Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Slavery abolished in Brazil 120 years ago today

The Lei Áurea ("Golden Law"), adopted on May 13, 1888 was the law that abolished slavery in Brazil. It read simply:

"Article 1: With effect from the date of the present law, slavery is declared to be abolished in Brazil. Article 2: All provisions to the contrary are hereby repealed. (Signed) Isabel, Imperial Princess Regent."

The Golden Law was sanctioned by Isabel, Princess Imperial of Brazil (1846 - 1921) who was regent at the time, while her father, Emperor Dom Pedro ll, was in Europe.

Brazil was the last country in the Western world to abolish slavery.

Unlike Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, there are seemingly no festivals, parades or celebrations among Afro-Brazilians to mark this significant anniversary.

It is no real surprise that as a proud people Brazilians of African decent choose not to “celebrate” the day the white folks finally took their boot off their neck. Hello? They’re more like: “What the hell were you doing keeping us as slaves in the first place!?” Duh.

Much like the history of emancipation in the States, slaves here were not given compensation or otherwise assisted once their freedom was granted. The Wikipedia entry notes: "Before the abolition of slavery, the slaves in Brazil were prohibited from having assets or education; slaves were freed, but left alone with their own destinies. Without education or political representation, slaves faced many difficulties to gain economic and social status in Brazilian society; this explains many of the social inequalities observed in Brazil until today."

I’m no expert in Brazilian history and I certainly have no claim to a keen understanding of the black experience in Brazil, but I did find two informative articles here and here that shed a little more light on the subject.

Finally – here is a famous poem on this topic from Carlos de Assumpcao, a celebrated Brazilian poet. (Painfully-roughly translated. Major apologies to the poet.) Better to read it in Portuguese. The original is here.















Protest

Even if they turn their back
My words of fire
I will not stop shouting
I will not stop
I will not stop shouting

Gentlemen
I was sent to the world
To protest
No spurious lies
Nothing will silence me

Gentlemen
Behind the wall of the night
Without that no one understands
Many of my ancestors
They meet at my house
And we chat
About things bitter

About shackles and chains
What in the past were visible
About shackles and chains
What are invisible in the present
Invisible, but existing

In the arms, in thought
In steps, in dreams in life
From each of the living
Together me enjeitados the Homeland

Gentlemen
The blood of my grandparents
What runs in my veins
They are cries of rebellion

One day, perhaps, ask someone
Be moved before my suffering
Who and what is screaming
What regrets and that well
Who is

And I reply
That's me brother
Brother you do not recognize me
I am the one who had become
Victim of men

I am a man
I was sold by men
In auctions, in public squares
What was sold or exchanged
As any instrument

I am who planted
The sugarcane and coffee
And watered it with sweat and blood
He argued that
About the shoulders black and strong
The progress of the country

I was the one who suffered a thousand tourtures
I was the one who cried for nothing
The one who gave everything he had
And now I have nothing

But today there is no shouting
From what has happened
What happened is past
My heart already forgiven
Today my brother shouts
It is because after all
The Justice does not come

I am who yells at me
The wrong in the past and in this present
It’s me who shouts
It's me who shouts, Me

I am that my brother
Who lived in prison
Who worked in prison
To build
The foundation of the nation

The foundation of the nation
It has the stones of my arms
Is the lime of my tears
So the nation is sad
It is very sad but great
Among so many people sad
Brother me the saddest
My story is told
With paints of bitterness

One day under ovations of roses and joy
Suddenly they threw me
From prison and I discovered
For a broader prison
It was a Trojan horse
The freedom they have given me
There were snakes to come
Under the cloak of enthusiasm

Suddenly they threw me
As crushed cane pith
As coffee straw
As something of no value
As something worthless

Suddenly they threw me
Into the streets of helplessness
Under ovations of roses and joy
Always dreaming of freedom
But the freedom they had given me
It was more illusion that freedom

Brother I who yells
I have strong reasons
Brother I who yells
I need more
From that scream to breathe

But know brother
Piety is not what I want
Piety does not interest me
The poor ask for mercy

I want something better
I do not want to live more
In the basement of society
I do not want to be marginal
I want to enter overall
I want to be well received
Enough of humiliation
My soul is already tired

I want the sun for all
I want a life for all
Either I receive what I want
Or I will shout the night away
As the volcanoes shout
As the cry of thunder
As the roar of the sea
Even the power of the dead
Will not silence me



*PROTEST AND OTHER POEMS, Carlos de Assumpcao, France / SP, 1982, edition of the author.

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