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BRAZIL IN THE LATE 18TH CENTURY
- Conrad, Robert Edgar [compiler], Children of God's fire: a documentary history of black slavery in Brazil, Princeton University Press, 1984.
- 241 A Portuguese law of June 6, 1775 freed all Indians in Brazil
- Ewbank, T, Sketches of Life in Brazil, New York 1856
- 74 . . . two or three hours' rain converts the quiet streamlet into a wide, dashing, tumbling, and overwhelming torrent.
. . . there, in the pools, stand bevies of African nymphs. . . . This stream is resorted to daily by lavandeiras from adjacent districts. Glance at the one we are approaching - it will not do to stop and look. Her sole dress is a garment which ought to be an inner and never an only one. In the middle of the brook, and mid-leg deep in it, she is handling a linen coat by the collar; now plunging it at her feet, and now raising it, she furiously rubs it till the arms fly out and strike her as if the owner were within. Another plunge, and she continues as if she had his ears in her hands, and was resolved to have them off. Another dip, and she twists him into a coarse rope, thrashes a smooth boulder with him, reversing her hold, brings his head and spreading arms down on the stone with loud flops, and anon lays him on the grass to dry.
Here we reach a couple who have joined their labors. One does the washing: she is using handfuls of saponaceous leaves in place of soap. The other is wringing, flopping, and spreading out frocks, shirts, and pants to bleach and dry. Yonder comes one who has finished her task, and is returning home with the blanched vestments piled up in that huge wooden bowl on her head . . . A few rods farther, and behold a lavandeiro. Probably the family that own him have no female slave, or his master may be a bachelor. See! there are half a dozen negroes in that pool in petticoats alone, and those distressingly curtailed. Except one, who has thrown a towel over her shoulders, the whole group is nude above the waist.
77 Here are . . . soap-trees, bearing saponaceous berries . . .
A Portuguese in the neighborhood had the reputation of being unusually cruel to his slaves. One goes past the window for water three or four times a day, in an iron collar with an upright prong at one ear and a shorter one under the other . . .
92 . . . a yell and hurlement burst forth that made me start as if the shrieks were actually from Tartarus. From dark spirits they really came. A troop of over twenty negroes, each bearing on his head one or more articles of household furniture - chairs, tables, bedsteads, bedding, pots, pans, candlesticks, water-jars, and crockery - every thing, in fact, belonging to a family moving to a new domicile. Chanting only at intervals, they passed the lower part of the Cattete in silence, and then struck up the Angola warble that surprised me. There they go, jog-trotting on! The foremost, with pants ending at the knees, a red woolen strip round his waist, upon his head a mop, whose colored thrums play half way down his naked back, and in his hand a gourd-rattle, fringed with carpet-rags, beats time and leads the way. The “cries” of London are bagatelles to those of the Brazilian capital. Slaves of both sexes cry wares through every street. Vegetables, flowers, fruits, edible roots, fowls, eggs, and every rural product; cakes, pies, rusks, doces, confectionery, “heavenly bacon,” etc., pass your windows continually. Your cook wants a skillet, and, hark! the signal of a pedestrian copper-smith is heard; his bell is a stew-pan, and the clapper a hammer. A water-pot is shattered; in half an hour a moringue-merchant approaches. You wish to replenish your table-furniture with fresh sets of knives, new-fashioned tumblers, decanters, and plates, and, peradventure, a cruet, with a few articles of silver. Well, you need not want them long. If cases of cutlery, of glass ware, china, and silver have not already passed the door, they will appear anon. So of every article of female apparel, from a silk dress or shawl to a handkerchief and a paper of pins. Shoes, bonnets ready trimmed, fancy jewelry, toy-books for children, novels for young folks, and works of devotion for the devout; “Art of Dancing” for the awkward; “School of Good Dress” for the young; “Manual of Politeness” for boors; “Young Ladies' Oracle;” “Language of Flowers;” “Holy Reliquaries;” “Miracles of Saints;” and “A Sermon in Honor of Bacchus” - these things, and a thousand others, are hawked about daily. Vegetables are borne in open, fowls in covered baskets; pies, confectionery, and kindred matters are carried on the head in large tin chests, on which the owner's name and address are painted; dry-goods, jewelry, and fancy wares are exposed upon portable counters or tables, with glass cases fixed on them. These are very numerous.
Proprietors accompany silver-ware, silks, and also bread, for blacks are not allowed to touch the latter. When a customer calls, the slave brings his load, puts it down, and stands by till the owner delivers the articles wanted. The signal of dry-goods venders is made by the yardstick, which is jointed like a two-foot rule. Holding it near the joint, they keep up a continual snapping by bringing one leg against the other. The Brazilian yard is the vara, equal to 43 inches English. The covado, an old Portuguese measure, is also in use, equal to 28¼ of our inches; hence the vara of the streets is divided unequally, the long leg being a covado. These are the only measures used by shop-keepers in Brazil. Fine goods, such as silks, lawns, crapes, and the like, are sold by the covado, and others by the vara.
Young Minas and Mozambiques are the most numerous, and are reputed to be the smartest of marchandes. Many a one has an infant added to her load: she secures it at her back by a wide piece of check wound round her waist. Between the cloth and her body it nestles and sleeps; and when awake, inquisitively peeps abroad, like an unfledged swallow peering over the edge of its nest. To protect her babe from the sun, she suspends a yard of calico at the rear end of the case on her head: this serves as a screen, and, from its motions, acts somewhat as a fan. Dealers often solace themselves with lighter companions - paper cigars - which, when called on to display their wares, are disposed of in a curious place. One of these gentlemen, with a strangely miscellaneous stock, was called into the passage to-day. He had combs, soaps, needles, perfumes, inks, quills, thread, blacking, books, paper, pencils, matches, English china tea-sets, cards of fine cutlery, and I know not what else, so crammed was his glass counter. Before coming in, be stuck his cigar behind one ear, and on his stooping down, I perceived a tooth-pick projecting from the other.
The way customers call street-venders is worth noticing and imitating. You step to the door, or open a window, and give utterance to a short sound resembling shir - something between a hiss and the exclamation used to chase away fowls; and it is singular to what a distance it is heard. If the person is in sight, his attention is at once arrested: he turns and comes direct to you, now guided by a signal addressed to his eyes - closing the fingers of the right hand two or three times, with the palm downward, as if grasping something - a sign in universal use, and signifying “Come.” There is here no bawling after people in the streets; for in this quiet and ingenious way all classes communicate with passing friends or others with whom they wish to speak. The custom dates, I believe, from classical times.
Here comes the tallest and blackest man-milliner I have yet seen; his dress, the usual brown shirt and trowsers, ending at the knees and elbows. His case contains Leghorn and fancy silk bonnets - nothing else. These he cries, and at every few steps, turns to this side and that in quest of fair customers.
Yesterday a young negro came along with a couple of Seguise, or miniature monkeys. He stopped and held up the wicker cage, not over six inches square. “Tres milreis?” I said. “Nao, senhor, seis milreis,” putting forth his spread dexter hand, from which, sure six fingers grew. This was the only itinerant Macáco merchant I met in the street; there are several in the market.
115 Invited to dine in the city that I might witness the procession, I now turned down Ruo San Pedro, a long and narrow street, in which iron and copper smiths, hatters, and guitar-makers were at work . . .
. . . I emerged from the long avenue in Dereita Street, not far from the Custom-house, where street-passengers have to run a muck through piles of bales, barrels, packages, crates, trucks, and bustling and sweating negroes. Here are no carts drawn by quadrupeds for the transportation of merchandise. Slaves are the beasts of draught as well as of burden. The loads they drag, and the roads they drag them over, are enough to kill both mules and horses. Formerly, few contrivances on wheels were used at the Custom-house. Every thing was moved over the ground by simply dragging it. A good deal of this kind of work is still done. See! there are two slaves moving off with a cask of hardware on a plank of wood, with a rope passed through a hole at one end and the bottom greased or wetted! Such things were a few years ago very common. Trucks in every variety are now numerous. Some recent ones are as heavily built and ironed as brewers' drays, which they resemble, furnished with winches in front to raise heavy loads. Each is of itself sufficient for any animal below an elephant to draw; and yet loads varying from half a ton to a ton are dragged on them by negroes. Two strain at the shafts and one or two push behind, or, what is quite as common, walk by the wheels and pull down the spokes. It is surprising how their naked feet and legs escape being crushed, the more so as those in front can not prevent the wheels sinking into the gutters, and whirling the shafts violently one way or the other. One acts as foreman, and the way he gives his orders is a caution to the timid. From a settled calm he in a moment rages like a maniac, and seems ready to tear his associates to pieces.
A slave was chained to one heavy truck. He had been absent when it was wanted, and his enraged owner took this method of preventing him from losing another job. The links of the chain were three quarter inch round iron.
Neither age nor sex is free from iron shackles. I met this morning a very handsome Mozambique girl with a double-pronged collar on; she could not have been over sixteen. And a few evenings ago, while standing on the balcony of a house in Custom-house Street, a little old negress, four fifths naked, toddled past, in the middle of the street, with an enormous tub of swill on her head, and secured by a lock and chain to her neck. “Explain that, Mr. C-,” I said. “Oh, she is going to empty slops on the beach, and being probably in the habit of visiting vendas, she is thus prevented, as the offensive vessel would not be admitted. Some slaves have been known to sell their `barils' for rum, and such are sent to the fountains and to the Praya accoutred as that old woman is.”
117 Gangs of slaves came in continually with coffee for shipment. . . Every gang of coffee-carriers has a leader, who commonly shakes a rattle, to the music of which his associates behind him chant. The load, weighing 160 lbs., rests on the head and shoulders, the body is inclined forward, and the pace is a trot or half run. Most are stout and athletic, but a few are so small and slightly-made that one wonders how they manage to keep up with the rest. The average life of a coffee-carrier does not exceed ten years. In that time the work ruptures and kills them. They have so much a bag, and what they earn over the sum daily required by their owners they keep. Except four or five, whose sole dress was short canvas shirts, without sleeves, all were naked from the waist upward and from the knees below; a few had on nothing but a towel round the loins. Their rich chocolate skins shone in the sun. On returning some kept up their previous chant, and ran as if enjoying the toil; others went more leisurely, and among them some noble looking fellows stepped with much natural grace.
A gang of fourteen slaves came past with enormously wide but shallow baskets on their heads. They were unloading a barge of sea-coal, and conveying it to a foundry or forge. The weight each bore appeared equal to that of a bag of coffee, (160 lbs.) . . . As with coal, so with every thing; when an article is once mounted on the head of a negro it is only removed at the place where it is to remain.
A couple of slaves followed the coal-carriers, each perspiring under a pair of the largest sized blacksmith bellows - a load for a horse and cart with us. A week ago I stood to observe eight oxen drag an ordinary wagon-load of building stone for the Capuchins up the steep Castle hill; it was straining work for them to ascend a few rods at a time; to-day I notice similar loads of stone discharged at the foot of the ascent, and borne up on negroes' heads.
No wonder that slaves shockingly crippled in their lower limbs are so numerous. There waddled before me, in a manner distressing to behold, a man whose thighs and legs curved so far outward that his trunk was not over fifteen inches from the ground. It appeared sufficiently heavy, without the loaded basket on his head, to snap the osseous stem and drop between his feet. I observed another whose knees crossed each other, and his feet preternaturally apart, as if superincumbent loads had pushed his knees in instead of out. The lamplighter of the Cattete district exhibits another variety. His body is settled low down, his feet are drawn both to one side, so that his legs are parallel at an angle of thirty degrees. The heads of Africans are hard, their necks strong, and both, being perpendicular to the loads they are called to support, are seldom injured. It is the lower parts of the moving columns, where the weights are alternately thrown on and off the jointed thighs and legs, that are the weakest. These necessarily are the first to give way under excessive burdens; and here are examples of their having yielded and broken down in every direction.
Dereita Street is the chief scene of religious pomps. By four P.M. the balconies began to fill with ladies in full dress, the heads of several adorned with flowers, and the necks and ears of all with chains and pendents. In the whole street there was not a cap or a bonnet to be seen.
257 We crossed the Bay in a small steamer, whose pilot was a Mozambique slave, and landed at San Domingo, where the gate-keeper or ferry-master was, or had been, another. Both were tall, middle-aged, and as finely-formed men as I ever saw, the latter particularly. He had no more of the negro lineaments than had Mark Antony or Cato, but both had indelible marks of their barbaric origin - one a double, the other a single row of pimples, the size of peas, down the middle of the forehead, and along the ridge of the nose to its very tip - the signs of their native tribes. The Mozambiques are among the best of slaves. Equally intelligent and more pacific than the Minas (from the Gold Coast), faithful and trustworthy, they bring a high price.
277 While waiting for Colonel F-, whose office is not far from the Matadoura, a dozen at least of butchers' slaves went past in the course of an hour with crushing loads of fresh-killed beef. The flesh was warm; it smoked, and all but quivered. One poor fellow had a collar, and a chain extending from it to an ankle; he belonged to a meat-shop in the Cattete. Two hind quarters are a common load. Other slaves went by, awfully crippled in their feet and legs; among them two women, lame with elephantiasis, with light loads. The right leg of one was really almost as large as her waist. A purblind man, with a talha of water on his head, crept along, feeling his way with a stick. Some Minas girls, dealers in fowls, smartly dressed, and with tribal scars on their faces, passed on laughing. Each had a wide basket and a supplemental chicken in her hand, holding it, as the custom is here, by the wings. Of about one hundred and fifty blacks who thus passed by, all were slaves save one. His feet were thrust into a pair of old shoes or slippers - the badge of freedom. Proud of wearing the same covering to their feet as white people wear, some pay dear for the gratification. When men are wanted for the army, a keen look-out is kept up for them. Those aware of their danger go barefoot, and some-times throw the recruiting officers off their guard, as slaves can not be impressed. I met, a few days ago, a hundred recruits just coming in from a northern province. They were nearly all colored; one third were Indians.
280 On returning, I passed in the same street a short, spare, feeble old woman, creeping along the pavement with a baril of water on her head. An iron collar grasped her shriveled throat, and from its prong a chain ran up and was secured to the handle of the vessel by a padlock - about as cruel a sight as I have seen yet.
“Is it a cause of wonder that so many of your slaves emancipate themselves by death rather than endure life on such conditions?” “To treat them in that way,” replied my friend, “or to put masks on them, is forbidden, but laws respecting them are disregarded.” Every day or two suicides are announced in the police reports, yet it is affirmed that not half are officially noticed. Those who plunge into the Bay and float ashore come under the cognizance of the authorities. Of such as sink and never rise, and all that pass out to sea, or are devoured by sharks before they reach it, no account is or can be kept, nor yet of those who destroy themselves in the secret places of the city or dark recesses of the neighboring forests. Many are advertised as runaways who have reached the spirit land. Suicides, it is said, have greatly increased during the last three years.
282 I have repeatedly passed an auction store at the corner of Ourives and Ouvidor. To-day printed bills were hanging by the door. I took one and stepped in. A long table extended from near the entrance to the low box pulpit of the salesman. Behind it, a light iron railing cut off a portion of the store. The place was filled with new and second-hand furniture, old pictures, Dutch cheeses, Yankee clocks, kitchen utensils, crockery-ware, old books, shoes, pickles, etc. . . .
. . .Vendues of these things are held here daily, and once or twice a week another variety of merchandise is offered. This was the case today - an assorted invoice of colonial goods, arranged on benches behind the railing. The catalogue contained eighty-nine lots, and each lot had a corresponding number pinned to it, that purchasers, on running over the list, might compare the articles with their description. These goods were living beings. Every lot was a man or woman, a boy or girl. There were fifty-three males, most of whom ranged between eighteen and thirty years of age - carpenters, masons, smiths, and country hands. One was a sailor, another a caulker and boatman. There were two tailors, a coachman, a saddler, a sawyer, a squarer of timber (one expert with the adze), a shoemaker, cooks, a coffee-carrier, and a barber surgeon, who, like most of his profession, was a musician -“No. 19, 1 Rapaz, Barbeiro, bom sangrador e musico.”
283 Of females, the oldest was twenty-six, and the youngest between seven and eight - washers, sewers, cooks, two dressmakers “muito prendada” - very accomplished. Others made shirts, dressed ladies' hair, etc. A couple were wet-nurses, with much good milk, and each with a colt or filly, thus: “No. 61, 1 Rapariga, com muito bom leite, com cria.” Cria signifies the young of horses, and is applied to negro offspring.
They were of every shade, from deep Angola jet to white or nearly white, as one young woman facing me appeared. She was certainly superior in mental organization to some of the buyers. The anguish with which she watched the proceedings, and waited her turn to be brought out, exposed, examined, and disposed of, was distressing. A little girl, I suppose her own, stood by her weeping, with one hand in her lap, obviously dreading to be torn away. This child did not cry out - that is not allowed - but tears chased each other down her cheeks, her little bosom panted violently, and such a look of alarm marked her face as she turned her large eyes on the proceedings, that I thought at one time she would have dropped.
“Purchasers of pots and pot-lids,” said Diogenes, “ring them lest they should carry cracked ones home, but men they buy on sight.” If such was the practice of old, it is not so now: the head, eyes, mouth, teeth, arms, hands, trunks, legs, feet - every limb and ligament without are scrutinized, while, to ascertain if aught within be ruptured, the breast and other parts are sounded.
The auctioneer, a tall, black-whiskered man of thirty-five, was a master of his profession, if one might judge from his fluency and fervor. A hammer in his right hand, the forefinger of his left pointing to a plantation hand standing confused at his side, he pours out a flood of words. The poor fellow had on a canvas shirt, with sleeves ending at the elbows and trowsers of the same, the legs of which he is told to roll above his knees. A bidder steps up, examines his lower limbs, then his mouth, breast, and other parts. He is now told to walk toward the door and back, to show his gait. As he was returning, the hammer fell, and he was pushed back within the railing. Another, who had but four toes on one foot, was quickly disposed of. The clerk next went behind the rails and brought forward a woman - a field-hand. She was stout, and seemed older than reported in the catalogue. Dressed as sparely and plainly as the men, she too was examined, and told to walk to and fro. When near the door, a bidder interrogated her, but on what I could not comprehend. His last remark was translated plainly by her raising her skirt to expose her legs. They were much swollen. Two hundred and fifty milreis was the sum she brought.
The sale, half over when I entered, was adjourned for an hour. What became of the white woman and child I did not learn. One fact was most palpable - no more regard was paid to the feelings of the victims than if they had been so many horses.
Thus have I seen, for the first time in my life, the bones and muscles of a man, with every thing appertaining to him, put up for sale, and his body, soul, and spirit struck off to the highest bidder - God's automata knocked down for less than Maelzell's wooden puppets. They brought higher rates than bodies at surgeons' halls; but, if negroes were worth more dead than living, the supply, it is said, would equal the demand. That, however, I do not believe; yet, from what I have seen, I should say it were better - yes, unspeakably better - for many to be knocked on the head in their youth, have their skins converted into glue and their bones into ivory black, than endure through life what some endure.
352 We called at a slave-dealer's office. On the walls were penny daubs of the Madonna and other characters. One was a black saint, with Hottentot cherubs floating in the air, and two ebony mortals at his feet. There would have been no occasion to ask his name had it not been printed on the sheet -“The miraculous San Bento, Protector of Angola.” There were no slaves about the premises, and nothing except these wallflowers to indicate the nature of the business transacted in them.
362 A slave brought in strong coffee without milk, a universal custom, except in provinces where the berry is not grown, and there maté is taken instead. One or the other is deemed essential to health, and perhaps is so, in consequence of the morning fogs. The venerable dwelling of our hosts is a low one of stone, with the usual central court. At one end of the wide stoop or corridor was a small room containing two cot bedsteads, and on a table the family patrona, the Lady Conceição, in a glass case, with three candles, unlit, before her. Another shade inclosed what I took for a fancy Swiss figure, as it was draped in a roundabout jacket, trowsers, sash, and a wide straw hat. It represented the Baptist, to whose providence and that of “Our Lady” the old proprietors had committed the estate. This favored dormitory was appropriated to H- and me; and here, I thought, as I wrote on the table, is something very like ancient penetralia with their penates, for Greek and Roman farmers had wax and wooden ../ of tutelary deities in their private chambers.
364. The estate of our hosts is considered a small one, being only half a league square. Inclosed by neighboring mountains, a considerable part is forest-land. The stock consists of thirty-six mules, forty oxen and cows, and seventy slaves, old and young - about thirty are able-bodied. Four first-rate hands and two children, valued at $800, recently died of fever. Mandioca, coffee, beans, pork, and mutton are raised in sufficient quantities for the family and negroes. The staple of the farm is sugar. Nothing else is cultivated for sale. The crop this season is a fair one, and is expected to yield four hundred moulds of eighty pounds each, which, at 5 cents, will yield only $1600 - a miserable sum for the investment of so much capital, for the product of the wear and tear of so many men, and animals, and other costly instrumentalities - a sum, too, which has to be diminished by the cost of boxes, transportation to market, commissions, and taxes.
The mill, driven by mules, is the one of the last century - the first European form of the Asiatic original - consisting of three vertical wooden rollers cased with iron. The expressed juice passed through a log into the adjoining boiling-house, where the ordinary process of concentration was followed. Between the mill and the mansion are the slaves' huts.
366 Accompanied by Senhor J- and mounted on mules, Messrs. M-, H-, and myself started to visit some neighboring fazendas. At a league's distance we came to the Sumidouro estate, the property of an ex-deputy and state councillor. The mill, of the latest construction, was, with the steam-engine that drives it, imported from England. The crushing cylinders are horizontal, and the cane passes through twice at one operation. Here were four evaporating pans. At every sugar plantation the molasses is distilled into cachaça; here, as at others, were enormous hogsheads in which the spirit is stored, and whence it is drawn for sale.
Here 200 slaves are employed and 100 oxen. About fourteen moulds are filled daily (=1200 lbs. of sugar) during the season. The proprietor, a fine, fat old gentleman, was sitting in the engine-house. He has recently buried his wife, and is paralytic. Infant negroes were playing about him, and one stood between his knees. His negroes, he said, were his children, and truly he seemed to treat them as such. One of the oldest fabricas in the province, this is admitted to be the best conducted; yet he said it yielded no profit. He dislikes slavery, but thinks white laborers can not supersede it in Brazil.
Leaving, we came to the borders of a lake . . . Here waved the conical lilac crests of the matured sugar-plant, towering from ten to fifteen feet above the ground - a beautiful sight. We came to a shanty, which turned out a venda for the sale of soap, shoes, cachaça, and straw and willow wares made by tamed Indians. . . .
At the “Engenho d'Agoa,” a twelve-foot undershot wheel, with buckets only fifteen inches wide, drove three jacaranda stampers for husking rice in wooden mortars. In the carpenter's shop wagons were being made by slaves, the little adze in their hands bringing wheels and felloes into form to admiration. Old rose-wood axle-trees lay about, rendered useless by fire evolved from their friction.
368 Emerging from the woods, we met a mounted party, a lady, four gentlemen, and a monk, whose wide and white felt hat, cassock, scapulary, and bare legs gave a piquant feature to the group. They were members of the Araujo family, to one of whose fazendas we were traveling; one named after the stream on which it is located, Rio das Pedras. Its sugar product this season is estimated at two thousand moulds of eighty pounds each. Here we found a water-wheel forty feet in diameter and only three wide; also another species, common in the Middle Ages: from a vertical or inclined shaft spokes radiate, and have their extremities formed into spoons. Water brought down a deep descent in a close tube is directed against these, and by its impulse drives them round . . .
Brick and tiles are made on this estate in large quantities. Under a shed were young and middle-aged negras, naked save a piece of skirt tied on and some with infants slung at their backs, bending over benches and pressing the clay into moulds, their arms and legs covered and their faces marked with it.
Chigres swarmed on the hot sand; they ran up our legs and walking-sticks. Black and small as dots of the letter i on this page, they quickly burrow under the skin. There is not a slave but has more or less in his feet. When not extracted within two days each forms a bag and fills it with eggs. Even then little inconvenience is felt: but care is taken to extract the tough sack (about the size of a small pea) before its living content are ready to burst forth. An old slave is charged on every plantation with this duty.
370 . . . At length we arrived at the Macacu estate of the Carmelite monks of the Lapa Church in Rio. A league square of fine land, it was willed to them by an old planter in exchange for an apanage they promised him in heaven. Mandioca, rice, and beans alone are cultivated, but none for sale. The greater part is consumed on the place, the balance by the fathers in the city. Of the slaves, excluding children, only six are men; the rest, some fifty odd, are women. The owners find it more profitable to raise negroes than coffee, or aught else. The lads, at a certain age, are sent to the city and bound out to trades, by which “twice as much is made out of them as if they were employed on the soil.” The manager is a slave; he led us into a barn, with mud floor and walls, in which thirty women and children were huddled around a pile of mandioca tubers, which they were scraping, while others washed them. Such distorted, mutilated, hard, and horny fingers as many of these women had, I never saw. Like the hands of some slaves, they seemed losing their human characteristics.
All were comfortably and uniformly clothed - black skirts and a species of short and dark-blue cloak. I believe the latter, as well as the prohibition of shoes, iron collars, flogging men with leather thongs, and women with ferrules, is derived from the ancient policy respecting slaves. Those of the Gauls and Romans wore blue.
405 On our return, two negroes came suddenly on us out of a side path, bearing a pole on their shoulders. To it was slung the body of a brother slave they were going to bury. A white man, dressed like the tailor, met us - a picture of idleness, dirt, and distress: a specimen, it is said, of thousands in Brazil, whom slavery, with the feelings it has generated, makes wretched. Labor is degrading, and as they have not the means to live respectably without it, what can they do? Custom, instead of honoring useful toil, withholds all stimulus to exertion, and in a manner compels them to degenerate into worse than Indian habits. If they had land they could not cultivate it without slaves, and these they can not buy. The climate favors them: dwellings are hardly necessary, fuel and fire can be dispensed with, and, excepting fig-leaves, so might clothing. The poor of Brazil are poor indeed.
436 The character of the Brazilians, I should say, is that of a hospitable, affectionate, intelligent, and aspiring people. They are in advance of their Portuguese progenitors in liberality of sentiment and in enterprise. Many of their young men visit Europe, others are educated in the United States; add to this an increasing intercourse with foreigners - the means ordained by Divine Providence for human improvement - and who does not rejoice in their honorable ambition, and in the career opened before them? It must be remembered, however, that no one people can be a standard for any other, for no two are in the same circumstances and conditions. The influence of climate, we know, is omnipotent, and from their occupying one of the largest and finest portions of the equatorial regions, it is for them to determine how far science and the arts within the tropics can compete with their progress in the temperate zones. As respects progress, they are, of Latin nations, next to the French. In the Chambers are able and enlightened statesmen, and the representatives of the empire abroad are conceded to rank in talent with the ambassadors of any other country. As for material elements of greatness, no people under the sun are more highly favored, and none have a higher destiny opened before them. May they have the wisdom to achieve it.
Among lithographic scenes of life in Rio, designed and published by native artists, those relating to the slaves are not the least conspicuous. There is no more fastidiousness, that I observed, about portraying them in shackles than in their labors and their pastimes. The one at the head of the opposite page represents common punishments: a negra in a mask, and a negro wearing the usual pronged collar, with a shackle round one ankle, and secured to a chain suspended from his waist.
It is said slaves in masks are not so often encountered in the streets as formerly, because of a growing public feeling against them. I met but three or four, and in each case the sufferer was a female. The mask is the reputed ordinary punishment and preventative of drunkenness. As the baril is often chained to the slave that bears it, to prevent him from selling it for rum, so the mask is to hinder him or her from conveying the liquor to the mouth, below which the metal is continued, and opposite to which there is no opening.
Observing one day masks hanging out for sale at a tin and sheet iron store, I stopped to examine them, and subsequently borrowed one, from which the annexed sketch is taken. Except a projecting piece for the nose, the metal is simply bent cylinder-wise. Minute holes are punched to admit air to the nostrils, and similar ones in front of the eyes. A jointed strap (of metal) on each side goes round below the ears (sometimes two), and meets one that passes over the crown of the head. A staple unites and a padlock secures them.
At most of the smiths' shops collars are exposed, as horse-shoes are with our blacksmiths; at one shop in Rua das Violas there was quite a variety with gyves, chains, etc. Most of the collars were of five-eighths-inch round iron, some with one prong, others with two, and some with none except a short upright tubular lock. Here, too, were the heaviest and cruelest instruments of torture - shackles for binding the ankles and wrists close together, and consequently doubling the bodies of the victims into the most painful and unnatural positions. Had I not seen them, I could hardly have thought such things were. While making a memorandum of their form and dimensions, the proprietor or his adjutant, a black man, in his shirt sleeves, came from the rear, and handling them, spoke by way of recommending them, supposing I was a customer. They were made of bar iron, three inches wide and three eighths of an inch thick! Each consisted of three pieces, bent, jointed, and fastened, as shown in the margin. The large openings were for the legs, the smaller for the wrists. A screw-bolt drew the straight parts close together. One of the joints is shown above. The distance from joint to joint was two feet.
Such are the tortures which slaves privately endure in the cellars, garrets, and out-houses of their masters. T, a native merchant, says another common punishment is to inclose the legs in wooden shackles or stocks. Some owners fasten their hands in similar devices, and some, again, retain relics of the old thumb-screws to lock those members together. In the northern provinces, he says, the slaves are much worse used than in Rio; that it is no uncommon thing to tie their hands and feet together, hoist them off the ground, and then “beat them as near to death as possible.” A heavy log fastened by a chain to the neck or leg of a slave who has absconded, or who is supposed to be inclined to run away, is a usual punishment and precaution. He is compelled to labor with it, laying it on the ground when at work, and bearing it under his arm or on his shoulder when he moves.
I observed one day a slave wearing a collar, the largest and roughest of hundreds I have seen. It is represented in the margin. Of inch round iron, with a hinge in the middle, made by bending the metal of its full size into loops, the open ends flattened and connected by a half-inch rivet. The upright bar terminated in a death's head, which reached above that of the wearer, and to it another piece, in the form of the letter S, was welded. The joint galled him, for he kept gathering portions of his canvas shirt under it. Rest or sleep would seem impossible.
A Bahian planter, the brother of an ex-councillor, dined with us one day, and spoke with much freedom on slavery. With most men, he thinks the land can never be cultivated in the northern provinces by whites. The city slaves of Bahia, he said, are principally Minas. Shrewd and intelligent, they preserve their own language, and by that means, organize clubs and mature schemes of revolution which their brethren of Pernambuco have repeatedly attempted to carry out. Some write Arabic fluently, and are vastly superior to most of their masters. In the interior, he remarked, the slaves are badly fed, worse clothed, and worked so hard that the average duration of their lives does not exceed six years. In some districts it reaches to eight, while the number that see ten years after leaving Africa is small indeed. Deceptions are played off on foreign agents of the Slavery Commissions. These visit the Engenhos once or twice a year. The planters, informed when they set out, have their slaves decently garbed and well oiled, to make them look supple and in good condition. On a late visit, the examiners were so highly gratified that one left, and wrote home a flattering account of the treatment of the helots. The other continued his inquiries, came to a fazenda where he was not looked for, and there beheld what he did not expect - a negro about to be boiled to death for some act of insubordination. His owner had invited, according to custom in such cases, neighboring proprietors to witness the tragedy.
From the little I have seen, I should suppose the country slaves are the worst off. Every morning, while nature was enshrouded in blackness of darkness, did I hear them driving wagons through the thick mist, and as late as ten at night were they shouting at the oxen as the jolting and groaning wheels rolled by. (This was, however, in the busiest season.) I often wondered how they found their way over the horrid roads, how their naked feet and limbs escaped unharmed, and how they then worked in the fields, unless their pupils had the expansile and contractile powers of night animals.
On large estates, a few days' rest are given them every three or four weeks during the sugar season, but on smaller ones, where owners commonly have difficulty to keep out of debt, they fare badly, and are worked to death. Staggering into their huts, or dropping where their labors close, hardly do their aching bones allow the Angel of Sleep to drive away the memory of their sorrows, than two demons, lurking in the bell and lash, awaken them to fresh tortures. To say these poor creatures are better off than when ranging their native lands is an assertion that language lacks the power justly to describe. It may be true, if the life of an omnibus hack is better than that of a wild horse of Texas. I would rather, a thousand times, be a sheep, pig, or ox, have freedom, food, and rest for a season, and then be knocked on the head, than be a serf on some plantations. I say some, because there are in Brazil, as in other lands, humane planters.
Suicides continually occur, and owners wonder. The high-souled Minas, both men and women, are given to self-destruction. Rather than endure life on the terms it is offered, many of them end it. Then they that bought them grind their teeth and curse them, hurl imprecations after their flying spirits, and execrate the saints that let them go. If individuals are ever justified in using the power Heaven has placed in their hands to terminate at once their earthly existence, it must be these. Those who blame them for putting the only barrier between them and oppression could not endure half their woes. And how characteristic of human frailties! Here are slave-dealers who weep over the legendary sufferings of a saint and laugh at worse tortures they themselves inflict; who shudder at the names of old persecutors, and dream not of the armies of martyrs they make yearly; who cry over Protestants as sinners doomed to perdition, and smile in anticipation of their own reception in the realms above by Anthony and Loyala, Benedict and Becket.
Rich people who lose a slave by suicide or flight scarcely feel the loss, but to many families the loss is ruinous. There are not a few that live on the earnings of one or two helots. The papers are constantly noticing the flight of slaves who have manumitted themselves by escaping across a river their oppressors dare not attempt, since they there become denizens of a country in which Brazilian process can not be served. They unsheath their spirits, and leave the scabbards for their masters.
It is only suicides reported by the police that become publicly known. Were all recorded, every issue of the daily press would, I am told, contain more or less. Instances that have occurred within the last few weeks are here taken from the Diario.
June 22-24. “In the parish of Sta. Anna, an inquest was held on the body of the black, Justo, who killed himself by hanging. He was the slave of Major Jose de Paiva e Silva. Also on the body of the slave Rita, who destroyed herself by drowning. The body of a black, in a state of putrefaction, was found, thrown ashore by the tide, on the beach near the Public Garden.”
July 1. The body of one was found near the Carioco Fountain; another, a female, in another parish, had released her spirit with a rope - “suicidou-se com um baraço.” July 5. Another, in a fit of despair, precipitated himself from an upper window upon a mass of granite. 23d. The slave Luiz Pharoux killed himself with a rope. 24th. The slaves Pedro and Camillo by strangulation. August 1. Another drowned himself on the Praya Manoel. On the 4th, my last day in Brazil, one was lying on the rocks at the city end of the Gloria Beach, washed up by the tide. He was apparently under thirty years of age. As I stood looking down on him, a Mozambique girl came along, put her basket on the low wall near me, dropped a tear on the corpse, and passed on. When the means of suspension are not at hand, it is no unusual thing for high-minded Africans, of both sexes, to expire under circumstances surpassing aught that history records. Some draw ligatures tight round their throats, lie down, and deliberately die. Others, I am told, have the art of holding back their tongues so as to prevent respiration, and thus resolutely perish.
I dined one Sunday with a party at the beautiful and hospitable retreat of Messrs. M- and M`G-, at Boto-Fogo. Strolling alone up an adjacent mount, I was very much startled by two of the most frightful-looking and importunate of human beings rushing suddenly out of the bushes in front of me. Negroes of middle age, and wholly naked, except filthy rags round their loins, each had an iron ring about his neck connected by an ox-chain to shackles at his ankles. By another chain one hand of each were locked together. They bent forward, kneeled, held out their arms, sobbed, cried, screamed and made such frightfully agonizing supplications, that I have often thought neither criminals condemned to die, nor even souls in Purgatory, could make more moving appeals. Poor fellows! I did not make out what they asked for - money, victuals, or intercession with their master, the owner of the hill and of a neighboring quarry, in which he employed over two hundred slaves. These two had attempted to escape, and, when not at work, were ordered to this sequestered spot and forbidden to leave it.
- Mattoso, Katia M. de Queiros, To Be A Slave in Brazil 1550 -1888, translated by Arthur Goldhammer, with a foreword by Stuart B. Schwarz, Copyright (c) 1986 by Rutgers, The State University. Extracts reprinted by permission of Rutgers University Press. First published in French 1979.
- 67 . . . throughout the colonial period (1550-1822) Brazil had no official banking institutions.
91 . . . master rarely looked favorably upon marriages between slaves . . . learning Portuguese took time and there was a real language barrier between new arrivals and the rest of the slave community . . .
92 . . . solidarity amongst Africans was much stronger than among creoles. . . . The black man arriving from Africa faced a simple dilemma: either he did not adapt or refused to try in which case his only alternatives were struggle to death, suicide, flight, or revolt - or else he did manage to integrate himself . . .
98 Schooling was strictly prohibited in Brazil . . . For this reason Brazilian slaves have left no written archives . . . .the slave was unable to tell his own story.
99 Slave society counted on the support of the Church to teach workers the virtues of patience and humility, resignation and obedience to the established order . . . On plantations where there was a chaplain in residence, he was totally subordinate to the owner and entirely cut off from his bishop. . . the religion he preached was one of penitence and fear.
102 In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the life expectancy of many plantation slaves has been calculated to be no more than seven years . . .
103 Masters required all slaves to work in various jobs for fifteen to seventeen hours a day. . .
111 Many sought abortion rather than bear a child into slavery . . . Sexuality for slaves was a response to physical needs, not a means of procreation. . . .The social life of the group was more important than family life, which was practically non-existent. . . .
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