Race and Slavery in Brazil

Race and Slavery in Brazil

Leslie B. Rout

Brazil's 300-year experience with race and slavery is very different from that of the United States.

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1m 18sec

Exactly when the first black slaves were disembarked in Brazil is unknown, but the earliest recorded shipment from Africa to Brazil was made in 1538 by Lopes Bixorda, a slave dealer in the capitania [province] of Bahia, eight years after the Portuguese discovery of Brazil. Finally, in response to a petition of Bahian landlords, King João IV of Portugal decreed in 1549 that each planter could import up to 120 slaves. The mass importation of blacks began from that date, and the flow would continue for 300 years.

Slavery in Brazil stemmed from the early perception by the Portuguese of Africans as useful and comparatively inexpensive labor. The Portuguese became acquainted with the black man during the period of Moorish rule (711–1249 A.D.) in Spain and Portugal. By the mid-sixteenth century, the Portuguese had already become the major suppliers of blacks for colonial Spanish America. Once it appeared that the indigenous Indians could not be effectively utilized in the canefields and sugar mills of Bahia and Pernambuco, it was only natural that a proven workman, the sub-Saharan African, would be thrown into the breech. Gradually, black slaves were utilized in an increasing number of diverse occupations, and their numbers grew correspondingly. By 1819, 66 percent of the total population of the capitania of Maranhiio consisted of enslaved blacks and mulattoes; in Goias, the figure was 42.5 percent, in Alagoas, 38.3 percent, São Paulo, 32.6 percent, Bahia, 30.8 percent, and Rio Grande do Sul, 30.6 percent. In sum, by the end of the colonial period, African slavery in Brazil had become a nationwide phenomenon absolutely essential to the economy.