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The Americas 59.3 (2003) 287-323

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Reading the 1835 Parish Censuses from Bahia:
Citizenship, Kinship, Slavery, and Household in Early Nineteenth-Century Brazil*

B. J. Barickman

SSince the late 1960s, a growing number of studies have drawn on local manuscript censuses, also known as household or nominal lists, to reshape the historiography of late colonial and early nineteenth-century Brazil. While many of those studies focus on family or household composition, manuscript censuses have also been used to explore topics ranging from proto-industrialization and demographic trends to patterns of slaveholding and the status of women. 1 In working with this documentation, scholars have generally restricted themselves to quantitative analyses; they have seldom devoted much explicit attention to the format of censuses and to the categories found in them. As a result, the ideological assumptions and political concerns that census-takers in late colonial and early nineteenth-century Brazil brought to bear in enumerating, classifying, and ordering the population have remained largely unexplored topics. 2 To detect those [End Page 287] assumptions and concerns, we need to go beyond quantification and to read Brazilian manuscript censuses for the qualitative information they contain. At the very least, reading censuses qualitatively holds out the possibility of raising questions that complement and enhance the findings from the more familiar quantitative studies.

To illustrate that possibility, this essay examines the 1835 parish censuses from the Northeastern province of Bahia. More specifically, it draws most of its examples from the census of Santiago do Iguape (or simply Iguape), a major center of slave-based sugar production. 3 The census of this sugar parish represents one of the very few surviving results of a failed effort to carry out a province-wide population count in Bahia. The essay first situates the attempted 1835 population count within a broader social-political context. Then it focuses on citizenship and kinship and on the categories "birthplace," "occupation," and "household" in the parish census of Santiago do Iguape. Those categories do indeed reveal a great deal about the political concerns and ideological assumptions that the census-takers incorporated into their 1835 count of Santiago do Iguape's population.

In effect, the census of Iguape presents two different views of society: within the census, society consists at one and the same time of individuals and of "households." 4 On the one hand, the census-takers gathered information about individuals, allowing them both to portray society as simply a sum of individuals and to identify every man, woman, and child, whether free or slave, in the parish by sex, age, color, and various other characteristics. More than merely an attempt to be comprehensive, the decision to collect individual-level data in the 1835 censuses was fully consistent with the [End Page 288] liberal notions of nationality and citizenship that had, by the 1830s, become part of Brazilian political discourse. 5 Individual-level data made it possible to distinguish citizens from non-citizens and to define locally the social boundaries of nationality in the still new and precariously established Empire of Brazil. In Bahia, in the mid-1830s, the distinction between citizens and non-citizens held additional significance: it fit into a broader anti-African strategy to prevent slave rebellions.

On the other hand, the census also locates the residents of Santiago do Iguape within hierarchically-structured "households": either they headed "households" and were responsible for the other members of their "households," or they were, according to the census, in some way subordinated to the authority of a "household" head. The census-takers depicted that subordination by conflating kinship ties and property relations with "occupation," which, in the case of slaves, further served to underscore their status as slaves and as property. Although, in principle, adult men should have always headed those "households," the diversity of living arrangements and property relationships that the census-takers found on the ground as they surveyed the parish at times forced them to rely on other criteria in determining headship. Thus, in the way it orders...


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