Black History in Brazil

What do you know about black history in Brazil? Explore the history, struggles and achievements of Black Brazil.

By Google Arts & Culture

Discovery of Brazil (1887) by Aurélio de FigueiredoMuseu Histórico Nacional

Black History in Brazil, like in many other countries in the Americas, dates back to arrival of the Portuguese colonizers in the 16th century.

Slaver of Rio by Biblioteca NacionalMuseu do Amanhã

The exact number of Africans enslaved and brought here is not known, but it varies between an estimate of four to five million, from the years of 1539 to 1888.

Newspaper: "Diário Popular" - Lei Áurea (1888-05-14) by Américo de Campos (editor in charge)Afro Brasil Museum

The Eusébio de Queirós Law, enacted on September 4, 1850, prohibited the slave trade, however, it continued to exist illegally until the actual abolition of slavery in 1888. Which, in turn, made the task of defining the numbers of enslaved Africans arriving in Brazil impossible.

Newspaper: Le Petit Journal - Supplément Illustré Newspaper: Le Petit Journal - Supplément IllustréAfro Brasil Museum

It is also known that the enslaved African men and women come from three major ethnic groups. The so-called Bantos, the Yoruba and the Fons peoples, coming from different regions, which today correspond to the current African countries of Angola, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Togo, Benin and Nigeria.

African Slave - Nagô (1864) by José Christiano de Freitas Henriques JuniorMuseu Histórico Nacional

In Brazil, these ethnic groups received different names, often related to the ports of origin of the slave ships, geographic regions or to names given by other ethnic groups also African, such as the “Nagô” nomenclature used to refer to the Yoruba.

Slaver of Rio by Biblioteca NacionalMuseu do Amanhã

Jejes, Mozambiques, Angolas, Congos, Benguelas, Minas, Monjolos and Cabindas are other examples of this variety of nominations.

African Slave – Mina (1864) by José Christiano de Freitas Henriques JuniorMuseu Histórico Nacional

African Slave - Monjolo (1864) by José Christiano de Freitas Henriques JuniorMuseu Histórico Nacional

African Slave - Mozambique Nation (1864) by José Christiano de Freitas Henriques JuniorMuseu Histórico Nacional

Over the centuries when slavery persisted as an economic system, innumerable forms of resistance were registered, with quilombos, settlements built by escaped enslaved Africans, being the most well-known organizations in this context.

Untitled UntitledAfro Brasil Museum

However, other movements also represented forms of resistance to slavery, such as black brotherhoods and sisterhoods, and abolitionist clubs. There were in addition to individual and collective resistances, cultural practices, arts and religious communities, whether syncretic or not.

Rio Carnival - Samba School Parade (1972) by Bill RayLIFE Photo Collection

In the post-abolitionist period, the main mark of resistance initially came from the organization of black social clubs, samba schools, newspapers and political and social organizations.

Samba school (1950 circa) by José Medeiros Instituto Moreira Salles

Carnival parade. Rio Branco Avenue, Downtown (1960) by Marcel Gautherot Instituto Moreira Salles

"Unidos do Cabuçu" Samba School Rehearsal (1958 circa) by Marcel Gautherot Instituto Moreira Salles

LIFE Photo Collection

As of the second half of the twentieth century, the international political situation exerts a great influence on black political, cultural and artistic resistance movements. Thus, specifically, the contexts of civil rights struggles in the United States and the processes of independence and decolonization in African countries leave their mark on black Brazilian movements.

It is in this context that great names of contemporary black resistance are born in Brazil, in cultural and political terms, such as the famous groups Olodum and Ilê Aiyê in Salvador, Bahia, in 1974 and 1979. And the MNU - Unified Black Movement, founded in São Paulo in 1978.

Shop in Valongo's Street (1835 - 1835) by Jean Baptiste Debret (del.); Thierry Frères (lith.)Museu Imperial

And it is in this context also that the first challenges of the infamous myth of Brazilian racial democracy take place, as well as the first discussions and debates around the point that for a moment became central in racial discussions in Brazil: celebrating May 13 or the 20th of November?

The Day the Golden Law was signed at Paço Imperial (1888-05-13) by Ferreira, Antonio Luiz Instituto Moreira Salles

May 13th (1888) was the date when the Golden Law, the law of abolition slavery in Brazil, was signed.

Celebrating Black History on this date has been widely criticized because, despite the end of slavery, black people remained marginalized and considered second class citizens.

In turn, November 20 represents a date as opposed to May 13, punctuated as Black Consciousness Day. The date refers to a tribute to Zumbi dos Palmares, a pioneer in the resistance of slavey, murdered on November 20, 1695.

The date is currently celebrated by six states (Alagoas, Amazonas, Amapá, Mato Grosso, Rio de Janeiro e Maranhão) and in 106 cities.

Credits: Story

This text was developed by the historian Douglas Araújo for Google Arts & Culture.

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