Note from BW of Brazil: As understanding of the condition of Brazil’s black population is one of the primary objectives of this blog, I will of course always be intrigued when there is either news or photographic archives that shed more light on the past because these are often times great clues to the present. With this in mind, today I present some great photos and a painting to that portray black life in Brazil in what must have been shortly after the abolition of slavery in 1888. One can only imagine what these people were thinking at the very moment these photos were taken. Perhaps, how they were going to survive that day. Who would end up seeing these photos? Maybe they felt relief to be able to stop and/or sit and take a quick break from a long day. We’ll never know, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, I just added eight thousand words without writing another word!
The face of Brazil
Photographic collection provides photos of the black population after the end of slavery
By Walacy Neto
The history of Brazil is like a jigsaw puzzle missing pieces. In addition, some “pieces” don’t belong to the place where they appear. That is, the history of Brazil is full of flaws and above all is told from a privileged point of view. For many years, to say nothing to this day, the history books taught in the country’s schools speak of the emergence of a nation from the vision of the Portuguese, the invader and colonizer of this territory. Much of Brazil’s history before the arrival of the Portuguese peoples, also called the history of Brazil’s deep or pre-history, was trampled by entrances in search of precious metals and raw materials. The natives of this region were mostly annihilated by contact with new diseases (syphilis, for example) and the rest were enslaved to extract products from their own land until scarcity.
With almost all of the native population extinct, there was a lack of cheap labor for coffee plantations, sugarcane and for mining functions. The slave trade begins in Africa and another very nebulous part of the history of this country begins. In addition to the ill-treatment, blacks were removed from their place of origin, forbidden to practice their religions and celebrate their own culture. Nevertheless, such a rich culture could not simply be stifled. We see today how strong the presence of black traditions in Brazilian society is and this miscegenation is perhaps the best characteristic of this people.
Yet, much of the history of blacks in Brazil has been erased and many important people simply disappear from the pages of the books. For example, we know about the structure of the senzalas (slave quarters), how the Casa Grande (Big House) worked, where blacks worked, their dances and punishments, but we don’t know about the black’s participation in society after the abolition of slavery, in fact, we don’t know about the quilombola communities where they were born and died in the interiors of Brazil, not even the heroes or revolutionaries who fought for freedom during the period of slavery, and then fought for a dignified life with the abolition of it.
THE BLACK AND NEW WORLD
The New York Public Library has a digital collection of photos and prints from various eras and places around the world. Recently, some books have been scanned and show rare images of Brazil, of which we see little in the history books. The book with most images of black life in Brazil is The Negro in the New World, which shows black people in various places in the world, such as Cuba, Haiti and, of course, Brazil. The book reveals a bit of the history of slavery around the world, and how the influence of this trafficking in societies was. The work was originally published in the year 1910 and is available free of charge from the library’s collection: https://digitalcollections.nypl.org.
The book was organized by Sir Harry H. Johnston, who never actually visited Brazil, but had informants in the region, as he cites the writer Gilberto Freyre in Casa Grande & Senzala. The photos show the great migratory movement of blacks to the Caribbean, Haiti and Latin American countries. The photos, probably taken after the abolition of slavery in Brazil, depict the daily life of the country’s black population, especially in Bahia. Open-air markets, Baianas (Bahian women) with their clothes and miners sifting the bottom of the rivers, are some of the images that can be found in this catalog of the National Library of New York.
PORTRAITS OF BRAZIL
Many foreign artists portrayed Brazil in paintings after the arrival of the Portuguese. Some on their own or for the curiosity of glimpsing the “New World” are responsible for bringing to the eyes of the present a little of the reality of the past. On the site of the National Library of New York, another important works that can be found in the collection are the paintings of the German artist Johann Moritz Rugendas, who visited Brazil in the 1820s and related the reality of the slave ships, as well as the formation of this society.
The painting called Rue Droite à Rio Janeiro (Rua Direito no Rio de Janeiro) is a representation of the slave trade that took place there during the colonial period. Johann continued his journey recording the formation of the countries of the so-called “New World”, among them Chile, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. He returned to Rio de Janeiro in the year 1845 where he portrayed members of the imperial family and was invited to attend the Exposição Geral de Belas Artes (General Exhibition of Fine Arts). The following year, he finally left for Europe and, in exchange for a lifetime pension, gave up his collection of drawings and watercolors to King Maximilian II of Bavaria.