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date: 03 March 2021

The Sabinada Rebellionlocked

  • Monica Duarte DantasMonica Duarte DantasInstituto de Estudos Brasileiros, Universidade de São Paulo
  •  and Roberto SabaRoberto SabaSaint Michael's College (USA)

Summary

The Sabinada took place between November 1837 and March 1838 in the city of Salvador, province of Bahia, Empire of Brazil. It was a separatist rebellion organized by men of federalist and republican ideals who opposed the conservative turn of the Regency government, which ruled Brazil from the abdication of Dom Pedro I until 1840, when Dom Pedro II—three and a half years before the legal age of 18—was crowned Emperor. The Sabinada, however, was more than a separatist movement organized by a rogue political group. It brought together a myriad of social tensions that had been brewing in Salvador since colonial times.

Members of the military, who had seen their standing in Brazilian society rapidly deteriorate since the war of independence, found in the Sabinada an opportunity to reclaim a leading position. Middling sectors of Salvador’s society joined in, with hopes that the movement would give them some voice in a political system otherwise dominated by wealthy planters and merchants. The free poor nurtured similar political hopes and, more importantly, rebelled against a highly unequal economic system that left them in dire straits, facing the constant threat of homelessness and starvation. The slaves did not hesitate to jump into the fray, running away from their masters to join the rebel forces and forcing its leaders to break their initial promise that slavery would not be jeopardized. People of color—slave and free—embraced the Sabinada to exterminate some blatant racial inequality existing in 19th-century Bahia. Brazilians of all colors and social ranks took advantage of the situation to carry out vengeance against foreign nationals, especially the Portuguese, who controlled retail commerce in Salvador.

Rebel leaders had to deal with all these different demands at once, and they did so with much improvisation and unexpected turns. Simultaneously, they had to fend off a brutal repression from loyalist authorities and combatants. When the Sabinada exploded, the powerful and rich fled Salvador to Bahia’s sugar-producing region, known as the Recôncavo. There, they received reinforcements from the National Guard and Army battalions from other provinces. Salvador was under siege for most of the rebellion. The rebels had a hard time acquiring the necessary means to wage war and nearly starved to death. When the loyalists finally attacked, they made sure to shed as much rebel blood as possible to make an example. The loyalists killed indiscriminately, burned buildings, suspended civil rights, executed prisoners, and deported rebels. Through this bloodbath, they succeeded in reestablishing the unequal political and social order that had existed in Salvador before.

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