High Mortality Rates of Black Men And Slavery in Latin American countries

High Mortality Rates of Black Men And Slavery in Latin American countries
Slaves producing cassava flour in a mill in 1858, in Rio de Janeiro

High Mortality Rates of Black Men And Slavery in Latin American countries

High Mortality Rates of Black Men And Slavery in Latin American countries
Slaves producing cassava flour in a mill in 1858, Rio de Janeiro (High Mortality Rates of Black Men)

Note from BW of Brazil: When I think of slavery I think of a brutal, dehumanizing, painful period in the history African descendants in the Americas. Sitting here typing these words, I can’t even imagine what life would have been life had I been alive, say 300 years ago. The stories of the punishment, 20 hour work days, bodily mutilation, the separation of families. Imaging such an existence makes me wonder if I would have survived or perhaps decided to end my own misery. It’s all pretty overwhelming when you really sit and think about it. 

Technology is also bringing clearer visions of this history that we’ve long known about but perhaps not in such detail. And these details come courtesy of something that our people brought with them, forever connecting us to their/our history, ancestry and origins: DNA. Although many critics have revealed the limitations of DNA technology, there are other aspects that provide a very revealing snapshot of what our ancestors were put through during the ordeal that was the slavery regime. 

In my years of reading about slavery in Brazil and making comparisons with what happened in the United States, I often come to the conclusion that, as brutal as we know slavery was in the US, it seems that, in many ways, it was far worse in Brazil. One the factors for why I say this can be found in the text below where we learn that many black men enslaved in Brazil didn’t even live long enough to reproduce, explaining why the roots of the black Brazilian population can be traced back more to black women. MUCH more. 

famílias escravas - Interior de casa de negros, de Joaquim Cândido Guillobel, c. 1812.
Interior of the house of black people, by Joaquim Cândido Guillobel, 1812.

Genetic mapping reveals new origins of enslaved people in Brazil

Courtesy of UOL

More than 12 million Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic to work as slaves in the Americas

A DNA study with descendants of enslaved Africans in the Americas highlights how inhuman aspects of slavery – from mistreatment and racist practices to rape – that occurred between the 16th and 19th centuries had lasting genetic consequences, in addition to bringing up new information about the origin of these people.

Based on DNA samples from 50,200 people in the Americas and Africa, collected from a database of millions of samples from companies and genomic projects, researchers from the 23andMe company and the University of Leicester (United Kingdom) drew a parallel between the genetic profile of descendants of slaves and the historical documents available on slavery.

The results were published in the American Journal of Human Genetics. Many of the researchers’ conclusions apply to Brazil’s Afro-descendant population.

Most of the conclusions are consistent with what historians already knew from the historical records of the ships that transported the enslaved, but genetic analysis brings news.

“The forced displacement of more than 12.5 million men, women and children from Africa to the Americas between 1515 and 1865 had a significant social, cultural, health and genetic impact around the Americas,” says the study. Almost 2 million of these people came to Brazil (see note one).

“Although the transatlantic records have told us a large part of the story, information from this study, in combination with other historical reports, sheds light on details of the genetic impact of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade on the current population of the Americas,” says the text.

An unlikely origin (High Mortality Rates of Black Men And Slavery in Latin American countries)

One of the most important discoveries is that the researchers found, in the population of the US and Latin America (Brazil included), a series of genetic traits typical of the region where Nigeria and Benin are today – although Trans-Atlantic records did not indicate a high flow between these regions.

The researchers suggest that this can be explained by the trafficking of enslaved people within the American continent, at a time when transatlantic trade (between Africa and the Americas) was already the target of international prohibitions.

In other words, in order to escape sanctions, traffickers took people from the Caribbean (where Nigeria was most common) to the US and Latin America.

“These trips would have spread the common ancestry in the British Caribbean to other regions in the Americas that were not in direct trade with specific regions in Africa,” points out the study.

In the case of Brazil, the majority of genetic connections are with the populations of central-west Africa, particularly the Congo region, “which is not surprising, given that the data estimates that almost 2 million enslaved Africans were transported directly (from there) to Brazil,” researchers Steven Micheletti and Joanna Mountain, from the company 23andMe, told BBC News Brasil.

However, there are differences between the Northeast and Southeast of Brazil. “Afro-Brazilians from the Northeast have ancestry from both the Congo and the region of Nigeria. In the Southeast, Afro-Brazilians have an especially Congolese ancestry,” said researcher Sandra Beleza, also by email, from the University of Leicester.

The genetic impacts of poor living conditions

In contrast to these phenomena, the researchers also drew the attention of the fact that, among descendants of slaves, there are few genetic traits in the region where Senegal and Gambia are located.

What explains this, if the so-called Senegambia was also the origin of a significant number of enslaved Africans brought to the Americas – including Brazil, during a period of the 16th century?

For scholars, the reasons for this genetic under-representation appear to be bleak.

First, from the 1700s onwards, a large number of enslaved children emerged, who often could not resist the terrible health and malnutrition conditions on slave ships.

In total, it is estimated that about 2 million enslaved men, women and children died on trips between the African and American continents.

Another possible reason is that “a large proportion of Senegambian slaves worked on rice plantations in the Americas, where there was generally (contamination) rampant with malaria,” says the study.

In this way, the enslaved people of these regions would have been exposed to “work conditions that threatened their lives”, reducing their chances of perpetuating their genetic traits.

Rape and ‘whitening’ (High Mortality Rates of Black Men)

Although more than 60% of the slaves brought to the Americas were men, genetic analysis shows that a large part of the genes of African descent come from women.

This is even stronger in Latin America: according to the survey, for each man, between four and 17 women contributed to the genetic makeup of the descendants.

Again, the reasons behind this are subhuman. First, this is attributed to the rape of enslaved African women, both by their “masters” and by other forms of sexual exploitation.

Second, there was a “higher mortality of male slaves in Latin America”.

The third reason, say the researchers, is the practice known as racial “embranquecimento” (whitening), “which involved women marrying with the intention of producing lighter-skinned children. National whitening policies have been implemented in multiple Latin American countries, financing and subsidizing European immigrants with the intention of diluting African ancestry through reproduction with fair-skinned Europeans.”

Studies by historians and anthropologists claim that this phenomenon has also occurred in Brazil. These practices would have made African female genes perpetuate themselves more than male ones.

Contrary to this, the researchers identified a lower prevalence of genes of female origin in former British colonies, for example in the US.

One cause of this may be “the practice of coercing Africans to have children, as a way of keeping (a greater number of) enslaved workers, already close to the abolition of transatlantic trafficking”. This practice may have increased the participation of black men in the genetic formation of their descendants.

“In some places, like the United States, enslaved women were encouraged to reproduce, under the promise of liberation after the birth of many children. Later, racist ideologies in the US-led to the segregation of African descendants, as opposed to promoting miscegenation with Europeans,” says the study.

In general, however, “the inhumane practices associated with institutional slavery, although they diverge among the Americas, have all resulted in a female African propensity (to genetic predominance).

Migrations between the Americas

Genetic analysis also showed that African ancestry did not vary, on a large scale, between different parts of the American continents. This is attributed by scientists to the internal transport of slaves between regions and the extensive internal migration of this population.

“For example, the domestic slave trade in the US between 1790 and 1860 would lead to the transport of 1 million people enslaved by the American southeast,” say the researchers, also citing the migratory movements of the black population from the Northeast to the Southeast and Midwest of the Brazil.

Source: UOL


  1. Overall, estimates of the number of enslaved Africans entering Brazil range between 4-5 million
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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