Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Black Consciousness - São Paulo and some other places in Brazil

Today is a holiday here in São Paulo. It is called Dia da Consciencia Negra, or Black Awareness Day. It's not a national holiday but rather a city-decided one--of roughly 5500 municipalities in Brazil, 757 celebrate it. São Paulo city is a rather late convert--it began celebrating the holiday in 2004. The holiday is always November 20, never the day before, never the day after. It's not moveable.

One of the good things about doing this blog is it makes me research various things that I had only peripherally been aware of--like today. And the only reason I have time to research it today is because my kids are off at a soccer day here we go.

According to wikipedia, as good a source as any (wince), Black Awareness Day is a "day on which to reflect upon the injustices of slavery (from the first transport of African slaves to Brazil in 1594 to 1888) and to celebrate the contributions to society and to the nation by Brazilian citizens of African descent." Now considering Brazil's history of miscegenation, you could count a great number of its citizens as being at least partially of African descent. So, let's reflect on some of this.

First of all, why November 20? That's the day, in 1695, that one of the greatest leaders of the African slave resistance was killed. His name was Zumbi dos Palmares, most often known as Zumbi. The story is fascinating and long: I will give you a summary but I suggest you read more (again, I suggest that wikipedia is a pretty good source here on Palmares). The Quilombo dos Palmares, in present-day Alagoas state, was a community made up of fugitive slaves who would not accept Portuguese rule. The "rogue" state lasted from at least 1605 until a major portion of it was crushed by the Portuguese in 1694. Zumbi was the leader for a number of years, taking over from king Ganga Zumba who wanted to try to negotiate with the Portuguese.

Zumbi is an interesting guy. He was born free in Palmares in 1655, but captured by the Portuguese and given to a missionary when he was six years old. He escaped and went back to Palmares to carry on the rebellion there. When Palmares was crushed by the Portuguese, Zumbi managed to evade capture for a couple more years but was eventually betrayed by a former slave and beheaded. Rebellions continued for a number of years but without a charismatic leader, the Palmares Quilombo disappeared around 1710. You can read a lot more about it here or, if you can read Portuguese, the best summary I found was here.

So, I would say that I have reflected a bit on slavery here in Brazil today. And it makes me reflect on slavery in the US a bit too. Slavery continued here until 1888, in the US until 1865. My family immigrated to the US from Holland in the 1860s through the 1880s. It's just not that long ago--I am fifth generation in the US.  What did my ancestors think of slavery? 

Reflection indeed. Happy Black Awareness Day!

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