The Colônia Africana neighborhood and negro removal: In the late 19th century, Porto Alegre began pushing its black population to the outskirts of the city

The neighborhood of Colônia Africana in the city of Porto Alegre, capital city of the state of Rio Grande do Sul
Colônia Africana - removal
The neighborhood of Colônia Africana in the city of Porto Alegre, capital city of the state of Rio Grande do Sul

Note from BW of Brazil: Brazil’s history is a fascinating one. Particularly considering the treatment of its black population. Now, to hear Brazilian tell it, the reasons why Afro-Brazilians remain on the bottom of society even after more than 130 years of the abolition of slavery having passed has nothing to do with race or color. But after you do some digging into the past, you get a clearer understanding of how a racial hierarchy was established in a country that for decades maintained that it was a ‘racial democracy‘ that was free of racism or racial inequality. An interesting, but mythical concept. I mean, once you discover that Brazil’s government subsidized millions of Europeans to enter the country to whiten its population all the while leaving its recently freed black population to its own resources to survive without any sort of assistance in adjusting to life on their own.

When you discover that social practices of racial segregation were a reality in various cities across the country and that European immigrants were given preferential treatment to fill job vacancies over recently freed blacks, the idea of a ‘racial democracy’ simply doesn’t add up. And then, as if these facts weren’t enough, you then learn that black Brazilians faced exclusion in futebol clubs and social clubs and were targets of efforts to whiten certain areas of large cities, a completely different understanding of racial politics in Brazil begins to emerge. Today’s story of what one of Brazil’s best, but also one of its whitest cities (79% white, 20% black) did with its black population just adds another piece to the puzzle of understanding a racist country that doesn’t see itself as such. 

Colônia Africana

African Colony: how the removal of blacks to the periphery of Porto Alegre began

Within the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, racism is evident in historical aspects of the city’s formation as we know it today. The removal of the black population is an example

by Giovana Fleck

The neighborhood Colônia Africana emerged in the late nineteenth century as a junction of territories occupied by populations from the old slave system, but many people only heard of this region as Barrio Rio Branco

“And are there blacks in the capital of Rio Grande do Sul?” The question that guides the analysis of the researcher Marcus Vinicius de Freitas Rosa about racism in Porto Alegre has reason. Brazilians learn at school (and with the help of common sense) to establish a strong association between the State and the presence of European immigrants. This image of the “embranquecida” (whitened) and “europeizada” (Europeanized) region is reinforced, even today, in reports dedicated to reporting to the rest of the country the “rigorous winter” and the occasional southern “nevasca” (snowstorm). Pictured in this way, Rio Grande do Sul – European, cold and distant – contrasts with the image of a tropical and mestiço (mixed race) Brazil.

areal-da-baronesa (Colônia Africana)
With the arrival of European immigrants, blacks living in the neighborhood of Colônia Africana in Porto Alegre were slowly pushed to the outskirts of the city

Within Porto Alegre, racism is evident in historical aspects of the city’s own formation as we know it today. An example is the removal of the black population to areas further away from the downtown stronghold. The Colônia Africana district emerged in the late nineteenth century as a junction of territories occupied by populations from the old slave system. But many people only heard of this region as Bairro Rio Branco. The name does not come in vain: after a gradual invasion of immigrants, in 1959, the municipality granted definitive “embranquecimento” (whitening). By the way, for the sake of curiosity, if you type “Colônia Africana”, meaning ‘African Colony’, in the Google search engine, all the options below correct the term for “Bairro Rio Branco” (Rio Branco Neighborhood).

“The formation of  Colônia occurred with the disintegration of a society that only saw the black as a possession,” explains Marcus. At that time, what was not the downtown was considered peripheral. In a rural and bucolic space, freedmen found the opportunity to settle in a community that belonged to them. According to the researcher, thus began to develop a peculiar society, free of traditional standards.

Community of non-belonging

Marcus discovered Colônia Africana in chronicles of magazines and newspapers of the time. “I had a great one, about a supposed ghost.” He says that around 1905 a man was known in Colônia for dressing up and scaring the people of the area. After gaining notoriety, he was arrested at his residence. What officials did not expect was to find a place for worship, with a large number of religious images and references. “The guy was a pai de santo (priest of candomblé) ,” says Marcus.

During this period, persecution of African-born religions was widespread. A priest assigned to one of the parishes in the region (probably linked to the Nossa Sra. da Piedade Church) was known to ruin references left on the streets to religions other than Catholicism. “He was infuriated by the black people going to Mass and continuing to have other beliefs.” Marcus explains that for them there was no ambiguity. “This shows the strength of the relationship between cultures; whether it is spiritism, umbanda or Catholicism – the important thing was to be able to get through these dialogues, something that most do not understand.”

The non-adherence to the white model made Colônia the seat of black social welfare in Porto Alegre. By not being welcomed in the associations and dance clubs and stigmatized by public power, the inhabitants of the Colônia founded their own societies that helped in the maintenance of the daily life. Thus, they focused on the breadth of community needs: they were responsible for the literacy of their members, for the civic agenda, for religious festivities, and even for funerals.

In the last decade of the 1800s, the substitution of the slave labor force for the European was clear and brutal in Porto Alegre. The colony also became a refuge for poor immigrants and far from the field, who shared with the blacks the reality of exploitation. But despite the factors that brought these two groups closer together, police records of the time, late nineteenth and early twentieth century, indicate a major housing dispute that would eventually separate whites and blacks.

“I could conclude that their sharing of the common mound of poverty did not mean that they would have good relations – the color criterion was decisive,” says Marcus. The researcher says that he has frequently encountered requests for expulsion of residents – most of them referring to the expulsion of blacks. “It’s João, black, a resident of such a street,” Marcus says, stating that color was always accompanied by a series of disparaging adjectives. “They are the vagrants, the vagabonds, the uncivilized, the dirty, the troublemakers, the noisy…”. Surprisingly, when a black reported an immigrant who did not pay the rent, for example, there was no reference to the physical characteristics of the accused.

Source: Rede Brasil Atual

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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