With the end of Black History Month falling in October, we look into the history of Brazil, where the lives of millions of Africans and Brazilians alike were affected by slavery.
Slavery in Brazil began long before imprisoned Africans were shipped to the Portuguese colony. Indigenous people where enslaved primarily by other indigenous tribes, then later on by the Portuguese settlers. Although not much spoken of, the enslavement of indigenous people continued throughout the African slavery period until the abolition law was settled.
Brazil became a major importer of African slaves between 1600-1800 where around 4.5 million enslaved Africans were brought into the country. It was the driving force of the sugar cane industry where slaves worked gruelling hours with constant physical abuse. The discovery of gold and diamonds increased the employment of slaves and working conditions became increasingly worse. With the rise of the number of Africans in Brazil, the percentage of the black population grew rapidly, and a new category of mixed race, or mulatto, came into being.
On 13th May 1888, Princess Isabelle signed the ‘Golden Law’, abolishing slavery in Brazil, making it the last country in the Western world to abolish slavery.
The introduction of African slaves to Brazil not only changed the country’s history but also its culture. Many dances, saints, beliefs and food are heavily influenced by African custom and traditions. An example of this is feijoada, until this day the staple dish of all Brazilian households: the slaves would receive, once a day, a serving of bean broth which they then went on to enrich with unwanted cuts of meat such as pig’s tongue and trotters.