Note from BBT: I’ve mentioned many times how it was Africana: The Encyclopedia of African and African-American History that led me to a now two decades long investigation into the black presence, history and influence in Brazil. That encyclopedia took me on a journey of exploration that seems to expand every day. I picked upthe African encyclopedia at a time when the internet was just beginning to explode, which lead to even larger source of information.
In 2021, I can say information about Afro-Brazilians and their is abundance these days. Articles on the internet have expanded numerous times over and theses, dissertations and books cover the topic from the academic perspective. Besides encyclopedias such as Africana that feature a wealth of information about the Afro-Brazilian population, there are numerous Brazilian sources.
In 1998, the encyclopedia, Quem é quem na negritude brasileira (Who is Who in Brazilian Blackness) (São Paulo: Congresso Nacional Afro-brasileiro, 1998) by lawyer/writer/poet Eduardo de Oliveira was released. Then in 2011 came the 1,776 page Enciclopédia brasileira da diáspora africana (Brazilian Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora) (Selo Negro Edições, 2014) by songwriter and researcher on Africa and its diaspora, Nei Lopes.
In 2021, we can now add the 720-page Enciclopédia Negra, meaning Black Encyclopedia, which was released earlier this week, on March 29th. As there are so many stories about Brazilians of African descent that have been even buried, forgotten or simply ignored, that I expect that this new release will also be a treasure for those of us who have a curiousity about and desire to put together the broken pieces of our history interrupted by centuries of slavery and de facto racism.
Below is a brief breakdown on what you’ll find if you pick up this new book.
Enciclopédia Negra (Black Encyclopedia) unveils views on history with a biography of 550 black personalities
New book from Cia das Letras brings 416 entries of black Brazilian personalities at different times in history
The brief biography of Delindra Maria de Pinho, an African woman who had arrived in Recife at the end of the 18th century, points out how racist structures operate historically in the country. In one instance, her jewelry and valuable assets were stolen by a bankrupt white man, but to prove such an act, the free black woman had to prove her character and fight racism in the judiciary. Delindra’s story is little known, but it can be found through the processes and publications of newspapers of the time.
That black woman, who has few details about her life, is one of the biographies present in the book Enciclopédia Negra or Black Encyclopedia, recently by the writers Flávio dos Santos Gomes, Jaime Lauriano and Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, through the publisher Companhia das Letras. Based on historiographic, anthropological, literary, archaeological and sociological sources, and even by notes and newspaper articles, the encyclopedia brings a wealth of historical characters in a new scenario that sets up black Brazilian historiography.
The production reaches bookstores with the intention of making black history visible, with the biographies of 550 personalities that impacted national history, distributed in 416 collective and individual entries. According to one of the authors, the historian and professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Flávio dos Santos Gomes, the construction of the project began in 2016 and was only possible due to significant changes in historiography in the last two decades.
Many of these trajectories were made invisible, due to the violence with which our archives are founded and organized, as well as the narratives constructed and disseminated; even more when it comes to black women and LGBTQI + black people. The book is part of a broader project, involving other partners such as Instituto Ibirapitanga, Pinacoteca of the State of São Paulo, Instituto Soma Cidadania Criativa and Nucleus of Afro-Brazilian Studies at the Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia.
“It was actually also a search for the book that came out in 2018, which I released with Lilia, Dicionário da escravidão e liberdade: 50 textos críticos (Dictionary of slavery and freedom: 50 critical texts). We had a concern not only to bring characters that were unknown, but also to bring an iconographic representation, in which it appears more in the 19th century. We did research in biographies, literature, in theses and dissertations only known in the academic field,” explains Flávio.
Among the personalities, it is possible to find activist and revolutionary characters; religious leaders of African origin; healers and doctors; and maternal figures who fought bravely for the freedom of their people.
In the book, the author emphasizes that there are many black men and black women personalities who are part of Pernambuco’s history. “Pernambuco has a lot of incredible personalities. The oldest characters in the book are from Pernambuco. One of them was saved from persecution by Joaquim Nabuco on the streets of Recife. He was accused and convicted of a crime and Nabuco ended up saving him. We had this great challenge of finding figures behind the history of those better known. We also have interesting characters of revolt, as was Malunguinho,” he says.
One of the great challenges of the book was to include explaining the history of everyday characters, of revolt and even religiosity. Like Malunguinho. He was a great quilombola leader in the Zona da Mata Pernambucana and today he is revered in the Jurema Sagrada, an Afro-Brazilian religion present in the states of Pernambuco, Paraíba and Alagoas. “Currently, Malunguinho is a master, a caboclo and an exu. In the past freed from capture, now frees from envy and misfortune,” says the end of the entry.
The book also features figures such as Abdias do Nascimento, Dandara, Tereza de Benguela, Aqualtune, Marielle Franco, among figures during and post-slavery. In addition to the production, there will be an exhibition of those who didn’t have images in works by 36 illustrious black artists at the Pinacoteca de São Paulo, as of April 10.
“Brazil suffers from structural and institutional racism, a legacy from the times of slavery, but very established in our contemporaneity. As the term indicates, racism “structures” social relations in our country, being present in the most diverse areas: in education, in health, in culture, in sports, at work. Racist practices and attitudes exclude a considerable portion of our population, restricting them from essential and fundamental opportunities and preventing them from exercising professional activities to the fullest of their creative and productive potential. The eradication of racism is even more urgent in a society as unequal as the Brazilian one, in which pretos e pardos (blacks and browns), according to IBGE data, represent almost 56% of the population.
It seems that the issue of racism is finally beginning to gain priority in the Brazilian public debate. It’s never too much to remember that the issue doesn’t concern only black people, but the whole of society. Nor is it exclusively moral, as it’s useless to continue to say that “we are not racist”. The time has passed for us to practice anti-racist acts, and to act as allies in this struggle that belongs to everyone.
In Brazil, we will never have a strong economy and a thriving and productive society (and we need them to overcome the extreme poverty and inequality that plagues us today) if racism remains at work among us.”
With cover art by Oga Mendonça, the work is already available in pre-order on Amazon.