reports indicate that, by 1562, two violent epidemics killed around 60,000 Indians.

At the same time as the difficulties with enslavement of the natives arose, the Portuguese were already involved in the slave trade in a profitable business on the other side of the Atlantic. This form of work organization was adopted in the African islands dominated by Portugal and Spain, such as Cape Verde, the Azores and the Canaries, who practiced the plantation system.

After the coming of the Europeans to Africa in the late 15th century, the trade in slaves did not increase dramatically until the discovery of the New World and the development of plantations in the European Colonies of the Americas. By the 16th century the demand for cheap labor in the Western Hemisphere had created an enormous market for slaves. Moreover, the potential areas of supply increased correspondingly as Europeans came in oontact with people along the whole vast stretch of the African littoral. Genoese merchants bought their slaves in Lisbon because the Portuguese had exclusive rights to the whole African continent.

The first black slaves arrived in Brazil between 1539 and 1542, in the Captaincy of Pernambuco , the first part of the colony where sugarcane cultivation was effectively developed. It was an attempt to solve the "lack of arms for farming", as was said then. [ 26 ] The main ports landing of African captives were, between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, those of Recife and Salvador , and between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, those of Rio de Janeiro and Salvador - where a portion went to the Minas Gerais and the coffee plantations Paraíba Valley. The monetary value of Africans enslaved in any American auction block in the mid-18th century ranged from $800 to $1,200, which in modern times would amount to $ 32,000 to $ 48,000 each ($ 100, now worth $ 4,000 due to inflation).

Brazilian slave-owners subjected their slaves to such horrendous conditions that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that by one estimate slaves brought to Brazil only survived for an average of seven years. Furthermore, there were only two female slaves to every eight male slaves and when those few slave women did become pregnant and give birth, infant mortality rates were staggering. This meant that slave-owners needed to constantly replenish their labor force and that meant importing more and more slaves, causing the slave market to boom.

Brazil imported African slaves on an enormous scale and were a major fixture of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, though estimates of the scope of this traffic vary. Many of the slaves never reached the New World, some dying while still in African captivity, many others succumbing to the horrors of the Middle Passage on the slave ships. Nevertheless, at least 10 million and possibly as many as 15 million Africans may have reached their final destination. By one estimate, about 95 percent of the slaves who arrived were taken to Latin America while the United States absorbed only about 5 percent of the total number.

By another estimate, before 1800, Brazil imported more than eight and a quarter times the number of slaves that were imported by European colonists in mainland North America and more than thirty-six percent of all slaves brought to the Americas. Over the course of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, more than one-third of African slaves may have come to Brazil. After 1800, the proportion of African slaves sent to Brazil as opposed to other places in the Americas almost doubled. Out of all the slaves taken from Africa and sent to the Americas in the nineteenth century, sixty percent went to Brazil.

Slaves represented a variety of different cultures and societies. Most were followers of traditional African religions, but some were Muslim. Regardless of their background, slaves crossed the Atlantic under very harsh conditions. They were held in brutally crowded conditions and many died during the trip.

They came from different regions of Africa: the west coast of Cape Verde to Cape of Good Hope; the eastern coast of Mozambique, also the interior regions of the continent. Hence the fact that they are in different stages of civilization. The large group of Sudanese, composed of the Yoruba or Nago, Jeje and the mines, and the Berber-Ethiopian group, with the Fulani and send him, were in a more advanced stage of civilization; the Islamized Sudanese were the earliest and were those who came to lead rebellions and the formation of quilombos. The Bantu culture group that were part of the Angolans, the Congos or cabindas the Benguelas and Moçambiques were later, lying still in the fetishism of the stage, with collective ownership system and rudimentary family organization. African slaves entered the country mainly through the ports of Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife and São Luís.

Slaves who survived most often arrived in Brazil through the ports of Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife, and São Luís and were sold throughout the country. At first they worked in the sugar fields in the northeast; later, in the gold and diamond mines and coffee plantations in the east and southeast.

There have been several attempts to calculate the number of African slaves that entered Brazil. There are several hypotheses to establish this calculation. Alfonso d'Escragnolle Taunay (1876-1958) calculates a total of 3,600,000 African slaves landed in Brazil. By the middle of the seventeenth century, it was said that the slave population in Brazil was more numerous than the free population.

In Spanish America the slave owners were largely to be found among the inhabitants of European descent, the mine owners and planters, in fine, those who through self-interest or political loyalty — a loyalty strengthened by a bloody and terrible war—remained faithful to the mother country. Under the circumstances the success of the Spanish American Revolutions, in which these royalists went down to defeat, was logically accompanied by the official extinction of slavery.

In Portuguese America, on the other hand, where the political separation from the mother country was accompanied by little armed strife, the problem of slavery did not become so acute. The land-holding class in the main identified itself with the new regime and was consequently left in undisturbed possession of its slaves. In the wake of independence, the newly autonomous Brazil relied more heavily on slave labor to produce larger quantities of coffee. The young Emperor Pedro II was most anxious to free the slaves of Brazil; but slavery seemed so necessary for the vast coffee and sugar plantations that the wealthier Brazilians were bitterly opposed to emancipation.

There was a convention between Great Britain and Brazil in 1826 for the abolition of the slave trade, but it was habitually violated in spite of the English cruisers. In 1830 the traffic was declared piracy by the emperor of Brazil. The Brazilian slave-owner never obeyed the law of 1831, because it was antagonistic to what he considered his own private interest— an uninterrupted supply of cheap slave-labour. . . . For some twenty-five years he brought in over half a million of Africans after 1831, and it was only after further legislation and the forcible intervention of foreign powers that he finally gave up the traffic.

England asserted by the Aberdeen Act (1845) the right of seizing suspected craft in Brazilian waters. Trafficking to Brazil, although illegal after 1830, only ceased around 1850, after the approval of a law of Eusébio de Queirós. Yet by the connivance of the local administrative authorities 54,000 Africans continued to be annually imported. In 1853 a decree was issued forbidding the importation of slaves. Yellow fever, until then unknown in Brazil, had made its appearance a short time before, and it was thought that the disease had been brought into the country by the slaves. There was intense pressure from the British government, interested in the development of free labor for the expansion of the consumer market. Exporting British goods to Brazil was more profitable than investing in the slavery business.

In San Paolo to colonise was to employ immigrant laborers on the plantations; every laborer of foreign origin was called a colonist, in contradistinction to the slave or native laborer. Thus the word “colonist” had a special meaning in San Paolo; the colonist is not an owner of land, but an agricultural laborer. The “colonists” had signed a contract of métayage. A métayer pays his rent in labor or in kind, or his labor is paid in kind and in board. The proprietor supplied them with coffee shrubs of productive age; their only duty was to look after them. The crop was divided in half, and one half was reserved for the colonists. The money advanced by the planter to the colonist, which the colonist was incapable of repaying, was equivalent to the purchase-price of a slave. Instead of buying a slave, the planter went to the expense of bringing a colonist from Europe; the sum expended was practically about the same, and the colonist, thus heavily indebted, would have scarcely more independence than the slave.

From 1870 onwards slavery was opposed not only by the philanthropists but also by the economists. - The idea was conceived that the slave is an expensive workman, and that slave labor was a check upon production. As the end of slavery seemed to approach, its economic value decreased. The price of the slave continually rose as the number of slaves decreased. A large price had to be paid for a form of merchandise which ran the risk of taking wings, from one day to another, so soon as abolition should be proclaimed. This uncertainty as to the future contributed to wean the planters from the institution of slavery.

Dom Pedro IIEven as the church and military crises were unfolding, the slavery issue shook the support of the landed elite. Attitudes toward slavery had shifted gradually. Pedro II favored abolition, and during the Paraguayan War slaves serving in the military were emancipated. In 1871 the Rio Branco cabinet approved a law freeing newborns and requiring masters to care for them until age eight, at which time they would either be turned over to the government for compensation or the owner would have use of their labor until age twenty-one. In 1884 a law freed slaves over sixty years of age.

On September 28, 1871, the Brazilian chambers decreed that slavery should be abolished throughout the empire. Though existing slaves were to remain slaves still, with the exception of those possessed by the government, who were liberated by the act, facilities for emancipation were given; and it was provided that all children born of female slaves after the day on which the law passed should be free. They" were, however, bound to serve the owners of their mothers for a term of twenty-one years.

According to the last census compiled previous to emancipation the total number of slaves in Brazil was 720,000, and no less than 600,000 of these were said to be between the ages of eighteen and sixty years, classed therefore as effective for active work. The assertions made by the abolitionists that the total was only 500,000, were proved to be inaccurate. Rejoicings were confined to the working classes of the population and to those having no direct interest in the slave question. But the great plantation owners and many others pecuniarily injured opposed emancipation bitterly, and the effect upon this influential body of people was to draw them nearer to the republican propaganda which had been gaining strength for some time past. On 01 May 1886, the Princess Isabelle, regent of Brazil while the emperor was in Europe, proclaimed the abolition of slavery.

There were two returns which appeared in a report presented to the UK Parliament in 1874; they were both official. The first was a return which made the number of slaves in the empire a small number over a million; and the second return, which professed to have been rendered in a more exact manner, with the object of estimating the number of slaves possessed by each landowner, in order that they might become subject to the tax to be carried to the manumission fund, made the total number of slaves in Brazil 1,400,000.

The culture of sugar-cane was still, about 1870, undertaken only by slaves; all other agricultural labour was performed by free labourers. From about 1880, when the rapid expansion of coffee-planting set in, the necessity of resorting to immigration became every day more urgent; workers were lacking, so it was necessary to create a new population.

By the 1880s, the geography of slavery had also changed, and the economy was less dependent on it. Because of manumissions (many on condition of remaining on the plantations) and the massive flight of slaves, the overall numbers declined from 1,240,806 in 1884 to 723,419 in 1887, with most slaves having shifted from the sugar plantations in the Northeast to the south-central coffee groves. But even planters in São Paulo, where the slave percentage of the total population had fallen from 28.2 percent in 1854 to 8.7 percent in 1886, understood that to continue expansion they needed a different labor system. The provincial government therefore actively began subsidizing and recruiting immigrants. Between 1875 and 1887, about 156,000 arrived in São Paulo. Meanwhile, the demand for cheap sugarcane workers in the Northeast was satisfied by sertanejos (inhabitants of the sertão ) fleeing the devastating droughts of the 1870s in the sertão.

The economic picture was also changing. Slavery immobilized capital invested in the purchase and maintenance of slaves. By turning to free labor, planter capital was freed for investment in railroads, streetcar lines, and shipping and manufacturing enterprises. To some extent, these investments offered a degree of protection from the caprices of agriculture.

Meanwhile, slaves left the plantations in great numbers, and an active underground supported runaways. Army officers petitioned the Regent Princess Isabel to relieve them of the duty of pursuing runaway slaves. Field Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca, commander in Rio Grande do Sul, declared in early 1887 that the military "had the obligation to be abolitionist." The São Paulo assembly petitioned the Parliament for immediate abolition. The agitation reached such a pitch that to foreign travelers, Brazil appeared on the verge of social revolution. The system was coming apart, and even planters realized that abolition was the way to prevent chaos.

The staff of the fazenda consisted (besides the slaves) of the “comrades.” These were nearly always Brazilians, in receipt of monthly wages. They were idle and irregular in their work, and often went from one fazenda to another. But they were very docile and easy to manage; their needs and demands were very few, their ambition a minus quantity.

The so-called Golden Law of May 13, 1888, which ended slavery, was not an act of great bravery but a recognition that slavery was no longer viable. The economy revived rapidly after a few lost harvests, and only a small number of planters went bankrupt. Slavery ended, but the plantation survived and so did the basic attitudes of a class society. The abolitionists quickly abandoned those they had struggled to free. Many former slaves stayed on the plantations in the same quarters, receiving paltry wages. They were joined by waves of immigrants, who often found conditions so unbearable that they soon moved to the cities or returned to Europe. The fact that Dom Pedro reigned for nearly fifty years would indicate that he was liberal-minded, progressive, and enlightened, and that he was well liked by the people. But the work of freemasonry and the loss the planters suffered by the emancipation of their slaves created a spirit of disaffection. Dom Pedro practically forced his government to complete the freedom oft eh slaves. By that act he destroyed his empire. The aristocracy, which had upheld him, turned against him. There was a military uprising, and the Republic of Brazil was proclaimed. The outcome was that, after a bloodless revolution (15 November 1889), Dom Pedro was deposed, and a Republic was proclaimed. The aged emperor was declared banished; he accepted the change quietly and withdrew to Portugal.

But while the enfranchisement of slaves had been an economic catastrophe in the case of most countries dependent on slave labor, and while, in other parts of Brazil, it resulted in a general agricultural depression, it was in the case of San Paolo the signal for an extraordinary agricultural renascence. The abolition of slavery was pronounced in 1888, and it was between 1888 and 1890 that the great expansion of coffeeplanting took place. The era of free labor in San Paolo had been coming ever since the middle of the nineteenth century, forty years before the abolition of slavery. Abolition was foreseen long before it was decreed; it was expected, and remedial measures were sought in advance. No freedmen's bureaus or schools were established to improve the lives of the former slaves; they were left at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale, where their descendants remain in the 1990s. New prisons built after 1888 were soon filled with former slaves as society imposed other forms of social control, in part by redefining crime.

The quilombos formed in places of refuge slaves Africans and African descent throughout the Americas. The word "quilombo" originates from the terms kilombo ( Quimbundo ) and " ochilombo " ( Umbundo ), and is also present in other languages ??spoken today by various Bantus peoples who inhabit the region of Angola in West Africa. Originally, it designated only a landing place, used by nomadic or displaced populations.

The quilombo was understood by the Overseas Council of the Portuguese government in 1740 as a whole "group of runaway slaves that pass five, even though they have raised ranches in unpopulated part or find themselves pylons them." The anthropological definition of the 1989 Brazilian Association of Anthropology for this grouping is: every black rural community that groups descendants of slaves, living in a subsistence culture and where cultural manifestations have a strong link with the past.

Although quilombos dotted the Brazilian landscape throughout the era of slavery, which lasted from the 1500s until 1889, they faded into history in the 20th century. Many of the legislators who approved the quilombo law, ratified in 1988 as part of the new Brazilian Constitution, viewed it as a symbolic gesture that would affect only a handful of families.

In 2003, a decree by left-wing President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva made it possible for virtually any Afro-Brazilian community to apply for quilombo status, if a majority of its residents so decide. Since this order, the number of certified quilombos skyrocketed from fewer than three dozen to more than 2,400, with hundreds more applying for recognition. In total, more than 1 million Brazilians were demanding their constitutional right to land in what would become the largest slavery reparations program ever attempted.

Brazil was the last country in the hemisphere to abolish slavery in 1888, and continues to have huge problems with forced labor. Estimates of the number of people working in slave-like conditions range between 25,000 and 40,000, typically on cattle ranches, sugarcane plantations, large farms producing corn, cotton, soy and charcoal, and in logging and mining.

More than a century after the signing of the Lei Áurea, much has changed, the black population now numbers 50.1% of Brazilian citizens, but there is still a gap between blacks and whites and racial democracy remains a myth. This difference between whites and blacks in Brazil has basically economic repercussions - in income and employment - but they can also be noticed in access to basic services such as health, higher education, basic sanitation and pensions.

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Page last modified: 29-11-2017 19:31:41 ZULU