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Existing in the 16th and 17th centuries and located in the captaincy of Pernambuco, in the Northeast of Brazil, the quilombo of Palmares was one of most vigorous and complex societies formed by fugitive slaves in the Americas. Its size, longevity, and the intensity of the war that marked its collapse in 1694 can only be compared to events of a similar nature that took place in Jamaica and Suriname, the Maroon War (1728–1739) and the Saramaka War (1749–1762), respectively. While these were concluded in peace treaties between colonial governments and fugitive slaves, Palmares had a different outcome. Its historic dynamics were associated with three interdependent dimensions. The first refers to the formation and social dimension of both the plantation economy and the traffic of African slaves to Brazil, which explains the nature, social existence, and density of social groups who formed and maintained Palmares quilombo for more than a century. The second dimension is related to the transformations over successive generations of its institutions and balance of power, from which there resulted a political structure based on lineage and the African concept of rights-in-persons. The third dimension is related to the relations of power between the leaders of Palmares and agents of the Portuguese monarchy, who sought to undermine that political structure and to take advantage of the tensions between the lineages existing in the quilombo.

Article

The Portuguese took sugarcane from their Atlantic island holdings to Brazil in the first decades of the 16th century, using their model of extensive agriculture and coerced labor to turn their new colony into the world’s largest producer of sugar. From the middle of the 17th century through the 20th century, Brazil faced increasing competition from Caribbean producers. With access to abundant land and forest resources, Brazilian producers generally pursued an extensive production model that made sugarcane’s footprint a large one. Compared to competitors elsewhere, Brazilian farmers were often late in adopting innovations (such as manuring in the 18th century, steam power in the 19th, and synthetic fertilizers in the 20th). With coffee’s growth in the center-south of the country during the middle of the 19th century, sugarcane farming shifted gradually away from enslaved African labor. Labor and production methods shifted at the end of the century with slavery’s abolition and the rise of large new mills, called usinas. The model of steam-powered production, both for railroads carrying cane and for mills grinding it, and a work force largely resident on plantations persisted into the mid-20th century. Rural worker unions were legalized in the 1960s, at the same time that sugar production increased as a result of the Cuban Revolution. A large-scale sugarcane ethanol program in the 1970s also brought upheaval, and growth, to the industry.