Slavery in Brazil

Brazilian slavery
Figure 1.--Foreign non-Brazilian artists like Rugendas and Debret traveling in Brazil in the early-19 century provide some of the most accuate and detailed images of Brazilian slavery. This painting was the work of French painter Jean-Baptiste Debret. He was part of a French 'civilizing' missdion. He began by painting portraits of members of the Brazilian Imperial family, but soon became concerned with everyday life in the colony, especially slavery. He spent 15 years in Brazil (1816-31) and when he returned to France his paintings became a major source of information on slavery in Brazil throughout Europe. The domestic scene here was probably painted in the 1820s. It depicts an affluent family in Rio de Janeiro. They are giving morsels to slave children as one might give a pet.

Brazil developed the largest slave population in the world, substantially larger than the United States. The Portuguese who settled Brazil needed labor if they were to develop large estates and mines in their new Brazilian colony. They turned to slavery which became central to the colonial economy. Landless Portugese peasants did not emigrate to Brazil in large numbers. Prices varied substantially. Miners needed men who were healthy, young and strong and were prepared to pay the highest prices. Brazil had begun to turn to slavery in the 15th century as explorers began moving along the coast of Africa. With the discovery of the Americas, the Portuguese attempted to enslave the Native American population as well. This did not prove successful. The Native Americans died in large numbers, both because of slave rading, mistreatment, and the lack of resistance to European diseases. The Portuguese found captured Africans to be a valuable trading commodity as Europeans began to settle the Caribbean islands. They also began transporting Africans to their Brazilian colony. Slavery became particularly important in the mining and sugar cane sectors. Slavery was also the mainstay in the Caribbean islands with economies centered on sugar. Estimates suggest that about 35 percent of captured Africans involved in the Atlantic slave trade were transported to Brazil. Estimates suggest that more than 3 million Africans reached Brazil, although precise numbers do not exist. Africans were delivered to the major ports (Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife and São Luis). Here they were held in a shack until they were sold. Portuguese Prime Minister Marquês de Pombal abolished slavery in Portugal (February 12, 1761). The Portuguese action, however, did not address slavery in the colonies. Slavery was widely practiced. Brazilians of all classes owned slaves. Slaves were not only owned by upper and middle class Brazilians, but also by lower class Brazilians. There were even slaves who owned other slaves. Unlike slavery in the rest of the Americas. slaves were not restricted to manual labor on plantations. The small Portuguese population meant that here were openings for urban occupations, including some that were skilled and evem managerial. The limited Portuguese female population meant that there an extensive mulatto population developed. And light-skinned men had condiderable lattitude for upward mobility. And slave women could advance through relations with Portuguese/Brazilian men. Potuguese society was much more open to this than United States society.

The Portuguese and the African Slave Trade

The Portuguese begun to turn to African slavery in the 15th century as explorers began moving along the coast of Africa.

Native Americans

With the discovery of the Americas, the Portuguese attempted to enslave the Native American population. There is a debate among historians as to the population of the Amazonian native Americans. Some believe that the Hative Americans in the Amazon basin was much more substantial than earlier believed and they had developed a sophisticated agricultural system. There is no disagreement as to the Portuguese effort to enslave the native American people. After the original Conquistadores, the enslavement effort was conducted by the Bandeirantes. These were adventurers operating from São Paulo. Most were of mixed Portuguese-Native American origins. They moved into the interior to find Native Americans they could capture and enslave. As there were no roads, they operated along rivers, including the Amazon and its tributaries, attacking villages, killing those who resisted and enslaving those they could capture. The result was that large areas of the Amazon were depoulated. Here disease was another major factor. Some authors now believe that the Native Americans moved away from the major rivers and adopted more primitive life style less dependant on agriculture. This is one reason why many modern authors concluded that the original Native American population of the Amazon was small. The Jesuits in the south and in Paraguay organized the Guarani along military lines into missions called Reductions which were able to fight off the Bandeirantes. Here in addition to protectging the Native Anericans there was an ekement of Portuguese-Spanish rivalry. Antônio Raposo Tavares organized a bandeira force consisting of 2,000 allied Native Americans, 900 mestizos (called Mamluks at the time) and 69 white Paulistanos (1628). They set out to find gold and other precious metals and stones as well as to capture Native Americans to enslave. The Raposo expedition found little gold, but they attacked destroyed most of the Jesuit missions in Spanish Guairá and enslaved and estimated 60,000 of the Guaria. The Native Americans, however, did not solve the Portuguese need for labor. The enslaved native Americans, as in the Caribbean, died in large numbers, the victim of both maltreatment and European diseases.

Africans

The Portuguese found captured Africans to be a valuable trading commodity as Europeans began to settle the Caribbean islands. They also began transporting Africans to their Brazilian colony. They were less suseptable for genetic reasons to both tropical and European diseases. Africans from various regions were transported to Brazil from various regions in increasingly large numbers as the colony developed. Large numbers came from the developing Portuguese colonies in Africa, but were not limited to those regions. Ther were slaves from both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coast. Atkantic-coast slaves came from Cape Vert (a transhipment point) and southern Africa such as Angola. Slaves also campe from the Indian Ocean coast, especially Mozambique. Of course many slaves came from the interior and and were only shipped from the two coadts.

Portuguese Peasantry

Landless Portugese peasants did not emigrate to Brazil in large numbers.

Economic Sectors

Slavery in Brazil is strongly associated withb plantation agriculture, especially the sugar industry. Slavery became particularly important in the mining and sugar cane sectors. use the working conditions in both sectors were not conusive for free labor. The sugar industry was the most important at it was here that most of Brazil's slaves were employed. Slavery was also the mainstay in the Caribbean islands with economies centered on sugar. The Portuguese who settled Brazil needed labor if they were to develop large estates and mines in their new Brazilian colony. They turned to sugar and slavery which became central to the colonial economy. Slaves were set to the back-breaking task of digging large trenches using hoes. They then planted the cane in the trenches and used bare hands to spread manure for fertilizer. Cutting the matured can was another major effort requiring manual labor. Brazil became the world's largest producer of sugar. The sugar industry began on the Caribbean islands. The Dutch helped bring it to Brazil. Eventually the huge Brazilian estates increased production to the point that it brought down sugar prives, affected the profitability of production on the Caribbean sugar islands. Some Brazilian planters began to turmn tp coffee (1830s). This was at the time of the Great Bahia Slave Revolt (1835). It was at the very last phase of slavery in Brazil as pressure from abroad was beginning to move Brazil toward emancipation. Rubber plantations appeared in the late-19th century. By this time, Brazil had ended slavery. Native Americans, however, experienced slave-like conditions a msany of these plantations.

Economics

The economics of slavery in Brazil were extreemely beneficial for the slave owners. Estimates suggest that an adult slave could repay the cost of purchase in 2-3 years. Plantation owners, mostly producing sugar, could thus make huge profits. The exceedingly difficult labor involved in growing sugar cane meant that it was difficult to attract free labor. Prices for slaves varied substantially. Miners needed men who were healthy, young and strong and were prepared to pay the highest prices.

Extent

Brazil developed the largest slave population in the world, substantially larger than the United States. While there are no precises statistics on the domensions of tghe slave trade, historians have addressed the subject. Estimates suggest that about 35 percent of captured Africans involved in the Atlantic slave trade were transported to Brazil. Estimates suggest that more anout 3.6 million Africans reached Brazil. Most arrived as the colony developed in the 18th century and during the Empire (19th century). Unlike most other South Amerian countries, slavery and the import of slaves did not end with independence. One of the most accepted estimates suggest that the slave trade transports involved: 16th century (0.1 million), 17th century (0.6 million), 18th century (1.3 million), and 19th century (1.6 million). [Taunay] The dimensions of 19th century transports are particularly notable because at the time the British effort to end the slave trade was active. The effiort was largely conducted by the British Royal Navy which was actively attempting to supress the slave trade. The lack of cooperation from Portuguese colonial authorities in Africa and authorities in Brazil as well as the relstively short routes made the Royal Navy's efforts particularly difficult.

Ports of Entry

Africans were delivered to the major ports (Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife and São Luis). Here they were held in a shack until they were sold.

Slavery Abolished in Portugal (1761)

Portuguese Prime Minister Marquês de Pombal abolished slavery in Portugal (February 12, 1761). The Portuguese action, however, did not address slavery in the colonies.

Ownership

Slavery was widely practiced. Brazilians of all classes owned slaves. Slaves were not only owned by upper and middle class Brazilians, but also by lower class Brazilians. There were even slaves who owned other slaves. Unlike slavery in the rest of the Americas. slaves were not restricted to manual labor on plantations.

Urban Slavery

The small Portuguese population meant that here were openings for urban occupations, including some that were skilled and evem managerial.

Inter-marriage

The limited Portuguese female population meant that there an extensive mulatto population developed. And light-skinned men had condiderable lattitude for upward mobility. And slave women could advance through relations with Portuguese/Brazilian men. Potuguese society was much more open to this than United States society.

Clothing

We do not yet have much information on how Brazilian slaves were dressed. For that matter we do not yet have much information on historic Brazilian clothing in general. Much of Brazil is located in the tropics which affects clothing. Based on available drawings, it looks like many Brazilian children went naked. We do not have details as to age and gender. This was surely most prevalent on plantations and in rural areas. This also occurred in the United States, at least on southern plantations. We suspedct it was more pronounced in Brazil for climatic and cultural reasons. It also appears tghat many Brazilian slave women did not cover their breasts. Again this seems more pronounced on plantations than the cities. As far as we know, this was not the case in the United States. Most images we have seen suggest that slaves generally went barefoot.

Sources

Taunay, Carlos Augusto. Manual do agricultor brasileiro (São Paulo : Companhia das Letras, 2001).






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Created: 6:11 PM 10/24/2010
Last updated: 5:08 PM 10/25/2010