Federal University of Maranhão becomes first in Brazil to offer undergraduate degree in African and Afro-Brazilian Studies



Note from BW of Brazil: One of the principle reasons that Africans and black people throughout the world are so terribly stereotyped as inferior, less intelligent and culturally backward is due to a Eurocentric power structure that continues to ignore the vast history and accomplishments of these people through its education system. Still today in the second decade of the 21st century, the world’s population and students learn very little about African people and the little that they do learn is often based upon purposely false, half true information that continues to spread the idea that Africans had no important history until the European arrived on what was labeled “the dark continent”. The devastating result of this false interpretation of history is that millions of descendants of Africa continue to have shame of this ancestry as they too are indoctrinated to believe that Africa is nothing to be proud of.

The case of Brazil is an excellent example of how a lack of information of one’s origins can lead to the total domination of an entire people. Even with a glimmer of hope with more and more Afro-Brazilians having access to a college education, this education still comes from a Eurocentric perspective. As we have seen, with the work of Afro-Brazilian intellectuals still basically ignored in Brazil’s finest universities, the journey to decentralizing Western education styles has a very long path to travel. Recently one important step forward was made in the northeastern state of Maranhão and while this advance is decades behind, it does represent a glimmer of hope. Let’s hope this idea spreads to other regions of the country in years to come. 

UFMA opens undergraduate course on Afro-Brazilian History and Culture

Universidade Federal do Maranhão in São Luís, Maranhão
Universidade Federal do Maranhão in São Luís, Maranhão

Maranhão is the first Brazilian state to have an undergraduate degree in African and Afro Brazilian Studies, approved by the Ministry of Education. The Federal University of Maranhão (UFMA), on the campus of the capital city of São Luís, will be the first in the country to offer a degree course in order to train teachers to teach about African history and culture in elementary and high schools.

State of Maranhão in Brazil's northeast
State of Maranhão in Brazil’s northeast

The initiative arose from the need to enforce the federal law 10.639/2013 which made compulsory the teaching of African history and culture, but that hasn’t been met because of the lack of trained teachers. This semester a special selection process will be held to fill 40 positions in night classes. The course will be in the classroom and will last four years.

Carlos Benedito Rodrigues da Silva, Kátia Regis and Marcelo Pagliosa
Carlos Benedito Rodrigues da Silva, Kátia Regis and Marcelo Pagliosa

“The law provides subsidies for the questioning of ethnic-racial relations in a Brazilian society where inequality between blacks and whites is a structural and a structuring element of social reality. This inequality is manifested in educational institutions through its curricula, which have been Eurocentric and omit and/or distort African and Afro-Brazilian History and Culture,” said Kátia Regis.

Nilma Lino Gomes of SEPPIR speaks at the inauguration of the course
Nilma Lino Gomes of SEPPIR speaks at the inauguration of the course

The law was enacted in 2003 and, despite some progress, it is still not fully effective. Despite several continuing education initiatives for teachers on Afro-Brazilian studies, there is a deficiency in the initial formation and graduation of these professionals. “There is a lot of resistance to the inclusion of this theme in teaching courses and the degrees. Generally the discussion on the theme occurs in either one or other discipline of History of Africa and/or Education for Diversity. Despite the importance of the inclusion of these subjects in the curriculum, we believe that is not enough to change still stereotypical views about Africans and the black Brazilian population, as well as in an isolated and/or timely manner and cannot eliminate prejudice and racist attitudes present the university. I.e. there is a need for more incisive actions in teaching, research and extension so that the theme acquires the required relevance in the legislation mentioned,” argues Regis.


The news of the approval and authorization for the start of the course was very celebrated by teachers who worked in the pedagogical project and closely followed in the progress of the process in MEC. “We hope this pioneering attitude of the Federal University of Maranhão inspires other universities across the country,” said the teacher Kátia Régia, one of the founders.


The Núcleo de Estudos Afro-Brasileiros (Neab or Afro-Brazilian Studies Center) was the proponent for the establishment of the project coordinated by Professor Carlos Benedito Rodrigues da Silva, Professor Kátia Regis and Professor Marcelo Pagliosa (photo, left to right) with support from the rector Natalino Salgado. The implementation of the course coincides with the celebration of 30 years of NEAB and, according to the professor Carlos Rodrigues, the proposal of the course resulted from a discussion of the mandatory teaching of African History and Culture in the Brazilian educational system. “We are faced, throughout this process, as much with a certain resistance in the application of the law, as with an argument that there are no qualified people to work with these contents. Because of this they were made through the Afro-Brazilian studies of various universities nationwide, a number of courses at the level of expertise, distance education, but that still haven’t filled this gap,” he said.


Carlos Benedito also says that, besides being the first degree in Brazil that addresses this issue, in the Maranhão scenario its implementation becomes even more important because of the historical process of the state. “Maranhão is the third (highest) Brazilian state with the percentage of black population, a very large inherited cultural diversity of the African continent, and from the point of view of religion, musicality, among others,” lists.



On May 5th, the Federal University of Maranhão held the inaugural class of the Interdisciplinary Degree course in African and Afro-Brazilian Studies. The President of the SINTEMA, Mariano Azevedo, attended the event and congratulated the dean, Prof. Natalino Salgado Filho, for the important initiative to have embraced this commitment to the advancement of society.

Nilma Lino Gomes during the ceremony
Nilma Lino Gomes during the ceremony

The inaugural lecture of the course Interdisciplinary Degree in African and Afro-Brazilian Studies occurred in the Central Auditorium of UFMA in the presence of the rector Natalino Salgado, students, professors and state and municipal authorities.


On Tuesday, (May 5th) the Minister of the Secretary of Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality (SEPPIR), Nilma Lino Gomes, gave the inaugural class of the Interdisciplinary Degree course in African and Afro-Brazilian Studies, held at the Auditório Central da Cidade Universitária, in the presence of the rector Natalino Salgado, students, teachers and state and municipal authorities.


Before the inaugural lecture, the minister was received by the Rector in his office and praised the UFMA for the pioneering initiative in Brazil, the first university to introduce the Interdisciplinary Degree course in African and Afro-Brazilian Studies. “UFMA is to be congratulated, as well as the coordination of this course. I hope other universities follow the same example in creating courses that study African and Afro-Brazilian history and culture,” stressed the minister.


At the opening ceremony of the main event, the rector of UFMA, Natalino Salgado, reaffirmed his commitment to spare no effort in supporting the development of degree. “We have open arms to continue to contribute to the growth and consolidation of the course,” he said.


The course coordinator, Kátia Regis, thanked the rector for his support and stressed his commitment to the implementation and completion of the course. She also said that the timing is important for UFMA and researchers of African and Afro-Brazilian Studies, and especially, for society. She hopes that more universities in the country also follow the same path. “We hope this pioneering initiative will inspire other Brazilian universities to deploy similar courses with African and Afro-Brazilian studies,” she said.

Mariano Azevedo with Nilma Lino Gomes of SEPPIR
Mariano Azevedo with Nilma Lino Gomes of SEPPIR

Initiating the class, the Minister of the Secretariat of the Promotion of Policies for Racial Equality Policies, Nilma Lino Gomes, said there is no way to begin the discussion without first making a deployment of the very name that the course received – Licenciatura Interdisciplinar em Estudos Africanos e Afro-Brasileiros (Interdisciplinary Degree in African and Afro Brazilian Studies).

For the minister the name Interdisciplinary Degree already shows that the course is training teachers who will work in basic education. “African and Afro-Brazilian Studies is a course that will occupy the place in Brazilian history by the struggles of black movements, so the students themselves have a huge responsibility because they will be the teachers of our children in primary education,” extolled the minister.

Nilma Lino Gomes believes that Law 10.639, which makes compulsory the teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian History and Culture and, is a process of concretization of announcements and denouncements made by black movements. “The black movements are intervening in the three structures of Brazilian society – structures of power, work and knowledge,” she said.

For the minister this is an initiative that also aims to overcome racial inequalities in Brazil, in which “the expectation is that this degree transforms the vision of the students about the African continent,” she declared. The minister also hopes that this degree forms another profile of teachers on African and Afro-Brazilian culture, which enhances its profiles of educators, and breaks down stereotypes about Africa.

Nilma Gomes noted that there are several types of knowledge beyond scientific, such as traditional knowledge, which is very important and should be highlighted, in her view. At the end of the lesson, the minister suggested that the name of the course be Interdisciplinary Degree in African and Afro-Brazilian Studies of the Emerging because she said “this course will make emerge the histories and subjects of traditional African and Afro-Brazilian knowledge,” she said.

Present at the ceremony were the coordinator of the nucleus of Afro-Brazilian Studies, Carlos Benedito Rodrigues da Silva; the coordinator of the Degree Course in African and Afro-Brazilian Studies, Kátia Regis; the director of the Center of Biological Science and Health, Nair Portela Silva Coutinho; the dean of Education, Isabel Ibarra Cabrera; the Municipal Secretary of Education, Geraldo Castro, representing the Mayor of São Luís, Edivaldo Holanda Junior; the secretary of state of Racial Equality, Gerson Pinheiro, and representing the Governor of the state of Maranhão, Flávio Dino.

SourceTô No Rumo, SintemaPortais Institucionais Universidade Federal do Maranhão, Folha da Bico

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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