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Callaloo 25.2 (2002) 613-619
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An Interview With Fernando Conceição
Elizabeth A. Marchant
This interview was completed in July, 2000.
MARCHANT: How did the Black Movement begin in Brazil?
CONCEIÇÃO: It began with the first black they took from Africa to Brazil. And less than one hundred years after the arrival of the first black in around 1500, in a region of the northeast, quilombos were already being formed. They were the sites of resistance for the blacks who fled from slavery. Palmares was in what is known as the Serra da Barriga in the present-day state of Alagoas. The greatest leader of that resistance was Zumbi. The quilombo of Palmares lasted more than one hundred years until it was destroyed and Zumbi was assassinated. Thus began the Black Movement.
During the entire period of slavery in Brazil, which lasted until 1888, there were always occasions on which Africans and Afro-Brazilians born as slaves revolted. In 1835, for example, there was a very important revolt in Bahia, the Revolta dos Malés. Islamic blacks wanted to take power through armed struggle and managed to incite a revolt that was suffocated by the forces of the government and the ruling elite.
After slavery, in the 20th century, we also have important moments for the organization of blacks. A black man, for example, led the fight to put and end to corporal punishment in the armed forces, principally the navy. It was common for sailors to be punished with whippings from their superior officers. João Cândido led a revolt in 1919 that became known as the Revolta da Chibata for the termination of corporal punishment. The sailors mutinied and pointed the ships' cannons at the then capital of the Republic, Rio de Janeiro. The president had to agree to an accord putting an end to corporal punishment although the leaders of the revolt, including João Cândido, were later imprisoned. Some were deported to maximum-security prisons on islands and subjected to various types of torture.
In the 1930s, blacks also organized a political movement known as the Frente Negra Brasileira. This was one of the most important moments in the struggle to organize blacks in Brazil because the Frente Negra Brasileira proposed an elevation of blacks to vie for spaces of power in Brazilian society together with whites. The Frente Negra was perhaps to this day the biggest organization congregating the largest number of blacks, principally in the southwest—São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro—but also in Bahia and elsewhere. In 1935, the government of Getúlio Vargas carried out a coup, installing a dictatorship called the Estado Novo. That dictatorship imposed the end of all social organizations and political parties like the Frente Negra, which had by then formed into a political party. The dictatorship lasted until 1945. [End Page 613]
In the 1950s we also had attempts at organizing national black fronts and then in 1964, there was yet another military coup in Brazil. Again the political parties and social organizations were all closed down and their leaders were imprisoned, persecuted, tortured, killed.
Only in the mid-1970s does the Black Movement resurge with a new face and this time it begins in Bahia—the state with the largest black population in Brazil—with the rise of a cultural group called Ilê Aiyê. In 1974 in Salvador, a group of liberal black professionals created Ilê Aiyê, igniting a struggle for the strengthening of racial identity in Bahia. Beginning with Ilê, which started as a group that paraded during carnival, our largest popular festival, various other similar organizations arose. At the end of the military dictatorship, in around 1979, another group arose in São Paulo that was also very important and had a more political thrust. This was the Movimento Negro Unificado Contra a Discriminação Racial [Unified Black Movement Against Racial Discrimination or "MNU"]. Allying the struggle of the MNU with the cultural struggle of the blocos, of the carnival associations, we have today an entire heritage of blacks who...