Note from BW of Brazil: I knew there was something about August 31 that I was forgetting. It just hit me today. As today is September 7th, Brazil’s Independence Day, I reflect on my first trip to Salvador, Bahia, the little motel I stayed in for three weeks and the September 7th parade I saw from my window on…September 7th Avenue, as well as Brazil’s Independence Day, September 7th, and its connection with the role of blacks in the abolition of slavery, a still an untold part of history. Although it’s been an incredible journey, the myths and lies continue to come tumbling down when the topic is black Brazilians. And this doesn’t apply to just Brazil or Afro-Brazilians, but history as we learn it as a whole.
As I remembered on August 31 of last year, August 31st of the year 2000 marked my first journey into Brazil. On that date I took a plane from JFK Airport in New York, landed in São Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport and then caught a connection flight to Salvador, Bahia, from São Paulo’s Congonhas Airport. Hard to believe I’ve covering Brazil for two decades but that time has really just flown by, as we always say.
In elementary school and later in high school, I remember being bored and confused with history classes. These classes often left me asking more questions than the half-truths that were presented as history. Something about history just wasn’t adding up, and even though I could feel it, I couldn’t find anything to substantiate my view….until many years later.
My journey into what has been denominated “alternative history” has been a long process and along this path, after unturning one lie after another, I found myself asking a lot of questions. Why were there never any black people presented in my history classes? What was the role of blacks in the abolition of slavery? Why didn’t I hear the name Marcus Garvey until I was 20 years old? Why did those volumes of encyclopedias my parents bought me as a child tell me that Lee Harvey Oswald killed John F. Kennedy and James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King, Jr. when both of those stories are clearly not true?
The fact is, the more you dig, the more you come to discover that, in reality, the history taught in schools should be the one labeled as “alternative history”. It is because of this mythological version that history just didn’t seem to make sense. We have to keep this in mind when we try to understand how the Japanese defeated the Russians in 1905, the truth behind the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and why such a powerful American military didn’t just waltz in and obliterate Asian militaries in Vietnam and Korea. The rabbit hole goes much deeper that most of us really know and has an enormous influence on our current affairs that just seem to happen the way that they do. Only, that they don’t.
In Brazil, this is also the case. You have the story that we all learn and grow up believing and then there’s what really happened. The ending of slavery and how it happened is a good example. On May 13, 1888, Princess Isabel signed what is known as the Golden Law and thus, with the stroke of a pen, ended the legacy of three and a half centuries of human bondage in Brazil. Afro-Brazilian activists and historians have been battling to change the belief in this story for years which simply erases the participation of black people even though it was their acts of resistance that played a major role in the abolition movement as well as eventual abolition itself. May the revisioning of history continue as our chidren and our people as a whole need to know what really happened.
Independence of September 7th hides the black struggle to end slavery
By Guilherme Soares
Historians point out that there are disputes over narratives and that symbols of heroism need to be revisited
The process of independence carried out from September 7, 1822, through diplomatic channels, was carried out by white slave traders and merchants allied with the royal family and who saw colonial Brazil as an obstacle to their political and economic interests. But there were other movements such as the Inconfidência Mineira and the Conjuração Baiana, also called Revolta dos Alfaiates or Revolta dos Búzios, which defended independence and the end of enslavement. The revolts and the black party, which came into existence at the time, sought not only independence from Portugal, but the freedom of the black people, who lived under slavery.
Slavery was precisely the limit of Brazil’s liberalism that maintained a link with the metropolis and the monarchy. Two years after “independence” Emperor Dom Pedro I imposed a constitution that didn’t end slavery. “Independent imperial Brazil was conceived as this pact between the royal family and the slave-owners who wanted more autonomy, but without changing the way society was organized, maintaining slavery and the Atlantic trade,” explains historian Henrique Silva de Oliveira.
The Revolt of the Búzios had all its black leaders killed in Praça da Piedade, in Salvador, as an exemplary punishment for those who threatened the interests of Portugal and the white slave elite. “September 7, on the other hand, was a process conducted from above to avoid the participation of the non-white population”, recalls Oliveira.
Another important date is July 2, 1823, in Salvador, when Portuguese troops were finally expelled from Brazilian territory, ending the process started on September 7 of the previous year. “The choice of that date has symbols and meanings. The official historiography speaks of September 7, as it was a movement made by Portuguese or children of Portuguese that didn’t cover the great problem of the 19th century, which is slavery”, emphasizes the historian André Luís Souza de Carvalho, who has a master’s degree in Education and co-founder of the Experiência Griô (Griot Experience), which takes visitors to learn more about the black history of Salvador.
But if Brazil’s independence from the Portuguese didn’t really occur until July 2, 1823, why was September 7, 1822 the date that made history? Carvalho points out that it is because a construction of the official narrative was made in the Southeast of the country. With that, the stories of other locations were left on the margins. A narrative that extended to the role of black in abolition.
In addition, Dom Pedro represents the white man, of European descent and symbolizes that moment. The 2nd of July was constructed by poor, black, enslaved people, in addition to the Bahian white elite. “There is a process of thinking about the representation of what image you want to give. To whom we must thank for the fact of being independent”, considers the co-founder of the Experiência Griô.
The assistant professor of the Institute of History at the Federal Fluminense University (UFF), Ynaê Lopes dos Santos, a member of the Black Historians Network, recalls that Brazilian independence was orchestrated by the white and economic elite and that part of it was formed in the same school, which is the University of Coimbra. “This makes these white men share a series of ideals and values. They were slave owners and the freedom they defended only endorsed the interests they represented,” she says.
The 2nd of July has the participation of the black population in Salvador, which is mostly black. “The captaincy of Bahia has black participation in the political uprisings. It’s important to highlight the participation of Maria Felipa, a black woman who worked on the island of Itaparica in fishing that manages to enlist other black and indigenous women to fight on the patriotic side. This black and female participation is silenced on the 7th of September,” points out Ynaê.
Another important historical moment to understand the “independence of Brazil” is August 2, 1791 in São Domingos, then a French colony. The São Domingos revolution makes the country independent and creates the so-called “Haitianism”, which is the fear of colonial and slave elites that the same thing that happened there would be repeated here. “We have to think about a process of reconstructing African identities in this Atlantic process, these experiences reconstruct the identity. The germ of independence arises from Haiti and serves as an example for the potential that the political organization of the black population can create,” contextualizes André.
On August 12, 1798, the Conjuration of Bahia made a pioneering emancipationist movement in Brazil and aimed at the independence of the Portuguese crown and to bring everyone to equality. This was a difference from the French who limited freedom to themselves and didn’t include their colonies.
“It’s a germ of social movement, formed by the population of color, poor and enslaved men. Low-ranking soldiers and tailors stand out and propose emancipation from the Portuguese crown and the formation of a new society, which would be the end of slavery, that is, it goes beyond what the white elite proposes,” emphasizes the co-founder of the Griot Experience. In this way, the Brazilian elite remains within the perspective of monarchy and slavery logic, fearing that the black population could repeat here what happened in Haiti.
The ideals of freedom of the black population germinated in the Conjuration of Bahia in 1798 would only be realized a century later in 1888, when the Lei Áurea (Golden Law) was signed. Carvalho considers that the construction of independence was greater than a simple date and highlights four leaders who didn’t participate in the “moment of independence”, but helped to plant the germ. They are black men who participated in the Conjuration of Bahia and were hanged and quartered to set an example for the black population: soldiers Luiz Gonzaga das Virgins e Veiga, Lucas Dantas Amorim Torres and tailors João de Deus do Nascimento and Manoel Faustino dos Santos Lira.
Since the end of the 18th century, a large number of popular uprisings have taken place, with engaged black people. An example is from January 1835 when the Malês Revolt took place in Salvador, which, even though it was not institutionalized, had a “black party”. “There is an idea that there was a ‘black party’ of symbolic construction, with an active participation of the black population in the 18th and 19th centuries. It fought for greater political participation. All these ideas that Europe produced of equality and the black population in the Atlantic appropriates and demainds it”, reinforces the historian Carvalho. In addition, the base of colonial armies was the black population.
The “black party” was viewed with fear by the Bahian elite, who were in favor of the independence process. “The fear was that black participation would be read through the same lens as the Haitian revolution and would racialize discourse and bring the proclaimed freedom to the lives of those black men as well,” adds Professor Ynaê.
The dispute over the narrative
For professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Flávio Gomes, a member of the Black Historians Network, there are disputes over narratives and events, as well as power relations in the construction of historical memories. “The image of September 7th and the event on the banks of Ipiranga say more about the atmosphere of the painting painted by Pedro Américo at the end of the 19th century than a supposed representation of a national identity that has always been the force behind the anti-colonial rupture”, he explains. After “independence”, slavery was maintained and expanded in Brazil and until 1861 at least half a million Africans entered the country, most of them illegally.
Dates, events and even statues as crystallized readings as memories and unique symbols have been questioned. “In 2022 we will celebrate 200 years of independence. What do we want to know and already know about this and other stories and memories? Narratives of heroism, prestige, power, profits, incomplete citizenships, silenced struggles and memories need to be revisited,” concludes Gomes.
Source: Alma Preta