Brazil And Africans In Historical Perspective

sainey-fayeBy Sainey Faye

Question: Did you know that African slaves help build a country called Brazil?

Yes, almost 4 million Africans plus; were used in the centuries Portugal colonized Brazil in South America.There were ten times more slaves in Brazil, than the U.S.A. in North America. Both are now major industrial powers; but their wealth and economic prosperity and success was built on the back of Africans. Most people flocking to Brazil today for the World Olympic, have no idea that Rio was itself built by African slaves who had outnumbered Whites by 2 to 1 in the 1900’s, according to historical records.They worked for free in building structures.


Brazil became the last country in the Americas to finally abolish this inhumane, wicked, atrocious, and dehumanizing system of slavery. Well, not completely; it was replaced with forced labor for both Africans, Whites and non-Whites.

Brazil, like the U.S. created one of the largest; if not the largest slave economy based on agricultural products and mining. Actually, she had initially agreed to free slaves in 1850, but reneged on it in practice until 1888; for obvious reasons ……free African slave labor.

Today, Brazil has over 100 million Africans out of a population of 200 million, with almost 20% Blacks/Africans who are illiterate; compared to 8% of Whites.Racism is well documented; even by U.N. and human Rights Organizations; along with Black groups like Organization Of Africans In The Americas.It now has outnumbered the Whites and all other groups, as the largest of not only Brazil, but all Africans in the Diaspora including the U.S.A. and all other countries in Africa, except Nigeria.

In the history of Brazil,and here we figure prominently; are slaves from Angola, Congo, Gambia, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, etc. etc. all the way to South Africa. Angola which had the largest population in its inventories; later became her largest African colony. Brazil was built by African slaves, nurtured by Africans, and sustained by its labor.

These slaves, according to historians like W.E.B. Du Bois,Richard Price, R.K. Kent, Gilberto Freyre, and too many to list here; at one point in time rebelled against their masters and defeated them; creating the first African slave kingdom in the Americas.Some called it the first African state in Brazil, South America, others call it the “Negro Republic” of Palmares in Pernambuco.This lasted about 100 years or the entire seventeenth century.

This kingdom was called Palmares, with a heroic warrior leader called Zumbi or Ganga-Zumba. Zumbi, according to historians and legends was one of the formidable revolutionary rebels, and is still honored in Bahia and other places by Afro-Brazilians as a father figure who showed them how to organize and fight back their slave masters. Not only that; also how to seize land and declare it slave free for any who ventured into that territory.Bahia, a state which in the 19th century became a battleground by some muslim religious fighters, who inflicted heavy casualties on the slave plantation owners in their quest to kill and bury slavery once and for all.There were said to be large numbers of muslim ‘alufas’ and even a back-to-Africa movement. Also in Bahia, large numbers of Hausas, Yoruba, Balantas, Jollofs, Mandingueiro (Mandinka), Fula, and other well known ethnic groups created many well organized , advanced societies.

Africans slaves from West Africa brought the knowledge of Islamic/muslim education to Brazil.Historical records indicate that many slaves were educated and taught the sons of slave masters Islam and created muslim schools of their own; which is still being continued. The numbers of muslims is to credited to Africans centuries ago; likewise there were many traditional religions, and the most popular now is the “Candomble”.

Salvador in Bahia, is the center where African culture, religion, etc. feature prominently.This area had historically contained almost 2 million or half of the estimated 4.5 million African slaves that landed in Bahia.Along the Amazon river, wharf towns have names like Barra, Kerwan, etc. etc. …..any similarity Gambiankolu?

Brazil, unlike the U.S. and elsewhere in the Caribbean has kept up and nurtured African religions, culture, language, and lifestyles up to the present.Few decades ago some researchers found the similarities in language and food in some rural parts of the Northeast; where the concentration of Africans is immense. Because of its size, their masters were never able to subdue the Africans totally; indeed Brazil’s land area is bigger than the U.S’s 48 continental states; or rather the whole U.S.A. minus Alaska and Hawaii. Brazil was built by Africans, nurtured, sustained, and kept alive by the toils of the Africans ancestors. Some still wonder what it would be without Africans and their immense contributions.What a gift to Brazil !!

Probably, R.K.Kent sums it up best in an article “Palmares : An African State In Brazil” in it he notes :- …”that Palmares did not spring from a single social structure. It was rather an African political system that came to govern a plural society and thus give continuity to what could have been at best a group of scattered hideouts.”

He continued to note that “…Nonetheless, the most apparent significance of Palmares to African history is that an African political system could be transferred to a different continent, that it could come to govern not only individuals from a variety of ethnic groups in Africa but also those born in Brazil, pitch black or almost white, latinized or close to AmeriIndian roots, and that it could endure for almost a full century against two European powers, Holland and Portugal. And this is no small tribute to the vitality of the traditional African art in governing men.”

Brazil in South America, like the U.S.A. in North America have a lot to be thankful for to Africa and Africans; for her enormous human resources given free to build the societies that today makes them advance industrial nations.


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