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Brazil has the largest black population outside Africa and prides itself
on being a ˜racial democracy'. But as Lourdes Teodoro reports, 300 years
of slavery has left a legacy of deep-seated racism.

Portuguese colonists brought the first African slaves to Brazil in 1549, a mere 50 years after Columbus launched the Spanish assault on Latin America. Yorubas, Adjas, Fons and other Africans from the ˜Gold Coast' were brought to cut cane, pan for gold, build churches and construct roads. Before the trade in black flesh ended 350 years later nearly eight million slaves had been shipped to Brazil. Thanks to their labour the huge nation flourished and became a prosperous colony.

Slavery was finally abolished in 1888. And today racism is banned by the Constitution and punishable by imprisonment. However black people in Brazil are far from having their human rights respected: violent racist attacks are an everyday event. The majority of 595 ˜suspects' shot dead by São Paulo police in 1990 - allegedly in self-defence - were black. So too were most of nearly 500 teenage ˜street children' blown to pieces by ˜extermination gangs' in the state of Rio in 1990. And many of the 1700 people killed because of land disputes since 1964 have been black, including peasant union leader Ribeiro de Souza.

Racism in Brazil is hard to prove because the myth of racial democracy is carefully cultivated - but take a look around. Only a handful of the 503 members of Congress are black; two out of 23 state governors are black; there are no black ambassadors. And the only Afro-Brazilians you see in Brasilia's government buildings are serving coffee, mopping floors or chauffeuring around white Brazilian bureaucrats.

Black invisibility begins in school where virtually all books are written by white authors. The only mention that black children hear of their ancestors is as anonymous slaves freed by Princess Isabel in 1888. No wonder that the lure of wages and family poverty inclines many children to go out to work; only six per cent of black children make secondary school.

Poor education leads to badly paid jobs. Almost half of Brazilian blacks take home less than the minimum wage of $80 a month; a larger proportion of black women take home less. Even when they do have the training and experience for better paid work, the dice is loaded against black people. Many advertisements demand a ˜good appearance' - a not-so-subtle shorthand for ˜black women need not apply'. And certain jobs are no-go areas. In Rio for example, there are said to be only five black waiters - white diners do not want to be served by black hands.

Most destructive of all to black self-esteem has been the ideology of branqueamento or ˜whitening'. This theory was dreamed up in the 1920s to stop Brazil becoming a predominantly black country. White immigration from Europe was encouraged to stem the black tide. ˜The black in Brazil will disappear within 70 years, said one congressman in 1923. Others like author Afranio Peixoto wrote: ˜In 200 years the black eclipse will have passed entirely'.

In 1945 the country's immigration policy declared the need to ˜develop within the country's ethnic composition the most convenient characteristics of its European descent'. And a 1966 Foreign Ministry leaflet guaranteed that the Brazilian population was white, with a minute proportion of the population being of mixed blood. As recently as 1988, an advisor to then São Paulo governor, Paulo Maluf, proposed a national birth control campaign aimed at blacks, mixed bloods and Indians, to prevent them from becoming a majority.

Indeed, black activists say that mass sterilization campaigns run by private groups in Brazil target Afro-Brazilian women precisely for this reason. When South African black leader Nelson Mandela visited recently he was handed a document claiming that 20 million black Brazilian women have been sterilized.

This ˜whiter than white' ideology is all pervasive. For example, the 1980 census required blacks to fit themselves into one of 136 colour categories - including ˜burnt white', ˜toasted' and ˜cinnamon'. There has been some progress in the last decade. The 1991 census reduced the options to five - white, black, pardo (mixed race), Asiatic or Indian. Brazil's black movement (which has been growing since the independence of African countries in the 1960s and 70s) played a vanguard role in suggesting that anyone with black genes should identify themselves as black. Mulato voce e' negro - ˜if you are mulato, you are black' was their slogan.

In the most recent census one of the key black advocacy groups adopted a more ambiguous stance with posters showing three people of different shades of blackness under the slogan ˜Don't let your colour go unregistered'. Although in Portuguese this is a clever pun, for some it was needlessly confusing, helping whites to maintain divisions among blacks.

Whites in power have tried every tactic they can think of to keep themselves in the majority. But blacks have the satisfaction of knowing they have achieved one victory at least: despite the difficulties of classification, the 1980 census showed that 45 per cent of the Brazilian population was black. Results of the most recent census will almost certainly show that blacks are now the majority.

Lourdes Teodoro is an Afro-Brazilian sociologist. She lives in Brasilia. The article was translated by Jan Recha.
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History of Brazil

Brazil, of course, was 'discovered" by Cabral in 1500, and claimed by the Portuguese. While parts of Brazil were ruled at different times by the Dutch, French and Spanish, its history is significantly tied to Portugal. And to the Catholic Church. This, obviously, differs from our history of English Colonial power, Northern European immigrants, and the protestant religion.

However, like the US, Brazil had a large slave population, and later encouraged significant number of immigrants from Italy, Japan, and the Middle East. "When Brazil was discovered in 1500 it was inhabited by 2.4 million Amerindians. Since then, 4 million African slaves and 6 million Europeans immigrated to the country (Carvalho-Silva et al, 2000).

"Portuguese and Italian immigrants arrived in almost equal numbers"”comprising about 70 percent of the total, followed by immigrants from Spain, Germany, Syria, Lebanon and Japan" (Carvalho-Silva et al, 2000). Between 1822 and 1889, Brazil was an empire. Slaves were officially freed in 1888.

According to Dr Pena, the Portuguese have "a strange relationship with color" (personal communication, 2003). Portugal, of course, is a Southern European country close to Africa, with cultural and genetic ties to the Moors and others from North Africa. Many in Northern Europe considered the Spanish, Portuguese and Italians to be darker"”and less pure"”than them.

Further, the original settlers of Brazil officially encouraged relationships between Portuguese and"”first with the Indians, then blacks (Carvalho-Silver et al, 2000). And, while there were specific rules and laws established to maintain segregation, these laws were continually broken, much like the fact that people today, in a country that is over 90 percent Catholic, accept divorce, which is legal in Brazil. This is what Brazilians call 'dar um jeitinho'"”to find a solution or way out of a specific situation.

For example, one of the chief tourist attractions in the small, colonial mining town of Diamantina, in the state of Minas Gerais, is the house of Xica da Silva. She was the black mistress of a wealthy Portuguese diamond miner sent by the Portuguese to keep order in the rich diamond district"”including moral order. He was so taken by her that he built her a large house, and a church"”with a steeple at the back so that she could walk into the church without violating a law against blacks walking under a church steeple"”a classic case of 'jeitinho'. He also built for his mistress a boat and a large lake on which to sail it, because she wanted a boat but Diamantina is inland (M.L. Meira, 2003, personal communication).

As a result of this acceptance of interracial mating, many Brazilians see themselves as multiracial (from 40-60 percent, depending on who you talk to). Brazilians form one of the most heterogeneous populations in the world, and, according to Parra et al, (2003), Brazilians constitute a trihybrid population with European, African and Amerindian roots. Further, today's white Brazilians have much more nonwhite genetic makeup than even Portuguese whites living in Europe, and Brazilian blacks and Amerindians have more non-black and non-Indian genes than blacks in Africa and original Amerindian tribes (Parra et al 2003).

| Francis Wardle's essay vents his concerns with "Brazil and the Yankee Way of Being Black"
I've never been to Brazil but people I've talked to have said there is racial inequality there. The pictures you often see are of the Rio and the many beaches but from what I've heard, once you get behind the scenes you see a totally different picture. A picture of crime, disease and people surviving anyway they can.
If the conditions are as bad as I have heard, is there a connection between what you have discussed or do the conditions exist b/c South America is still a third world country?


African Slaves' Plant Knowledge Vanishing in Brazil

John Roach
for National Geographic News
April 6, 2004

When Angela Leony visited the town of Lençóis in northeastern Brazil 18 years ago, she was unable to conceive. Yearning for a child, she went to see Dona Senhorinha, an elder healer.

Senhorinha told Leony the problem might be solved by drinking tea made from Estradeira-vermelha, a native pea plant with a bright red flower known for its ability to start the menstrual cycle and facilitate pregnancy.

Today Leony has an 18-year-old daughter.

Senhorinha's ancestors were African slaves. In Brazil, Senhorinha is one of many elders of such descent who retain a deep understanding and belief in the healing and spiritual powers of South American plants. That cultural heritage is the focus of an ongoing study by Robert Voeks, a professor of geography at California State University, Fullerton.

Voeks says Africans had highly evolved, plant-based spiritual and healing traditions before they were brought to Brazil as slaves. Once in South America they adapted their traditions to the New World environment.

Africans were the only immigrants in the New World with tropical farming experience, notes Judith Carney, a geography professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an expert on the traditional plant knowledge of Africans. This botanical knowledge allowed them to grow food for the colonial economy and eased their survival when they escaped from slavery.

With the support of the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration, Voeks is studying the Afro-Brazilians' relationship with the South American plant world and documenting how quickly this way of life is disappearing.

Afro-Brazilian Knowledge

Voeks has focused his research on an Afro-Brazilian community on the outskirts of the Chapada Diamantina (Diamond Highlands) National Park, which lies about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) north of Rio de Janeiro.

Afro-Brazilian slaves and free blacks alike descended on the region in the mid-19th century to mine diamonds from the lush landscape. Though the discovery of richer diamond deposits in South Africa effectively ended the Brazilian boom by 1880, many of the Afro-Brazilians stayed behind.

Today the local economy depends mostly on tourists who come to admire and frolic in the park's mesas, canyons, rivers, and waterfalls.

Voeks said he was drawn to the region, in part, by his belief that many academic colleagues specializing in the study of cultural plant lore, or ethnobotany, overlooked Afro-Brazilian folkways.

With the help of a few locals, Voeks established a baseline of 45 known medicinal plants. He then questioned a group of local Afro-Brazilians about the plants and their medicinal properties.

Among other insights, Voeks found that Afro-Brazilian elders, especially illiterate women over the age of 50, retain a wealth of knowledge about the medicinal properties of local plants.

The finding refutes the perception held by some scholars that the "immigrant" status of 19th-century Afro-Brazilians precluded them from sufficiently learning how to incorporate the local flora into their daily lives.

"It is intuitive that someone arriving in the South American rain forest isn't going to have the same mastery (of the local plants) as an indigenous group," Voeks said. "But people have the same requirements and the same needs in any rural folk society."

Afro-Brazilians drew from their African traditional plant knowledge. They also incorporated insights from indigenous populations who were also enslaved. In doing so, they established a knowledge of South American plants that continues today, Voeks said.

Disappearing Knowledge?

Voeks reports that Afro-Brazilian youth share very little of this ethnobotanical knowledge with their elders, a phenomenon he says is seen in many other rural societies that have traditional cultural relationships with plant life.

Voeks attributes this loss to formal education. "In a way, being proficient in this sort of (traditional) knowledge connects the young to a perceived backward history that they are keen to distance themselves from," Voeks said.

He noted, for example, that knowledge of how a plant can be used to cure diarrhea may seem irrelevant to some.

Voeks says that unless ethnobotanical knowledge is more widely recognized and steps are taken for its preservation among Afro-Brazilians, it may disappear.

"My sense is that the lion's share of ethnobotanical knowledge will be lost during the coming generation," Voeks said.

Judith Carney, the UCLA ethnobotanist, says that efforts to preserve Afro-Brazilian knowledge are important, particularly in educational settings.

"Brazil's recent emphasis on teaching about African history in primary school is a step in the right direction," Carney said. Carney notes that school lesson plans should also highlight the cultural aspects of ethnobotanical knowledge, particularly its role in Afro-Brazilian survival, cultural identity, and resistance to slavery.

The rest of the world may enjoy spin-off benefits, too. According to Voeks, researchers at the Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santa near Lençóis are studying the medicinal properties of Estradeira-vermelha to determine if the plant, indeed, has the power to encourage pregnancy.
I've heard there is a move toward an African Brazilian identity. I am also told there is little "complaint" because to do so is against the law.

We know the fate of Africans varies throughout the Diaspora. All of those conditions, and treatment were varying forms of slavery. There is no "good" slavery. There is nothing "good" in slavery. To pretend otherwise is demonstrate deceit, or stupidity.

The enslaver has made color the commonality of all the people. The game is the same.

"Black Brazil".

Has anyone EVER heard of "White Brazil?"

Let's get a grip folks.

Scratching and searchinf for "value" in the population historical, or otherwise is pure patronizing. This is suppose to be a surprise???


Jim Chester

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