The Abolition of Slavery in Brazil, 13 May 1888
Next year sees the 120th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Brazil. Some contemporary writers saw the period as an horrific maltreatment of our fellow human beings while others saw through this and viewed the patriarchal and familial advantages that society, especially slaves received. Whichever way one sees it, the period before its abolition saw a huge boost in Brazil’s economy, mainly down to its vast manpower – 37% of all African slaves traded – a massive 3 million men, women and children.
Brazil is famous for its three main exports – sugar, gold and coffee and the discovery, production and distribution of these materials was mainly down to African slaves. After the Portuguese developed the technology to extract sugar from sugarcane, the slaves were the ones who worked on the fields and essentially boosted the economy on their own. When the sugar economy levelled out, the slaves were the ones to extract the gold from mountainous, largely inhospitable areas. When the strongest of the three economies was discovered, coffee, the efficiency of the slaves saw coffee take 63% of the nation’s economy. From these facts, it is not easy to say that slave labour was wholly detrimental.
However, several factors and events led to the eventual abolition of slavery. In 1850, foreign slave trade was outlawed while by 1871 all sons of slaves were released and in 1885 all slaves over 60 were released. By the mid 19th Century, slavery had become more of a social condition than a racial one. Newly constructed emancipation groups were resistant to the fact that some slaves, through eugenic selection, were whiter than their patriarchs. A contemporary writer writes
“The circumstance that particularly struck me in Brazil was, the interminable period to which the offspring of a slave is doomed to bondage, from generation to generation. It is a taint of the blood, which no length of time, no change of relationship,...
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