The “father of Afro-Brazilian history”, intellectual Manuel Querino, a mix of WEB and Booker T., credited Africans with bringing civilization to Brazil

Note from BBT: I first became aware of the name Manuel Querino through the work of Kim Butler, professor of African Studies at Rutgers University. Back in the year 2000, when I was devouring all of the information I could find about the history of Afro-Brazilians, I came across her book Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won: Afro-Brazilians in Post-Abolition São Paulo and Salvador. Her descriptions of Querino immediately invoked an image in my mind of a sort of Brazilian equivalent of WEB DuBois or Booker T. Washington.

Professor Kim Butler of Rutgers University

As it turns out, I’m not the only person who saw this in Querino’s role in Afro-Brazilian history. In Henry Louis Gates’ investigations into the situation of black people in various Latin American coutries, he also saw Querino as a mixture of DuBois and Washington as well as Carter G. Woodson in terms of his role and importance in black Brazilian history.

But in the same manner in which Brazil treats many of its important black historical figures, Querino, a pioneering black intellectual, is also little known in the country’s history. So what is it that was so important about Querino? To answer that question, we have to understand the racist theories being disseminated by Brazilian intellectuals of Querino’s time. Some time between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, Brazilian elites thoroughly believed in the inferiority of the African and his descendants. So much so that in the minds of the nation’s leaders, Brazil would never be taken serious on the world stage with such a strong black element existing in the country. In their minds, blacks were the sign of Brazil’s backwardness as a people and the sooner they could rid the country of the African element, both physically and culturally, the better off the country would be.

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates discussed the importance of Querino in his book and series on blacks in Latin America

With this in mind, the policy of massive European immigration became the solution to “the black problem”. Leadership believed that flooding the country wtih Europeans would balance a population that was nearly 2/3 non-white shortly before the end of slavery in 1888, and in pursuit of eugenics policies, the promotion of miscegenation, they believed, would eventually lead to the complete disappearance of black and brown Brazilians within about a century.

Querino stood as a voice of opposition to these thoughts on black people. Disputing racist ideolgies on the part of the government, Querino highlighted Africans as the civilizing force in Brazil carrying out studies on African culture, customs and tradition in the heavily Africanized state of Bahia. Querino, a historian, artist, unionist, and black activist, defined Africans in Brazil as not simply slaves, but in fact, colonizers.

For the Bahian intellectual, the African played a civilizing role in the development of Brazil in complete opposition to the voices of the day that associated blackness with barbarism. Playing a definitive role, Africans were a fundamental part in the formation of the Brazilian people. Exalting black pride in the face of strong opposition, Querino is credited as being the father of black Brazilian history.

In the piece below, Valeria Alves further explores the Manuel Raimundo Querino story, yet another that is excluded from Brazil’s history books.

Manuel Querino’s activism

By Valeria Alves

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Brazil underwent major transitions. Social and cultural changes characterized the period marked by popular uprisings, the Paraguayan War (1870), the Abolition of Slavery (1888), the encouragement of immigration of the European labor force and the oppression of blacks. It was the passage from the Empire to the Republic.

In this scenario, an illustrious Afro-descendant, intellectual, artist, worker and abolitionist leader occupied a central place in Bahian society. Manuel Raimundo Querino was born in Santo Amaro da Purificação, in the state of Bahia, on July 28, 1851. Orphaned at the age of 4, the poor, black boy was sponsored by Manuel Garcia, a teacher at the Escola Normal de Salvador. Created and educated by a white middle-class family, he developed skills for the arts, drawing, painting and handicrafts. During his life he challenged social structures based on racial and class prejudice, his beliefs were rooted in freedom, education, equality and justice, always fighting for the appreciation of black identity and culture. As a great worker, he critically positioned himself to the suffering situation of the worker, dedicating part of his life to the struggles for better conditions of the black and the poor.

“Two of the greatest marks of Manuel Querino’s activism were, without a doubt, his search for the ancestry of an African matrix and his inclination to rescue these origins, their values and cultural traits that, doomed to extinction, due to the policy of “embranquecimento” (whitening) and also, for stating that the one who constructed and founded Brazil was the African.”

Still young, Querino made a foray into the hinterlands of the states of Piauí and Pernambuco in the northeast and without any support, he lived the experiences of a young black man in a slave country. After serving in the Paraguayan War as a scribe in a barracks in Rio de Janeiro, Manuel Querino returned to Bahia and dedicates himself to the study of French and to the activities of painter and decorator. He graduated in architecture and geometric design, wrote two textbooks and started to dedicate himself to drawing and painting. However, his abolitionist ideals and the struggle for a just and egalitarian society remained present, strongly marking his actions.


Manuel Querino studied at the Liceu de Artes e Ofício (see note one), having completed his training at the Academy of Fine Arts of Bahia winning prizes in exhibitions and competitions. Querino is considered to be a co-founder of Bahian Art History, along with other artists such as Marieta Alves, Carlos Otte and Germain Bazin.

At the time, painting in Brazil still had a strong influence of Neoclassicism, a genre that was in opposition to Rococo and Baroque and that resumes the standards of aesthetics, governed by order and clarity, which we observed in the classical period, that is, Classical Greece, hence the name. This school announced the modernity and the end of the enchantment of the world, the pre-eminent issue was the construction and valorization of the State and a fortified nation against the exaltation of the religious theme of Baroque aesthetics. Querino was responsible for the preservation and propagation of Bahian arts and artists. Aware of the need to preserve and enhance history, in 1906, he published an article under the title Artistas Bahianos (Bahian Artists). In one of his writings he makes the following observation:

“…I decided to sketch the following slight outline, with the intention of making known, albeit briefly, the undeniable merit of some artists who flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries, alongside poets, writers and journalists who praise the glories of this land, because Bahia has a lot of preciousness in the dust of oblivion.” (QUERINO, 1911 p.17).

Created for manual jobs, Querino considered himself a worker and understood the importance of various professions, when in 1913, he launched the book As Artes na Bahia (The Arts in Bahia) pointing out the presence of blacks in artistic crafts. Machinists, smelters, iron boilers, joiners, machine builders, locksmiths, sculptors, painters, architects are some of the professions considered by Querino as relevantly artistic.


At the time Manuel Querino lived, the Brazilian intellectual and economic elite was active in cultural institutions, politics and the universe of the arts. The population was dominated by the racialist ideas of the physician Raimundo Nina Rodrigues (1862 -1906). This intellectual presents the Brazilian racial problem polarized in two aspects; the first is the civilized aspect represented by whites, the second is the primitive one, crime, represented by blacks.

Nina Rodrigues, although himself a mestiço (person of mixed race), saw blacks as an inferior race and, because they were numerous, preached the belief that Brazil would not develop. He believed that the nation would end up being governed by blacks and mestiços, and that the solution would be social control through sanitation, it was necessary to stop miscegenation. For Nina, blacks were in an inferior psychic state, they were hysterical and the ritual context provided the manifestation of hysteria leading to trance. In the mind of this thinker, it wasn’t possible to develop a fusion of culture in Brazil, the mestiços were considered to be a degenerate race.

Despite this, the black population continued to struggle. The urban revolts of slaves, free black men and mulattos multiplied. The fugitive slaves organized themselves in mucambos and quilombos in the forests of the mills themselves, the great year for the escape of slaves was 1867. Some of the famous events were the hanging of the slaves Crispim and Malaquias, accused of murdering their masters, and the escape of slave João Mulungo from the Flor da Rosa mill in 1868, later captured and hanged. The cruel actions of the masters against the slaves provoked protests from the black population until the arrival of abolition.


Abolitionist and Republican, Manuel Querino enters politics. His activism is in favor of social, worker and artistic causes. He valued the Bahian people and circulated in various spaces of black sociability, at parties, bars, terreiros (religious temples), churches, artistic associations and, in the intellectual milieu, held great debates in opposition to Nina Rodrigues’ racist ideas.

“It was in the periodicals A Province and O Trabalho, founded by Querino himself, that his abolitionist ideas gained strength and followers. The activist portrayed and denounced the situations of humiliation and violence against blacks and the poor and, despite being under pressure, occupies a central place in the struggle to end slavery and for better working conditions.”

With the aim of organizing the working class in the Empire, he created the Liga Operária Baiana and later, in the Republic, he helped and founded the Partido Operário (Workers Party), of which he was elected councilor. Querino participated, was a witness and took a position on labor issues in the intense process of change in the social structure that also marked his trajectory. It was through politics that he entered the elite of the time, generating discomfort and polemics, because his ideals, his art, his black body, were out of place.

However, Querino was disappointed with the Republic for not valuing workers and disrespecting popular autonomy. He joined the civil service in the position of 3rd officer of the Secretariat of Agriculture. His biographers say that Manuel Querino was an average employee and went through several difficulties and embarrassments, precisely because of his commitment to freedom and social causes.

Querino witnessed the transformations that culminated in the Republic. He wrote about his own concerns about those who experienced difficulties in moving around in different spaces and challenged social structures based on the prejudice of class and race. The orphaned and poor black man moved through the slave society seeking ways to ensure the realization of his beliefs based on justice, freedom, and equality for all.

The activist disconnected from party politics and started to dedicate himself to teaching and knowledge production.


Querino delves deeply into historical studies, is concerned with registering and enunciating the contributions of Africans and Afro-descendants to the formation of Brazil. He was the first to mark in the Brazilian historiography the contribution of Africans to the social and economic growth of the country. In all his production, Querino shows the cultural influences, the food, the dance, the art, the Afro-Brazilian religion for the formation of the national identity.

The abolitionist observes that the presence of blacks in Brazilian history was being neglected by the authorities. He started passing through the outskirts of Salvador, candomblé terreiros, parties, bars, workshops, houses, and everywhere he could find black men and women so that, through conversations, he could rescue the memory, the wisdom, and precious information about the qualities, struggles, skills, values, beliefs, and knowledge of the African tradition in Brazil. Considered the first black ethnologist to register Afro culture, in 1918, he launched the essay O Colono Preto como Fator da Civilização Brasileira (The Black Colonist as a Factor of Brazilian Civilization).

This essay, divided into five chapters, deals with the African as a colonizer and as an active element in the creation of civilization, for him the Brazilian society was constructed by the work of blacks. Querino points out that the Portuguese, in fact, didn’t have the capacity to exercise any kind of control or power, that they were incompetent with regard to the arts, economics, and sciences, and that the greatest ability was to enslave.

In the following chapters, Manuel Querino presents the skills of the “black colonist” as a good worker, hunter, sailor, pastor, miner, merchant and farmer, virtue and courage as part of the African ethos. He also deals with the humiliation, exploitation and punishment to which they were subjected and the reaction through revolts, riots; murders and suicides. Finally, Manuel Querino points out the collective resistance via Quilombos and the formation of the family and their descendants, the formation of the Afro-Brazilian:

In the case of economic wealth, the source of the national organization, the black colonist is still the main figure, the maximum factor. These are the flowers that gird the source of the persecuted and suffering race that, if it goes extinct, will leave undying proof of its unquestionable value that the justice of history will respect and bless, for the inestimable services it has rendered us, over a period of more than three centuries (QUERINO 1955, p.38).

Manuel Querino passed away on February 14, 1923, in the city of Salvador, on an Ash Wednesday. This great artist and activist must be remembered and honored for his political activism and, above all, for being the first historian of Afro-Brazilian Bahian art.


  1. LICEU DE ARTES E OFÍCIOS DA BAHIA was an Institution created on October 20, 1872, in Salvador, with the objective of qualifying workers and craftsmen for the job market.

Source: O Menelick 2 Ato

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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