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Although the slave trade to Brazil did not end until 1850, and slavery itself lasted until 1888, the practice of freeing slaves had been common from the time of first colonization by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and the children of freed women were born free. The result was that, by the time of a national census in 1872, there were 4.25 million free blacks and mulattos in the country, accounting for over three quarters of all those of African descent and two fifths of Brazil’s total population. To understand the willingness of Brazilian slave owners to free so many one must first consider the general nature of Brazil’s social structure and the paradigms that ordered it. For most, society was not thought of as being made up of individuals equally protected in their rights and mobile in relationship to one another, but by castes, ranks, corporations, guilds, and brotherhoods, layered one atop another or arranged side by side. Almost everyone could feel superior to someone else, even if inferior to others. The nuanced distinctions of ranks somewhat restrained the threat to social order that free and freed blacks might otherwise have been thought to pose. “Free-and-equal” was not a phrase heard in Brazil. There is overwhelming evidence that race was an important variable affecting one’s position, and discrimination against blacks was widespread and constant. The government reinforced the prejudices of white Brazilians, acquiesced in maintaining a hierarchy based on color, and presented obstacles to the ambitions of free African Brazilians. Civil service positions were usually denied to them, regardless of their qualifications. Recruitment for the army was focused on the poor, that is, on African Brazilians. Yet, it is also true that many individuals found their way around those obstacles and rose to positions of some importance, for skin color was just one of the many characteristics to be considered. There are multiple examples of freeborn mulattos (and some freed and freeborn blacks) who succeeded in 19th-century Brazil. Some became doctors, pharmacists, journalists, and teachers. Others entered politics and rose to positions of real power. A few worked energetically to bring about the end of slavery.

Article

Between 1811 and 1870, policies of gradual abolition of slavery were deployed in Hispanic South America. They consisted of two fundamental measures: the prohibition of the transatlantic slave trade and the enactment of free womb laws that prevented the enslavement of newborn children. These antislavery policies were adopted in contemporary Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay in an implicit and explicit Interamerican and Atlantic dialogue as well as with strong doses of experimentation. The processes also unfolded as the second slavery expanded in Brazil and the Caribbean. A first set of antislavery policies was deployed between 1811 and 1830, and the wave of definitive abolitions occurred mostly in the 1850s. There were exceptions to this periodization with very early examples of complete abolition (such as Chile in 1826) or very late examples of gradual abolition (Paraguay in 1842). In any case, a common feature in these processes was the extension of the dependency of persons of African descent through the creation of different kinds of freedmen’s status, tutelages, or patronatos. Laws declared the right to freedom but established conditions that extended unfree labor and subjection for years and even decades, othering and stigmatizing the free and freed offspring of the African diaspora in Spanish South America.

Article

Rebecca Bodenheimer

On the one hand, Cubans from Havana tend to paint themselves as the quintessential representation of Cubanidad (Cubanness) and often enjoy all the visibility, especially from a global perspective. This trend has become even more pronounced since the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States in December 2014. On the other hand, eastern Cubans often view their culture and history as absolutely crucial to the development and identity of the nation. The central role of Oriente (eastern Cuba) in both the late 19th-century Wars of Independence and the 1959 Cuban Revolution buttresses this alternative discourse. In terms of Cuba’s musical history, Oriente has contributed in major ways to the development of national genres, particularly with son, but also in terms of the 19th-century social dance contradanza and the Haitian influence in popular and folkloric Cuban music. The most recent contribution has been the introduction of reggaeton into the Cuban context by a Santiago-based rapper. In this study of the discourse of eastern Cuban musicians, as well as the work of Cuban and foreign scholars, the centrality of regional traditions to the development of national genres is considered. Unlike hegemonic representations of Cuban musical history, these narratives often foreground the links to and influences from other Caribbean islands, particularly Haiti. This discursive emplacement of eastern Cuba at the center of Cuban musical creativity is clearly a reaction to the common marginalization of the region within the national production of knowledge, represented by scholars from the capital and some foreign researchers. Havana-centric perspectives are counterbalanced by foregrounding those of eastern Cuba.

Article

The relationship between historically specific ideas of race and national identity in Central America between the onset of Spanish colonialism in the region, in about 1500, and the end of the 20th century is very complicated. The relationship is rooted not only in the political economy of the region and subregions that were under Spanish colonialism, but also in Spain’s resistance to incursions of British colonialism in the area, particularly on the North Coast, well into the late 18th century, and in some areas of Central America into the 1850s. The nexus between the political economy of nation-state formation in the postcolonial setting deepened after break of the Federation of Central America in the late 1830s, especially after the rise of coffee and bananas as major regional exports. Independent governments in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica tried to impose “imagined political communities” over these exports that would be different from the colonial identities designed by the Spanish imperialism of the past. In this 20th century context, mestizaje, or ladinizaje, became state sanctioned; it promoted racialized national identities in each of these countries, mostly the idea of ethnicity, albeit with critical regional and subregional differences, particularly between Guatemala and Costa Rica. Historiographies that have been influenced by postmodern sensibilities, particularly critical race theory, the new cultural history, and subaltern studies, have influenced recent understanding of the political economy of race and nationality in Central America.

Article

The state of Bahia and its capital, Salvador, are the original loci of European colonization in the territory that later became Brazil. Together with other cities in the Northeast and along the Brazilian coast, they witnessed the imposition of mercantile capitalism and slave labor as forms of production of a new state and society. In the 21st century, Bahia is a state marked by racial inequality, the poverty of a large part of the population, and state violence, paradoxically associated with the strong presence of traditions of African origin and a rich and dense popular cultural life, as in other parts of the African diaspora. This combination implies certain contradictions experienced in different fields, in the present social structure and in the cultural and political history of the region. This can be seen in the trajectory of carnival, the most important popular festival in the city, and in its successive moments of identity reinvention as well as in the constitution of the city’s landscape, marked by black and African presence in symbolic and material ways. It can also be seen in the historical formation of candomblé, the cult of Yoruban gods in Bahia, developed amid persecutions and disputes. All these dimensions are structured in the expressive cultural forms of a black culture, which has been made and remade by generations of Afro-descendants in this environment marked by inequality, but also by creativity, joy, and aesthetic power.

Article

Several voices inside and outside Brazil define it as a racial democracy—that is, a nation without segregation or rigid boundaries separating the different groups of race and color. This understanding interacts with issues like nationality and a positive image that this nation conveys for itself worldwide as a land of cordiality, happiness, and racial integration. More than origin, personal appearance is the basis of social interactions. Society can identify a continuum of hues of skin color among its individuals who are racially classified according to their social class and the social spaces in which they interact. However, it does not mean that the social prestige assigned to an individual’s skin color is neutral. The literature shows that the pattern of race relations in Brazil is characteristically ambiguous, based on constant racial prejudice and discrimination against the Afro-Brazilian population while systematically denying its existence. As such, Brazil’s individuals have an asymmetrical standard of social acceptance and access to economic, political, and symbolic power, based on their physical features, including their skin color, their hair type, and the shape or size of their lips and nose. Despite methodological complexities, several research pieces from 1990–2020 confirm that a racial hierarchy system exists in Brazil and that racial injustice, violence, and inequality are prevalent. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Brazil has implemented comprehensive social policies to combat poverty and affirmative action policies that target Afro-Brazilian individuals in an effort to improve the quality of the lives of Brazil’s poorest citizens. Nevertheless, these endeavors were not enough to overcome the consequences of a long historical period of slavery, discrimination, and racial injustice.

Article

On November 22, 1910, Rio de Janeiro was convulsed by the four-day Revolta da Chibata (Revolt of the Lash). Approximately half of the predominantly Afro-Brazilian sailors stationed in the nation’s capital—likely fifteen hundred to two thousand men—seized four modern battleships, removed their officers, and besieged the city. They complained of mistreatment, forced recruitment, low pay, and meager food, but their only demand in their first communication to the president was the cessation of corporal punishment in the Brazilian navy. Three of the four ships seized had been recently obtained by the Brazilian government from British shipyards; two were the first all-big-gun dreadnought-class battleships ever sold by the British to any foreign navy. Their 12-inch guns could near-simultaneously launch twelve 850-pound explosive shells at targets miles away, meaning that should they fire almost every part of the Brazilian capital city was under threat. Their second communique to the president demanded an end to the “slavery as practiced in the Brazilian navy.” The institution’s nearly century-long traditions of forced conscription, systematic and ritualized lashing, long-term forced labor, and the conspicuous malnourishment of Afro-Brazilian men tempts comparison to the exploitation of the enslaved in preabolition Brazil, but other than a brief policy of purchase and subsequent freeing of enslaved men to serve in the armed forces during the Paraguayan War (1864–1870), naval service did not draw on the exploitation of the enslaved. Instead, it conscripted Brazil’s free Afro-descendant population; citizens who represented a 47 percent plurality of Brazil’s population, larger than either the free white or enslaved Black populations at the time of Brazil’s first national census in 1872. The Brazilian navy was just one part in a series of institutions and legislative controls created and used to control Brazil’s free Afro-Brazilian population both before and after abolition in 1888. The freedom and citizenship of free Black men, women, and children was often ephemeral and regulated. Although Brazil lacked institutionalized racial segregation such as apartheid or Jim Crow, controls such as restriction on land ownership, police policies, military conscription, the manipulation of orphans, forced apprenticeship, and incarceration were implemented in such racialized ways that the overall outcome for Afro-Brazilians was similar. The navy’s acquisition of cutting-edge weapons of war created an opportunity for powerless Afro-descendant men to challenge the generally unacknowledged state systems of racial oppression and hierarchy.

Article

Communities of runaway slaves, more commonly known as “Maroon communities,” were created throughout the Americas. Enslaved people ran away from their owners all the time, often just for a few days, but some decided never to return to slavery and instead found permanent (or semi-permanent) refuge from the harsh life on the plantations in swamps, jungles, forests, and mountains. Sometimes in very small groups of less than ten people, but more usually in much larger numbers, maroon communities attempted to live independently, free from white interference. White responses to maroon communities varied over time and included military assaults and peace treaties.

Article

Since the beginning of the colonial period, slavery was an important factor in the constitution of international relations between the Portuguese Empire and the other empires and states in the Atlantic world. In the 15th century, Portuguese merchants sold enslaved Africans from West Africa, initially to Europe and afterwards to the Americas, opening commercial and diplomatic relations that lasted for centuries and would be responsible for the establishment of the largest commercial venture in the Atlantic world in the early modern period. With the independence of Brazil, slavery—and the debate about the prohibition of the Atlantic trade of enslaved Africans—came to be the central element in negotiations of diplomatic relations between the country and other nations, notably Great Britain and the republics of the La Plata River region. Indeed, slavery remained a core issue at least until the end of the Paraguayan War in 1870, when growing international isolation, resulting from the ongoing presence of slavery in Brazil, opened the final crisis of the empire.

Article

Between the arrival of Columbus and the last slave voyage to Cuba in the 1860s, over 12 million enslaved Africans were carried and sold in the Americas. Brazil received almost half of all these captives, most of them during the colonial period. An efficient slave-trading system allowed slavery to become a major force in the development of Portuguese America. The institution became pervasive throughout the colony in the three centuries comprising the colonial era, with important differences across time and space. Some of the major exports produced by African slaves in Brazil, such as sugar, tobacco, and gold, had various global impacts. They also stimulated important domestic developments, such as the creation of internal markets and the growth of cities like Salvador and Rio de Janeiro, with African slaves playing essential roles everywhere. Moreover, the history of African slavery became intertwined with the history of native Brazilians in peculiar ways.

Article

In the past, scholars of Latin America often assumed that Spanish colonists abandoned the Caribbean for the bullion riches of Mexico and Peru almost immediately after their conquest, while many Caribbeanists have imagined that Barbados, colonized by the British in the mid-1600s, was the “first black slave society.” Yet, in fact, more than a century earlier in the colony of Santo Domingo (then officially known as la Isla Española or simply la Española), European colonists built the first major American plantation economy and society made up mostly of enslaved people. Those held in chains on the island reached into the tens of thousands by the mid-1500s, and Santo Domingo became a pivotal crossroads in the early modern Atlantic. At first the enslaved population included thousands of people the Spanish called “Indians,” taken from other parts of the Caribbean and the Americas, and even an occasional enslaved person of European (Orthodox Christian or Muslim) descent. But after the mid-1500s slavery in Santo Domingo became isolated to people of African descent. This contrasted with the preexisting demography of slavery in southern Europe, where the enslaved were of more diverse geographic origins. Santo Domingo thus initiated a trajectory of racial and plantation slavery whose contours would shape the course of history in the Americas overall. Santo Domingo’s slave-based economy would also, though, be the first to collapse, at the end of the 16th century, partly because of sustained resistance by the enslaved—their continual escape and rebellion—that was costly for planters. The enslaved had composed most of society in the prior century. Now the majority were escaped and, to a lesser extent, freed slaves, living with substantial autonomy as independent peasants dispersed across the countryside. These themes are illuminated through an exploration of one of the earliest freedom suits in the Americas. This suit was won on appeal in Santo Domingo in 1531 through remarkable transatlantic collaboration by family members and sailors as well as through the evident power of notarized documents in the Spanish Empire.

Article

Despite moral criticism of the institution of slavery from the second half of the 18th century, slavery, racism, and liberalism would be mutually defined throughout the 19th century. The slave economy in the Americas grew in the 19th century as a result of the expansion of the world market, sustained by constitutional states, including two national ones: the Brazilian Empire, a constitutional monarchy, and the United States, a republic. In these national states, representative systems would shape the legitimacy of the institution of slavery, relating the adoption of citizenship rights to processes of racialization. In Brazil’s late colonial period, more than one-half of the free population was defined as “black” or “brown,” and manumission rates were as high as 1 percent per year. Under Portuguese colonial rule, this population of color was denied access to public offices and ecclesiastical positions, but allowed to own slaves. The rallying cry of “equality for people of all colors” served as a cornerstone of popular nationalism in the liberal uprisings of the late Brazilian colonial period. Popular liberalism also called for the passage of laws that would recognize the Brazilian-born sons and daughters of enslaved people as free persons. After independence, the Brazilian Empire experienced more than twenty years of political struggles and localized civil wars around the construction of representative political institutions. The Brazilian coffee production boom inaugurated in 1830, allowed the consolidation of the monarchical order in Brazil with the rise to power of a conservative party, the Party of Order, in 1837. From 1837 to 1853, this conservative party consolidated a slave-based national identity. During these years of conservative pro-slavery leadership, political strategies to legitimate the continuation of the Atlantic slave trade were developed and illegal enslavement was tolerated and even encouraged. Liberalism, race, and slavery shaped the history of the Atlantic world in a very interconnected way. Despite the non-race-based legitimation of slavery in a Catholic and constitutional monarchy, race was a central issue in 19th-century monarchical Brazil. Slavery was legitimated as a historical institution in the Brazilian Constitution of 1824 in the right to own property. The same constitution guaranteed civil rights to the freedmen born in the country and their descendants, denying, however, Brazilian citizenship for free Africans and political citizenship to former slaves born in Brazil. Eventually, after the end of the transatlantic slave trade in 1850, the state bureaucracy adopted a norm of racial silence for the free population, racializing slave experience and reinforcing the precariousness of freedom of the Brazilian citizens of African descent. These practices shaped crucial aspects of structural racism still present in 21st-century Brazilian society.

Article

Martha Abreu and Eric Brasil

Carnival is one of the most powerful images of Brazil in the contemporary world, a party marketed by tourism agencies as a unique spectacle, filled with rhythm, humor, fun, and free spirits that brings the entire population together, marked by infectious joy, sensuality, and irresistible samba. This perception of the party, however, is far from its history since colonial times. While Carnival has always been present in large cities and small towns from one end of Brazil to the other, it has taken many forms and included many sounds, meanings, traditions, and social subjects. To understand the history of Carnival in Brazil, one must take another approach: the celebration of Carnival as an expression of many differences, a variety of forms, and numerous conflicts. For many years, interpretations viewed Carnival as a space in which Brazilians come together to celebrate commonly held cultural traditions or as an effective escape valve allowing common people to forget the woes of everyday life. More recently, historians and anthropologists have studied Carnival celebrations as windows that offer a glimpse of the tensions, rivalries, and alliances of an entire year, brought to the fore, magnified and played out in public on the festival days. Whether through masks, costumes, and individual hijinks or through Carnival associations, various social groups have taken advantage of Carnival in various historical contexts of Brazilian society to assert their identity and take action on various political projects that aim to transform (or subvert) current reality and debate the very history of Brazil. The study of the history of Brazilian Carnival, or rather Carnivals, thus provides an innovative and original epistemological approach to understanding social transformations and the meanings of Carnival revelers’ political actions at various times in history, whether they be members of the economic and intellectual elite or urban workers, enslaved people, freed people, and free people. The article prioritizes the period between the late 19th century and the early 20th century, when Carnivals came to more closely resemble their modern form through intense disputes between those who sought to civilize the festivities and revelers who sought to act out their traditions and customs. The history of Carnival the article intends to tell engages in intense dialogue with struggles for black people’s citizenship before and after the abolition of slavery, stretching into the second half of the 20th century, when Samba Schools emerged as one of the principal features of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and, by extension, throughout Brazil.

Article

Nicole von Germeten

The European ideas associated with witchcraft came to the Americas as a multipronged weapon of imperialism, a conception of non-Christian beliefs not as separate worldviews but as manifestations of evil and the reigning power of the devil over Indigenous peoples and, slightly later, African slaves and free people of African origins or heritage. To create this imperialist concept, colonizers drew from a late medieval demonological literature that defined witchcraft as ways of influencing one’s fate through a pact with the devil and the ritual of witches’ sabbaths. Through the court structure of the Holy Offices of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, Iberian imperialists set up judicial processes that they designed to elicit confessions from their colonial subjects regarding their involvement in what was labeled witchcraft and witches’ sabbaths, but which was most likely either non-European beliefs and practices, or even popular European ideas of healing. Archival documents from the Holy Office fueled Europeans’ vision of themselves as on the side of cosmic good as well as providing some details regarding popular practices such as divination and love magic. Whatever ethnographic details emerge from this documentation, the use of the terminology of witchcraft always signals an imperialistic lens.