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History and current politics of black rural communities in Brazil
Resumen Este artículo analiza la protesta llevada a cabo por los mocambeiros (cimarrones) de Pacoval (Alenquer, Pará) en base a tres elementos. Primero, los vínculos entre su reivindicación de los derechos de ciudadanía y sus experiencias medioambientales. En segundo lugar, las redes de patronazgo económico y político edificadas en la época de la esclavitud, y que les proporcionaron un grado precario pero real de influencia institucional. Por último, en sus encuentros con las autoridades republicanas, los campesinos negros también se postularon como "buenos brasileños", una afirmación nativista que les ponía en sintonía con los reclamos de otros sectores sociales en la época. Dicha ideología, que aunaba elementos tradicionales del campesinado negro amazónico con estrategias modernas de movilización política, anticipó la agenda de reformas sociales, económicas y políticas implementadas en Pará durante la primera administración de Joaquim de Magalhães Cardoso Barata, el interventor federal escogido por Getúlio Vargas para llevar a cabo su plan de reformas en la Amazonía (1930-1935). Eventualmente, su administración fue demasiado breve y demasiado débil como para implementar cambios sustanciales en las prioridades que guiaron la acción gubernamental en el Pará republicano.
This article analyzes how the flexibility and the fluidity of social relations in the borderlands shaped Afro-Brazilian projects of freedom after abolition. Studying the case of Amazonia, it analyzes patterns of geographic mobility and mechanisms of access to landownership. Although census data suggests an apparent spatial stability, in reality there were patterns of supra-local mobility. In addition, informality in access to landownership facilitated the maintenance of the political strategies created by the black rural communities of Amazonia.
Oral histories about slavery and the postemancipation period in Brazil and other regions of the Americas often contain descriptions of masters who were kind and humane to their slaves. This article takes one such testimony as a point of departure to analyze why descendants of slaves depicted former masters in a positive light. It argues that, instead of indicating forms of false consciousness and naiveté, narratives of good masters often reflect two operations taking place in the oral memories of Afro-Brazilians: the creation of sites of memory and the occurrence of time slips. As identified by Pierre Nora, sites of memory are entities that condense a community's symbolic heritage. Time slips, a concept borrowed from science-fiction literature, are a type of anachronism that applies to specific individuals. While these two concepts probably do not exhaust the whole range of explanations for the good-master narrative, they do contribute to depicting Afro-descendants as historical actors capable of discussing their own experiences in a nuanced and multi-faceted way.
More than 40,000 enslaved Africans were brought to Amazonia between the late seventeenth century and the 1840s. By the second half of the nineteenth century their cultural and economic adaptation to the region had become very visible: the slaves acquired knowledge of Amazonian agriculture, learned the opportunities for collecting forest and river products, and forged bonds of kin and culture. When slavery was abolished in 1888, the freedmen took advantage of the gradual impoverishment of plantation areas to appropriate plots of land that had belonged to their former masters, creating numerous peasant communities. This implied not only re-configuring residential, work, and leisure spaces, but also crafting new narratives of owning and belonging to the land. Outside of plantations, groups of escaped slaves proliferated along the Amazon’s tributary rivers. Like their enslaved counterparts, by the second half of the nineteenth century the runaways gradually abandoned the hard life of marronage. They maintained relations with itinerant merchants, missionaries, and political patrons to gain stability and establish themselves as autonomous rural producers. In the early 1900s local elites sought to buy the lands where the maroon-descendants lived in order to subject them to coerced labor. Some black peasants accommodated to the new situation but others resisted it by employing varied individual, collective, and confrontational strategies, which included participating in multi-racial protests against land privatization. Local modes of production and trade in Amazonia impinged upon the history of Afro-descendants in complex and contradictory ways. While under slavery the regional economy facilitated the conversion of slaves into peasants and the viability of marronage, in the early- to mid-twentieth century local elites perfected new ways of curbing peasant autonomy. In turn, black peasants tried to maintain themselves as autonomous producers, asserting their right not only to reside on the land and to cultivate it, but also to gather its resources freely.