Note from BW of Brazil: Over a number of decades, an awakening has been taking place among African descendants around the world. Since the time we were stolen from the African homeland there has been a systematic goal of annihilating our identity as a people and the contributions of our people to the development of humanity, both on the African continent and the through efforts of its descendants. My own awakening to this issue began in earnest after I had watched the televised series Roots, based on the book credited to Alex Haley. As fate would have it, a new version of the series is now being broadcast in Brazil on the Rede Globo television network translated under the title of Raízes. The showing of the series continues Brazilian TV’s fixation with maintaining the image of enslaved black people in the minds of its audience as novelas (soap operas) based in the era of slavery have been a mainstay on major networks for several decades.
I still remember seeing Roots for the first time and thinking, “Is that the history of my people?” “Is that how my family got here?”. At that point in my life, no one had explained to me why there were black people in the United States, much less that there were also black people who lived in places like Brazil, Jamaica, Haiti, Panama and several other countries in the Americas for the same reason. At that time, it appeared that my history began with slavery and it would only be decades later that my awakening would begin to take its next steps. Somewhere along my journey I began to receive little hints of evidence that there was much more to the African story than the whippings, rapes and enforced labor that I learned from Roots. And these little hints would spark an interest in pursuing more information on the topic. At that point I began to pick up books by authors such as Ali Mazuri, Basil Davidson, Yosef Ben-Jochannan, Cheikh Anta Diop and John G. Jackson. With the addition of such authors to my growing library, I soon discovered the validity of several statements made by another important historian by the name of John Henrik Clarke. According to Clarke:
“If you start your history with slavery, then everything else will look like progress”
“To control a people you must first control what they think about themselves and how they regard their history and culture. And when your conqueror makes you ashamed of your culture and your history, he needs no prison walls and no chains to hold you.”
“If you expect the present day school system to give history to you, you are dreaming. This, we have to do ourselves….People don’t beg other people to restore their history; they do it themselves.”
If you followed this blog for some time then you know that ALL of these statements apply to the Afro-Brazilian population. The Brazilian school system teaches little or nothing about pre-slavery/pre-colonial Africa and little about Afro-Brazilians beyond the slavery era. It is directly due to this fact that so many persons of visible African ancestry do everything they can to avoid being connected to Africa. And no wonder; it was only in 2003 that the Brazilian government passed a law that mandated the teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian History and Culture in Brazilian schools, and even so, most schools have come far short of enforcing this law.
Over the years a number of scholars and researchers of African descent have apparently taken these words to heart and have taken it upon themselves to contribute to the re-storing of African History to a people who are badly in need of it. This is also happening in Brazil as you will note in the material presented below.
The Legacy of African Peoples
by Verônica Lima
Where was philosophy born? In Greece or Africa? And where did the first doctor and the first engineer come from? The colonial and European mentality ends up disregarding Africa as the matrix continent of humanity. Not to mention the African contribution to culture in general. Machado de Assis, for example, suffered a kind of “embranquecimento” (whitening) to be accepted as the greatest Brazilian writer.
Since his youth, Edvaldo Mendes Araújo had been concerned: he wanted to know why he, a black person, had a Portuguese surname. He researched and discovered that this was the practice among slave masters in Brazil: they also marked their property with their name. It is here that we begin to erase the history of the African peoples and their legacy for humanity. That’s what Edvaldo Mendes Zulu Araújo says today. He officially incorporated to his surname the name of the first African nation to confront English colonization:
“The continent of Africa is a matrix continent of the history of mankind, and it is there that humanity emerges, and consequently what we have of knowledge, information and technology in the development of humanity began on the African continent. From 1400, 1500. This is purposeful because it is the period in which the discovery of the African continent begins and, along with it, the trafficking of human beings in the world on the scale that we know was implemented.
Professor Carlos Eduardo Machado’s curiosity about his ancestors also began in his youth. When reading an American magazine, he came across a commercial that extolled great inventions made by black men, such as the traffic light, the carbon filament of the electric lamp, and the refrigerator. This prompted him to want to know more about the scientific knowledge of African peoples and to write a book. Under the title Gênios da Humanidade – Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação Africana e Afrodescendente (Geniuses of Humanity – African and Afro descendant Science, Technology and Innovation), this book has been ready since 2005, but only now, 11 years later, will it be published. The professor says that many sciences were developed on the African continent, such as agriculture, livestock, fish farming, engineering, urban planning:
“African cities had a million inhabitants before the arrival of the white man there. A very sophisticated form of cesarean was done, much more hygienic than in Europe at the same time in the second half of the 19th century.(…) The white European population has created the imaginary that everything that exists from sophisticated to developed was created by Europeans.”
Professor Carlos Eduardo points out that one of the oldest civilizations studied by the Western world, the Egyptian, was, in fact, black.
Luciana Bento is a sociologist, blogger and owner of a bookstore specializing in black authors and protagonists. She says that the writer Machado de Assis had his black color erased by history in order to become a reference of our literature. The peak was in 2011, when Caixa Econômica Federal cast a white actor to represent the writer in one of its commercials. After the negative repercussion, Caixa retracted and took the advertising piece from the air:
“In Machado’s case, he is a national idol and many people don’t even know that he was black. […] Today, with this valorization of the black identity, we see much less attempts at embranquecimento (whitening) and in parallel we also see the redemption of the black identity of these personalities.”
Literature, music, dance, science, technology. The contributions of Africans to the construction of Brazil are numerous. But the main one, in the view of Zulu Araújo, is culture. Not culture linked to art, but the way of being cheerful and flexible that we Brazilians are so proud of:
“Sisudez (meaning seriousness), which is sometimes confused with seriousness, in our case doesn’t apply because it has a characteristic of African origin in which joy isn’t associated with sin, it’s not associated with irresponsibility. Africans surely could exist in the world without Brazil, but Brazil would never exist without Africans.”
Congresswoman Rosângela Gomes, of the PRB (political party) in Rio de Janeiro, recalls that there is a law (Law 10.639/03) in Brazil that determines the teaching of Afro-Brazilian History and Culture in schools. For her, in addition to giving light to all this knowledge produced in pre-slavery Africa, as was reported here by Zulu Araújo and Professor Carlos Eduardo, it is also important to talk about what happened here in Brazil during slavery:
“We know everything about Greece, about Europe, but we know little about Brazilians who, while the white families had their houses, we, black men and women, lived on the troncos (whipping posts), being beaten. When the schools, the State, the government fails to inform, the people have no science and think it is banality, futility, as I have seen several times by several people that quotas are a joke, bullshit. But quotas are still the only affirmative policy we have in which we can do a little reparation, which is what we need in our nation.”
To put the law in force, the CPI (Comissão Parlamentar de Inquérito or Parliamentary Inquiry Commission) of Homicídios de Jovens Negros e pobres (Homicide of Black and Poor Youth) has proposed in its final report a bill to places the municipality that fails to teach Afro-Brazilian history and culture in schools in default.
Report – Verônica Lima
Editing – Mauro Ceccherini
Production – Íris Cary, Cristiane Baker and Gabriela Pantazopoulos
Technical Works – Carlos Augusto de Paiva
Source: Portal da Câmara dos Deputados
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