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Sun, 07.01.1500

The Afro Brazilian Community, a story

*Afro Brazilians (afro-brasileiros) are affirmed on this date in 1500.  They are Brazilians who have African ancestry.

The term is being used more in the 21st century, challenging previous systemic social constructs and classifications based solely on appearance.   The Black Africans brought to Brazil through the Middle Passage belonged to two major communities: The West African and the Bantu people. The West Africans mostly belong to the Yoruba people.  The Dahomey enslaved and sold large numbers of Yoruba, large of Oyo heritage. Other slaves belonged to the Fon people and other neighboring ethnic groups.  Bantu people were mostly brought from present-day Angola and the Congo, the Shona kingdoms of Zimbabwe and coastal Mozambique. They were sent in large scale to Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, and Northeastern Brazil.  Brazilian sociologist, anthropologist, historian, Gilberto Freyre noted the major differences between these groups. Some Sudanese peoples, such as Hausa, Fula and others, were Islamic and spoke Arabic and many of them could read and write in this language.

Among Muslim slaves were brought from northern Mozambique. Freyre noted that many slaves were better educated than their masters, because many Muslim slaves were literate in Arabic, while many Portuguese Brazilian masters could not read or write in Portuguese.  These slaves of greater Arab and Berber influence were largely sent to Bahia. These Muslim slaves, known as Malê in Brazil, produced one of the greatest slave revolts in the Americas, known as the Malê Revolt, when in 1835 they tried to take control of Salvador, until then the largest city of the American continent, and all of the New World.  Despite the large influx of Islamic slaves, most of the slaves in Brazil were brought from the Bantu regions of the Atlantic coast of Africa where today Congo and Angola are located, and also from Mozambique.  In general, these people lived in tribes, kingdoms or city-states. The people from Congo had developed agriculture, raised livestock, domesticated animals such as goat, pig, chicken and dog and produced sculpture in wood. Some groups from Angola were nomadic and did not know agriculture.   

The first Spaniards and Portuguese explorers in the Americas brought Black African slaves and initially enslaved Indigenous populations.  Sometimes this labor was available through existing Native American states that fell under the control of their invasions; in other cases, Native American states provided the labor force.  In the case of the Portuguese, the weakness of the political systems of the Tupi-Guarani indigenous groups they conquered on the Brazilian coastline, and the inexperience of them with systematic peasant labor, made them easy to exploit through non-coercive labor arrangements.  However, several factors prevented the system of Indigenous slavery from being sustained in Brazil. For example, Native American populations were not numerous or accessible enough to meet all demands of the invaders for labor.  In many cases, exposure to white-European diseases caused high fatalities among the Amerindian population, to such an extent that workers became scarce.  Historians estimate that about 30,000 Amerindians under the rule of the Portuguese died in a smallpox epidemic in the 1560s. 

The Iberian conquerors could not attract sufficient settlers from their own countries to the colonies and, after 1570, they began increasingly to import slaves from Africa as a primary labor force.  For example, gold mining in Brazil began to grow around 1690 in interior regions of Brazil, such as modern-day region of Minas Gerais.  Slaves in Brazil also worked on sugar plantations, such as those found in the first capital of Brazil, Salvador and Bahia. Other products of slave labor in Brazil during that era in Brazilian history included tobacco, textiles, and cachaça, which were often vital items traded in exchange for slaves on the African continent.  The nature of the work that slaves did had a direct effect on aspects of their lives such as life expectancy and family formation.  Uneven gender-ratios combined with the high mortality rate related to the physical pressure that working in a mine or on a sugar plantation could have on a slave's body. The effect was often that many New World slave economies, including Brazil, relied on a constant importation of new slaves to replace those who had died.  

Despite the changes in the slave population demographic related to the constant importation of slaves through the 1860s, a creole generation in the African population emerged in Brazil. By 1800, Brazil had the largest single population of African and creole slaves in any one colony in the America’s. In Africa, about 40% of Blacks died on the route between the areas of capture and the African coast. Another 15% died in the ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean between Africa and Brazil. From the Atlantic coast, the journey could take from 33 to 43 days. From Mozambique it could take as many as 76 days. Once in Brazil, from 10 to 12% of the slaves also died in the places where they were taken to be bought by their future masters. In consequence, only 45% of the Africans captured in Africa to become slaves in Brazil survived.  Darcy Ribeiro estimated that, in this process, some 12 million Africans were captured to be brought to Brazil, even though the majority of them died before becoming slaves in the country.  Over nearly three centuries from the late 1500s to the 1860s, Brazil was consistently the largest destination for African slaves in the Americas. In that period, approximately 4 million enslaved Africans were imported to Brazil.

Brazilian slavery included a diverse range of labor roles. African slaves in Brazil were known to have suffered various types of physical violence. Lashes on the back were the most common repressive measure. About 40 lashes per day were common and they prevented the mutilation of slaves.  The colonial chroniclers recorded the extreme violence and sadism of white women against Black female slaves, usually due to jealousy or to prevent a relationship between their husbands and the slaves.  Blacks served in the militias and during the Dutch occupation of Brazil in the seventeenth century, Henrique Dias was a distinguished leader of Black militiamen. For his service to the crown, he was accorded the knighthood of the Order of Christ. Dias gained freedom for the enslaved men who served with him, and the military unit was given all the rights and privileges of white units.

Brazilian people with noticeable African features and skin color are referred to (and they identify) as negro or preto ("black") are Afro Brazilian.  Many members of another group of people, multiracial Brazilians or pardos, also have a degree of African ancestry.  Preto and Pardo are among five color categories used by the Brazilian Census, along with branco ("white"), amarelo ("yellow", East Asian) and indígena (Native American). In 2010, 7.6% of the Brazilian population, some 15 million people, identified as preto, while 43% (86 million) identified as pardo. Pretos tend to be predominantly African in ancestry, while pardos tend to have a lesser percentage of African ancestry. On average pardos are predominantly European, with African or Native American ancestries.  In the 21st century, Brazilian government agencies such as the SEPPIR and the IPEA, have considered combining the categories preto and pardo (individual with varied racial ancestries), as a single category called negro (Black, capital initial), because both groups show socioeconomic indications of discrimination. They suggest doing so would make it easier to help people who have been closed out of opportunity. This decision has caused much controversy because there is no agreement about it in Brazilian society.  

Brazilians rarely use the American phrase "African Brazilian" as a term of ethnic identity and never in informal speech.  An IBGE's July 1998 PME showed that, of Black Brazilians, only about 10% identify as being of "African origin"; most identify as being of "Brazilian origin".  In the July 1998 PME, the categories Afro-Brasileiro (Afro-Brazilian) and Africano Brasileiro (African Brazilian) were not chosen at all; the category Africano (African) was selected by 0.004% of the respondents.  In the 1976 National Household Sample (PNAD), none of these terms was used even once.  Brazilian geneticist Sergio Pena has criticized American scholar Edward Telles for lumping pretos and pardos in the same category. According to him, "the autosomal genetic analysis that we have performed in non-related individuals from Rio de Janeiro shows that it does not make any sense to put pretos and pardos in the same category".  

As many pardos are primarily of white-European ancestry, Pena questioned studying them together with pretos, who are primarily of African ancestry. For example, an autosomal genetic study of students in a school in the poor periphery of Rio de Janeiro found that the pardos among the students were found to be on average more than 80% European in ancestry. Before testing, the students identified (when asked) as ⅓ European, ⅓ African and ⅓ Native American.  According to Edward Telles, three different systems related to "racial classification" along the White-Black continuum are used in Brazil.  The first is the Census System, which distinguishes three categories: branco (white), pardo, and preto.  The second is the popular social system that uses many different categories, including the ambiguous term moreno (literally meaning "tanned", "brunette", or "with an olive complexion").  The third is the Black movement, which distinguishes only two categories, summing up pardos and pretos ("blacks", lowercase) as negros ("Blacks", with capital initial), and putting all others as "whites".  More recently, the term afrodescendente has been adopted, but it is restricted to very formal discourse, such as governmental or academic discussions, being viewed by some as a cultural imposition from the "politically correct speech" common in the United States. 

The 2010 census found that 50.7% of the Brazilian population now identify preto or pardo.  This is compared with 91 million or 47.7% who label themselves white.  The proportion of Brazilians declaring themselves white was down from 53.7% in 2000, when Brazil's last census was held.  But the proportion of people declaring themselves Black or mixed race has risen from 44.7% to 50.7%, making Afro Brazilians the official majority for the first time.  In the 21st century, there are more people of African descent (Afro Brazilians) in Brazil than in any country outside of the continent of Africa.  



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