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History and Heritage of Slavery and the Atlantic Slave Trade in the South Atlantic

From: Luso-Brazilian Review
Volume 50, Number 1, 2013
pp. 1-6 | 10.1353/lbr.2013.0025

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Since the 1980s, an increasing number of historians started exploring Brazilian archives to develop studies on slavery in Brazil. This change occurred after several years during which it was assumed that following the 1890's decree issued by the Minister of Finance Ruy Barbosa most Brazilian archives on slavery were burned, supposedly condemning Brazilian slavery to oblivion. Especially after 1988, the year of the centennial of abolition of slavery, numerous studies on slavery in Brazil and the Luso-Brazilian slave trade, examining new demographic data and a myriad of primary sources including baptism, marriage, and death records, have been published not only in Portuguese, but also in English and French. These works have provided many examples of how enslaved men and women developed agency and had never been merely passive victims, as argued in most previous studies published by the members of the Escola de Sociologia de São Paulo in the 1960s and 1970s. Moreover, both in Brazil and in the United States, Brazilian slavery historians started giving particular attention to the internal dynamics of West and West Central African societies and their impact on the development of the Luso-Brazilian slave trade and Brazilian slavery. Through studies highlighting the cultural and religious practices transferred from Africa to Brazil, these scholars also brought to light the trajectories of enslaved Africans and former slaves who were able to resist and to negotiate places of freedom in the Brazilian society.

The development of this new scholarship on Brazilian slavery arose in a context of growing importance of Afro-Brazilian political and cultural activism promoting connections with Africa through the arts, religion, and popular culture. Although references to Africa existed in Bahia's carnival as early as in the nineteenth century, after the 1970s they became much more visible with the creation of carnival groups or blocos including the Ilê Aiyê and many other musical groups such as Olodum and Timbalada. In Rio de Janeiro, even though this Africanization was not as visible as it was in Bahia, especially since the 1980s, a growing number of schools of samba celebrated Africa and Afro-Brazilian characters in its parades.

In the 1990s, along with the re-emergence of Afro-Brazilian civil rights movement, commemoration activities also emphasized Afro-Brazilian history. Since November 20, 1995, the two hundredth anniversary of the death of Zumbi of Palmares, the leader of the most important Brazilian runaway slave community, has been celebrated in numerous cities as the National Day of Black Consciousness. By choosing to commemorate the death of an Afro-Brazilian fighter instead of celebrate May 13, the date of the passing of the Golden Law abolishing slavery, Afro-Brazilian groups started replacing the old paternalistic vision of history with a new self-assertive perspective which was not dissociated from the new trends in the historiography of Brazilian slavery emphasizing agency. Pressured by this movement, the following fifteen years were marked by the creation of governmental organizations to promote racial equality and affirmative action, which mainly consist of quotas for admission of Afro-Brazilians in public universities as well as quotas for Afro-Brazilians in the public service. Along with these political demands, since 2003, the Brazilian government approved several laws recognizing Afro-Brazilian culture. First, the teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian history and culture became mandatory in primary and high school levels after the passing of the Law 10.639/03. Second, that same year the article 2 (paragraph 1) of the decree 4877/2003 approved by the then President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva established that quilombola communities were no longer only those created by fugitive slaves, but extensive to the rural and urban groups identifying themselves as Afro-Brazilians, sharing a common identity, and whose history was connected to slavery and oppression.

Afro-Brazilian religions were also part of this process of official recognition. After 1986, when the Candomblé temple Casa Branca do Engenho Velho, was added by the IPHAN (Instituto do Patrimônio Hist—rico e Artístico Nacional) to the National Historical Heritage list, several other Candomblé temples—including the Ilê Axé Op— Afonjá, Axé Yamassê, Gantois, Alaketu, Bate-Folha, and the Casa das Minas in Maranh...