In São Paulo, protestors set statue of notorious explorer ablaze; Manuel de Borba Gato was known for the hunting, genocide and rape of blacks and Indians.
By Marques Travae
I learned of this incident in a similar manner in which I learn of other news-making events: social media. As in other incidents, I initially didn’t even take note of what I was seeing. As I scrolled down one of my social network accounts, I remember seeing a hail of black smoke in a photo. There was so much smoke in the picture that I couldn’t even make out what I was seeing. So, I continued to scroll. Then a similar photo appeared. Finally, after seeing the third photo, I saw a caption that read something along the lines of ‘Borba Gato statue in São Paulo set on fire by protestors’.
Whoa! DAMN! Some of the photos were so close to the statue that I could hardly see the afternoon sky because of the clouds of black smoke. One by one, social network profiles were sharing the story with different pix of the same event. Sometimes photos of flames and smoke are quite mesmerizing, haunting…sinister. Even more so as I viewed the stern face of the statue being engulfed in flames and smoke and the history of the man for whom the monument was erected. The story of Manuel de Borba Gato is yet another example of a famous figure who is honored in history books and widely recognized without the general population knowing of the evil acts he was known for.
The statue dedicated to Borba Gato is located in the Augusto Tortorelo de Arajo Square in the Santo Amaro region of São Paulo, stands about 13 meters, including the pedestal and was created by Júlio Guerra (1912-2001) and completed in 1963 after taking six years to construct.
But exactly who was Manuel de Borba Gato and what enraged people to the degree that they decided to set his statue ablaze?
Borba Gato was part of the troop of men who explored the interior of Brazil, according to Alcântara Machado’s novel Vida e Morte do Bandeirante (Life and Death of the Bandeirante), published in 1929.
In early Colonial Brazil, the Bandeirantes, meaning “flag-carriers,” were slavers, explorers, adventurers, and wealth hunters. They were largely responsible for Brazil’s massive expansion into the west region, far beyond the Tordesillas Line of 1494, which split the new continent into a western Castilian half and an eastern Portuguese section by Pope Julius II. They came to occup the Midwest and South of the country, discovering gold in the states of Minas Gerais, Goiás, and Mato Grosso as well.
During these exploration missions, they ended up not only carrying out the capture, but also enslavement of indigenous and black people during these incidents. These individuals were slain as a result of certain confrontations.
The Bandeirantes were also accused of not just sexually abusing indigenous women, but also of trafficking them. In addition, mines containing metals that were located near Indian houses were plundered.
“Manuel de Borba Gato made fame and fortune in the second half of the 18th century by traveling the Brazilian backlands hunting for natives to enslave. He was also a fugitive from the law and a gold smuggler,” says historian Laurentino Gomes.
From the early 16th century, the Bandeirantes reached South America’s interior in pursuit of mineral wealth, particularly gold and silver, which were plentiful in Spanish America, and indigenous peoples for enslavement or destruction of quilombo maroon societies.
Another notorious Bandeirante known for decimating the Quilombo dos Palmares was Domingos Jorge Velho. Until his death, he was infamous for flogging indigenous and slaves in order to serve the interests of rich landowners.
The Bandeirantes of São Paulo launched journeys to the northeast in the 17th century to conquer indigenous lands that had not yet been conquered by the Portuguese colonists. Domingos Jorge Velho, a dedicated Indian hunter, was one of the Bandeirantes who stood out in this role.
Between 1671 and 1674, he battled alongside Domingos Afonso Serto against Indians of the northeastern states of Piau, Maranho, and Ceará for three years. On Brazilian territory, the duo carried out acts of terror in the name of white superiority.
Despite his reputation for being the “Indian hunter,” he didn’t limit his activity to persecuting Native Americans. In 1687, he agreed to join forces with João da Cunha Souto Maior, the governor of Pernambuco in the northeastern state of Brazil, to exterminate the Quilombo de Palmares, the most famous maroon society created by runaway slaves.
He set out in 1691 to assault the quilombolas, quilombo residents, after finalizing the remaining terms of the murderous contract. The slaves attempted to fight, but the ruthless executioner triumphed four years later, with the death of the quilombo’s greatest leader, Zumbi dos Palmares, in 1695. On the Palmares side, it is estimated that about 15 thousand quilombolas fought.
Today in Brazil, November 20th is the nationally recognized Day of Black Consciousness in memory of Zumbi’s death. The legend of the Bandeirantes also lends its name to several recognized entities in Brazil including a television, radio station and freeway.
Domingos Jorge Velho was named Master of the Field in Estevo Ribeiro’s government for his achievements. He died in the captaincy of the state of Paraíba in 1705, at the age of 64. He was notorious for protecting the interests of big landowners at the price of indigenous and slave lives until his death.
The Bandeirantes were largely from the São Paulo region, which was known until 1709 as the Captaincy of São Vicente and subsequently as the Captaincy of São Paulo.
Protestors set fire to Borba Gato statute
On Saturday, a group of 15 individuals set fire to a statue honoring Borba Gato on the day of rallies against President Jair Bolsonaro (no political party). The police were unable to say whether the group had plans to participate in the 3 p.m. protest on Avenida Paulista.
Some leftist groups have been vilifying monuments that pay respect to historical figures associated with slavery. The statue of Borba Gato has already been the target of attacks and debates on how he should be remembered in history. For a few years now, the phrase “Fogo nos Racistas”, meaning ‘put fire to the racists’ has been a popular catchphrase with activists and social network users.
“Fogo nos racistas” is taken from the lyrics of a song by the popular Minas Gerais-based rapper Djonga and would soon become a popular battle cry whenever black Brazilians would become aware of some aggressive form of racism as experienced by other black people or any other topic dealing with racism. Needless to say, the phrase was a very popular trend on Twitter with the events of the torching of the statue, but also because of other events.
Some celebrated the disappointing showing of champion Brazilian gymnast Arthur Nory in the Tokyo Olympics. After falling during a performance, the athlete fell well short of qualifying for the finals. With his elimination from the competition, many black Brazilians celebrated his failure in remembering the racist joke he made with teammate Ângelo Assumpção, the only black gymnast on the team and also an award-winning athlete.
Assumpção has since then denounced his experiences with racism in his training facilities and hasn’t been able to train professionally since being suspended from his previous club. Many feel that Assumpção would have had a great chance to win medals during the current Olympics games.
People have also used the catchphrase to express solidarity with soccer player Celsinho who recently had a sports announcer compare his afro to a ‘termite nest’.
Actions such as those taken on Saturday have been common in Brazil since the acts provoked by the Black Lives Matter movement began to spread in the United States after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Recognizing that controversial figures associated with slavery, genocide and racism also had monuments erected in their memory all over Brazil, activists have called into question numerous historical figures in the country’s history.
The organization known as Peripheral Revolution claimed responsibility for the fire, according to news reports. Members of the organization shared a video via their official Instagram profile where members were shown gluing papers on posts asking the question: ‘Do you know who Borba Gato was?’
In the video posted by the organization, various people are seen tossing tires around the statue. The memorial to Borba Gato was then consumed by fire.
The Bandeirantes’ Legend
This isn’t the first time the monument honoring the figure was targeted for vandalism. The monument was given a paint ‘bath’ in 2016. The incident is yet another in the debate that questions honoring historic figures known for notorious and racist acts.
Becoming aware of the act, many people praised the act.
”Manuel de Borba Gato was a São Paulo Bandeirante responsible for enslaving black and indigenous people and destroying quilombos.” – andreza (@andrezadelgado) July 24, 2021
”The best image of the day. Borba Gato represents slavery Brazil, the GENOCIDE OF BLACKS AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLE. May all tributes to these genocidal racists burn 🔥🔥 – Tati Nefertari (@TatiNefertari) July 24, 2021
Post by revolucaoperiferica
The revolution will be PERIPHERAL! ✊
And the question that won’t shut up: Do you know who Borba Gato was?
“There are three kinds of people
Those who imagine what happens
Those who don’t know what happens
And the ones who make it happen
The cake, icing
United we stand
Divided we fall
Those who fail fall
It is true that some people were offended and saddened by the burning of the Gato statue, and there have already been reports that the police are identifying people who were involved in the action. Agree or disagree, it is yet another reminder that non-white Brazilians are no longer willing to just accept racist actions, be they in current times, or hundreds of years ago.
When calls to demolish such statues became a debate in Brazil, in June of 2020, the aforementioned historian Laurentino Gomes voiced his opinion that these monuments shouldn’t be destroyed writing:
Laurentino Gomes: ‘’I see on social networks a movement for the removal of the statue of the Bandeirante Borba Gato located in the neighborhood of Santo Amaro, in SP. I am against it. Statues, buildings, palaces and other monuments are part of the historical heritage. They should be preserved as objects for study and reflection.’’
The question definitely makes for a great debate.
What do you think? Should monuments erected in honor of historical figures with controversial or notorious reputations be left standing, removed, set ablaze or knocked over?
As for me, although I’m willing to hear both sides of the debate, for some reason a phrase from a disco hit of one of popular music’s biggest selling albums just won’t leave my head:
‘’Burn, baby, burn!’’