Ethnic Groups in Brazil - Abolition of Slavery (1888)

Abolition of Slavery (1888)

Further information: Slavery in Brazil

There seems to be no easy explanation of why slaves were not employed as wage workers at the abolition of slavery. One possibility is the influence of race-based ideas from the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which were based in the pseudo-scientific belief of the superiority of the "White race". On the other hand, Brazilian latifundiaries had been using slave manpower for centuries, with no complaints about the quality of this workforce, and there were not important changes in Brazilian economy or work processes that could justify such sudden preoccupation with the "race" of the labourers. Their embracing of those new racist ideas, moreover, proved quite flexible, even opportunist: with the slow down of Italian immigration since 1902 and the Prinetti Decree, Japanese immigration started in 1908, with any qualms about their typically non-European origins being quickly forgotten.

An important, and usually ignored, part of this equation was the political situation in Brazil, during the final crisis of slavery. According to Petrônio Domingues, by 1887 the slave struggles pointed to a real possibility of widespread insurrection. On October 23, in São Paulo, for instance, there were violent confrontations between the police and rioting Blacks, who chanted "long life freedom" and "death to the slaveowners". The president of the province, Rodrigues Alves, reported the situation as following:

The massive flight of slaves from several fazendas threatens, in some places in the province, public order, alarming the proprietaries and the productive classes.

Uprisings erupted in Itu, Campinas, Indaiatuba, Amparo, Piracicaba and Capivari; ten thousand fugitive slaves grouped in Santos. Flights were happening in daylight, guns were spotted among the fugitives, who, instead of hiding from police, seemed ready to engage in confrontation.

It was as a response to such events that, on May 13, 1888, slavery was abolished, as a means to restore order and the control of the ruling class, in a situation in which the slave system was almost completely disorganised.

As an abolitionist newspaper, O Rebate, put it, ten years later,

Hadn't the slaves fled massively from the plantations, rebelling against the masters (...) Hadn't them, in more than 20,000, gone to the famous quilombo of Jabaquara (out of Santos, itself a center of abolitionist agitation), and maybe they would today be still slaves (...) Slavery ended because slaved no longer wanted to be slaves, because slaves rebelled against their masters and against the law that enslaved them (...) The law of May 13th was nothing more than the legal recognition - so that public authority wasn't discredited - of an act that had alreacy been accomplished by the mass revolt of slaves.

Another factor, also usually neglected, is the fact that, regardless of the racial notions of the Brazilian elite, European populations were emigrating in great numbers - to the United States, to Argentina, to Uruguay - which African populations certainly weren't doing, at that time. In this respect, what was new in "immigration to Brazil" was not the "immigration", but the "to Brazil" part. As Wilson do Nascimento Barbosa puts it,

The collapse of slavery was the economic result of three conjugated movements: a) the end of the first industrial revolution (1760-1840) and the beginning of the so-called second industrial revolution (1880-1920); b) the lowering of the reproduction costs of the White man in Europe (1760-1860), due to the sanitary and pharmacological impact of the first industrial revolution; c) the raising costs of African Black slaves, due to the increasing reproduction costs of Black men in Africa.

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Famous quotes containing the words abolition and/or slavery:

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