Afro-Brazilian are Brazilians of African descent, who are divided into preto(black) and pardo( brown, mixed ancestry predominantly mulatto), although 134 categories of race has been noted in Brazil. As of 2010, Brazil was 7.5% preto(black) and 43% pardo. Afro-Brazilians are now the majority population in Brazil, at 49.6%. Afro-Brazilians tend to concentrate in the northeastern part of Brazil. Large numbers exist in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Sao Paulo, and Minas Gerais.



The first Afro-Brazilian arrived in 1538 to work the sugar plantations(engenhos). Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, and Santos were major importation centers. Slaves who arrived were typically war captives, but also debtors and criminals. Initially, slaves originated from the Senegambian coast but later everywhere the Portugues had trading forts-Gold Coast, Bight of Benin, Congo/Angola, and Mozambique. Four major ethnics have been identified Yoruba, Fon, Hausa, and ethnics from Congo/Angola. Most slaves were predominantly male. Importation was two males for every female.

Social Setup 

Female slave were used as sex objects. Sexual violence could be directed at the whims of their master. Some masters dominated women because they could. African women or men were forced to engage in demeaning sexual acts. Reports exists of masters who sodomized their male slaves.  Some women were bought off the ship for the sole purpose of being sex slaves.They were bought to service white men who paid for service. Reports exists of masters who spent licentious evenings with groups of slave women. In some cases, African women engaged in relationship that assumed husband wife setup. Women in these relationship were considered concubines. The latter was not sanctioned by the church. Most sexual relationships with slave women were coerced or violent. 

With masters, co-habitating with slave women, offsprings were produce. They occupied a special status in Brazilian society. Illegitimacy was their status before the church. They weren't slaves and did not have legal status of whites. Race and status became fluid. Numerous terminologies were invented to describe this fluidity. The most common being mulatto, cafuzo(black and indian), pardo, mestico, chulo, moreno, mameluco, etc., categories that reference a range of skin colors, hair-type, and nose shape. 

Although considered object and property many slaves held families. Men held wives and supported families. Women chose their mates and so did their offsprings.  Some slaves even tended to marry individuals from their region of Africa, with similiar cultural patterns. 

Palmares Quilombo and Zumbi(1605-1694)

Early expression of black rebellion against the dehumanizing slave institution was represented by the Palmares Quilombo, in Algoas State. It was the largest quilombos/mocambos to develop in Brazil. Its population varied with time. In the mid 1600s, the population was estimated at 11,000. The highest peak population was estimated at 20,000 in the latter 1600s. Palmares retained social and political structure that reflected influence from the Imbangala , Kingdom of Ndongo, Kingdom of Kasange, and Kingdom of Matamba in the Angola/Congo region. 

Palmares was continuously attacked by the Dutch and later the Portugues. The Dutch attempted three times to eliminate Palmares, everytime failing. Between 1672-1680, the Portugues mounted annual expeditions to destroy the quilombo, with very little success. Palmares fighters were masters of comouflage, ambush, and guerrilla warfare. Palmares compounds were typically fortified communities with brush and moat barriers and booby traps. They typically pledge loyalty to Portugal for recognition of their freedom. Zumbi took power after Ganga Zumba, his uncle made a deal with the Portuguese, Zumbi thought to accommodating. Ganga Zumba died in the power grab.

The Portugues began having success after hiring indian trackers. In 1692, they mounted an expedition and began infiltrating the Palmares Quilombo. The final battle was fought in 1694, with 200 members killed, 500 captured, and 200 committing suicide. Zumbi was wounded, but escaped. He was later betrayed, captured, and decapitated.  

Engenhos -Northeast

The engenhos(sugar plantation) were probably the worse place to be as a slave. Many were in the northeast. It was all about production. Slaves worked 10 to 15 hour days. They were under-fed. They were housed inadequately in the senzala(slave quarters). Masters found it cheaper to replace slaves with new cargo, than have them self-replicate. Slaves could be worked to death. Mortality was high. Life expectancy for slaves after captivity in an engenho was from 7-15 years. In Bahia the annual rate of decline of the slave population was 1.5% to 3%, between 1600-1830. The slave population tended to dominate. They were typically 60% of the population. 

Field slaves typically worked in teams of two-one man and one woman. One did the cutting and the other did the binding. The harvest called safra lasted 9 months and the planting two months. A quota had to be met called the tarefas. The only relief a slave in the engenhos had was the numerous Catholic holidays and Sunday, which they had off. Slaves used those days to work on their gardens to supplement their diets and sell produce at the local markets, earning funds to hopefully one day purchase their freedom. Many slaves purchased their freedom. It has been noted that between 1680-1750, half of all slaves freed in Bahia, purchased their own freedom or were purchased by relatives.

A caste structure existed on the engenhos(sugar plantation). The crioulos(slaves born in Brazil) and mulattos assumed the skilled trade and managerial position( foremans and supervisors). They, also, typically held position in the fábrica, the factory that produced the sugar in the engenhos. Slave positions of the latter were typically 20%.  The African born slaves were almost always field hands, cutting sugar cane. The crioulos and mulattos also served as domestics.

Because of the harsh conditions of the engenhos, Bahia became a coldrum of rebellion and mocambo formation or fugitive slave encampment. Mocambo was the term used mostly in Bahia to describe fugitive slave communities as oppose to quilombos in Minas Gerais. The areas with the greatest mocambo formation were the southern towns of Cairú, Camamú, and Ilhéus. Mocambos were typically located near the out-skirts of towns and plantations. They engage in theft, cattle rustling. Unlike the Palmares Quilombo, they did not engaged in farming and cattle herding. Because of the shortage of women, they typically kidnapped mulatto and slave women. 

Numerous expeditions were attempted to rid Bahia of mocambos. They were organized in 1663, 1692, 1697, and 1723. Expedition began to bear fruit with the introduction of indian fighters and bandeirantes(backwoodsman) from Sao Paulo. The latter was introduced by Governor Afonso Furtado do Castro do Rio Mendonςa.

List of Bahian Mocambos
Name and Local  Date  Description
Sertão  1614   
Rio Vermelho  1629   
  1632  mocambo 
Itapicuru  1636  size of 40 
Rio Real  1640  mocambo 
Jeremobão  1655   
Irará /Inhambupe  1666  mocambo 
Torre  1666 mocambo 
Jaguaripe  1667  mocambo 
Acaranquanha/Serra de Jacobina  1681  size of 60 
Inhambupe, Rio Real  1687  mocambo 
Camamu  1692  mulatto leader 
Jacuipe 1705   
Jaguaripe  1706   
Maragogipe  1713  mocambo 
Campos de Cachoeira  1714  mocambo 
Cairú  1722  400 members
Quiricós  1723  mocambo- grande 
Camisão  1726  old 
Canaveíras  1733  mocambo 
Santo Amaro/Nazaré  1734  mocambo 
Jacobina  1735   
Rio das Contãs  1736  mocambo 
Buraco de Tatú/Itapú  1744  61 members 
Santo Amaro  1745   
Santana/Ilhéus  1789   
Matas do Concavo/Jacuipe  1791  quilombo 
Serra de Orobó  1796 quilombo 
Jacobina  1801  quilombo 
Cabula/surburbios  1807  mocambo/quilombo 
Rio das Contas  1807  Ilhéus 
Cachoeira  1809  quilombo-grande 
Itaparica  1825  mocambo 
Urubá/suburbias  1826  50 members 

Minas Gerais

Slavery in Minas Gerais took a different character than of the sugar plantation in the northeast. First, slavery in Minas Gerais was fueled by mining. Most slaves if they returned all commodity mined, never stole, was left to their own device. Many slaves had great freedom of movement. The Afro-descendant population became numerous. The lines between master, free person of color, and slave began to blur. The slave population ranged from 33% to 50% during the 1700s. By 1821, 40% of the population was free people of color. Quilombos were endemic. Members of quilombos, engage in robbery, kidnapping, extortion, vandalism, etc. Before the 1800s, it is estimated that 117 quilombos existed in Minas Gerais. 

Because of the large population of free people of color, it was hard to retrieve runaway slaves. Sometimes the free people of color aided runaway slaves and the quilombos.

In 1722, the first regiments were established to capture and destroy quilombos. The regiments consisted of indian scouts. Eventually, the largest quilombos were captured and destroyed: Ambrosio in 1746, Quilombo Grande in 1759. Quilombo Grande had 1,000 inhabitants. In 1744, royal judges were stationed in Minas Gerais to raise money to fight quilombos. The quilombos regiments employed 500 slave catchers.

Region  1823  1864  1872  1883  1887
North 4%  2%  2%  2%  1% 
Northeast  53%  49%  32%  28%  28% 
13%  15%  6%  6%  6% 
    Bahia  20%  17%  11%  11%  11% 
    Maranhão  8%  4%  5%  4%  5% 
    Others  12%  13%  10%  7%  6% 
Southeast  38%  44%  59%  63%  67% 
    Espírito Santo  5%  1%  2%  2%  2% 
    Minas Gerais  18%  15%  25%  24%  26% 
    Rio de Janeiro(Prov.)  13%  17%  19%  21%  22% 
    Rio de Janeiro(City)    6%  3%  3%  1% 
    São Paulo  2%  4%  10%  13%  15% 
South  2%  4%  6%  6%  2% 
    Rio Grande do Sul    2%  4%  5%  1% 
    Others    2%  2%  1%  1% 
West  3%  1%  1%  1%  1% 
Total(%)  100%  100%  100%  100%  100% 
Total Number  1,163,746  1,715,000  1,510,806  1,240,806  723,419 
Slave Population Distribution in Percentage 1823-1887


Abolition came on the heels of the decline of the sugar industry and the rise of the coffee plantations. Numerous abolition organizations were formed, ironically by white individuals of the planter class in the northeast. Joaquim Nabuco, a white politician , the most out-spoken critique of slavery, grew up on a northeastern engenhos. The abolition movement was dominated by the northeastern elites. Very few ex-slaves and blacks were in active positions, with exception of Afro-Brazilian André Rebouças, who co-founded Sociedad Brasileira Contra a Escravidão(Brazil Anti-Slavery Society) with Joaquim Nabuco.  Mulatto José Carlos Do Patrocinio, another exception, bought the Gazeta De Tarde, the most anti-slavery, abolition paper in Brazil. 

The abolitionist elites were more concerned with the negative effects of slavery on whites. The lack of industrialization and development in Brazil was foremost in their minds. To them, slavery thwarted Brazil's progress. Anti-slavery discourse were economic arguments to persuade planters to give up slavery. Enslaved blacks were non-issues. They viewed blacks as amoral sub-human beings and corrupting of the white population. The well-being of blacks was the furthest thing from their mind. Providing education, land, and skills for competing in a wage economy for blacks was not on the agenda of abolitionist. Although, Afro Brazilian André Rebouças and Joaquim Nabuco(white) advocated splitting un-productive plantations into plots to be distributed to free blacks and educating freed slaves. The abolitionist plans for freed blacks was to be whitened and hopefully vanish from Brazilian society in a few generation, due to the large influx of European immigration.

The abolition of slavery was pre-cursored by a series of law. The Saraiva Cotegipe Law(Sexagenarian Law) freed all slaves at the age of sixty. The Free Womb Law made children born to slave mothers free. The law that sparked the death of slavery made slave beating illegal, after an essay by Joaquim Nabuco encouraging the banning of such punishment. Since no penalty exist for being unruly, many slaves abandoned the plantations, making it impossible for the army to get the situation under control. Under the encouragement of mulatto José Carlos Do Patrocinio, Princess Isabel passed the Golden Law (Lei Áurea) on May 13,  1888, abolishing slavery.

Brazilian Racial Composition in 1872 and 1890
Race  1872  1890 
White   3,783,512 (38.1% 6,306,923 (44.0%)
Mulatto  4,190,662 (42.2%) 5,934,241 (41.4%)
Black  1,956,304 (19.7%) 2,092,752 (14.6%)
Total  9,930,478 (100%) 14,333,915 (100%)


Facing limited economic opportunities, education, and racism in the society, Afro-Brazilians began to organize themselves to combat such ills. On September 16, 1931, the Frente Negra Brasileira (Brazilian Black Front) was formed and headed by Arlindo Veiga dos Santos. Its newspaper A Voz da Raça (The Voice of the Race) was created on March 18, 1933. The organization sought to improve the lives of Afro-Brazilians by providing education and training, legal assistance, and serving as a political party fighting for Afro-Brazilian interest. A Voz da Raça (The Voice of the Race) tried forging a common Afro-Brazilian identity by writing about black contributions to Brazil and African history and civilization.  Initially, the Frente Negra Brasileira supported Getulo Vargas.  He was viewed as taking power and land away from the rural plantation oligarchs, thereby benefiting Afro-Brazilians. But under Estado Novo, Vargas began crushing any opposition. The Vargas regime also embraced the "racial democracy" ideology of Freyre, which stipulated that racism did not exist in Brazil and only one Brazilian race existed. "Racial democracy" replaced whitening as the dominant government ideology. In 1945, the government officially cast-off its whitening policy. The Front was viewed as divisive, against Vargas's vision for Brazil. In 1937, the Vargas regime outlawed the Black Front. It continued to 1938 under the name União Negra Brasileira. 

Current Status

Racism exist in Brazilian society, but Afro-descendants have remain unsuccessful in bringing about a mass movement to expedite change. Scholars have pointed to the lack of ethnic unity in the Afro-descendant population. The pardo population views itself completely separate from the black(preto) community. Racial definitions are fluid. The "mulatto escape hatch" in the process of whitening has been accepted and used to climb the economic and social ladder of Brazilian society. In addition, the notion that Brazil has no racism or is a "racial democracy" has been accepted widely in the society. Because of the latter thinking, most Afro-descendants attribute their plight to class rather than racial factors or socially enforce racism.

Brazilian racial notions are fluid and does not have simple boundaries of black and white. Individuals describe themselves in terms of a wide spectrum of colors. In 1976, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) noted 134 racial categories, as follows:
  1. Acastanhada (cashewlike tint; caramel colored)
  2. Agalegada
  3. Alva (pure white)
  4. Alva-escura (dark or off-white)
  5. Alverenta (or aliviero, "shadow in the water")
  6. Alvarinta (tinted or bleached white)
  7. Alva-rosada (or jamote, roseate, white with pink highlights)
  8. Alvinha (bleached; white-washed)
  9. Amarela (yellow)
  10. Amarelada (yellowish)
  11. Amarela-quemada (burnt yellow or ochre)
  12. Amarelosa (yellowed)
  13. Amorenada (tannish)
  14. Avermelhada (reddish, with blood vessels showing through the skin)
  15. Azul (bluish)
  16. Azul-marinho (deep bluish)
  17. Baiano (ebony)
  18. Bem-branca (very white)
  19. Bem-clara (translucent)
  20. Bem-morena (very dusky)
  21. Branca (white)
  22. Branca-avermelhada (peach white)
  23. Branca-melada (honey toned)
  24. Branca-morena (darkish white)
  25. Branca-pálida (pallid)
  26. Branca-queimada (sunburned white)
  27. Branca-sardenta (white with brown spots)
  28. Branca-suja (dirty white)
  29. Branquiça (a white variation)
  30. Branquinha (whitish)
  31. Bronze (bronze)
  32. Bronzeada (bronzed tan)
  33. Bugrezinha-escura (Indian characteristics)
  34. Burro-quanto-foge ("burro running away," implying racial mixture of unknown origin)
  35. Cabocla (mixture of white, Negro and Indian)
  36. Cabo-Verde (black; Cape Verdean)
  37. Café (coffee)
  38. Café-com-leite (coffee with milk)
  39. Canela (cinnamon)
  40. Canelada (tawny)
  41. Castão (thistle colored)
  42. Castanha (cashew)
  43. Castanha-clara (clear, cashewlike)
  44. Castanha-escura (dark, cashewlike)
  45. Chocolate (chocolate brown)
  46. Clara (light)
  47. Clarinha (very light)
  48. Cobre (copper hued)
  49. Corado (ruddy)
  50. Cor-de-café (tint of coffee)
  51. Cor-de-canela (tint of cinnamon)
  52. Cor-de-cuia (tea colored)
  53. Cor-de-leite (milky)
  54. Cor-de-oro (golden)
  55. Cor-de-rosa (pink)
  56. Cor-firma ("no doubt about it")
  57. Crioula (little servant or slave; African)
  58. Encerada (waxy)
  59. Enxofrada (pallid yellow; jaundiced)
  60. Esbranquecimento (mostly white)
  61. Escura (dark)
  62. Escurinha (semidark)
  63. Fogoio (florid; flushed)
  64. Galega (see agalegada above)
  65. Galegada (see agalegada above)
  66. Jambo (like a fruit the deep-red color of a blood orange)
  67. Laranja (orange)
  68. Lilás (lily)
  69. Loira (blond hair and white skin)
  70. Loira-clara (pale blond)
  71. Loura (blond)
  72. Lourinha (flaxen)
  73. Malaia (from Malabar)
  74. Marinheira (dark greyish)
  75. Marrom (brown)
  76. Meio-amerela (mid-yellow)
  77. Meio-branca (mid-white)
  78. Meio-morena (mid-tan)
  79. Meio-preta (mid-Negro)
  80. Melada (honey colored)
  81. Mestiça (mixture of white and Indian)
  82. Miscigenação (mixed --- literally "miscegenated")
  83. Mista (mixed)
  84. Morena (tan)
  85. Morena-bem-chegada (very tan)
  86. Morena-bronzeada (bronzed tan)
  87. Morena-canelada (cinnamonlike brunette)
  88. Morena-castanha (cashewlike tan)
  89. Morena clara (light tan)
  90. Morena-cor-de-canela (cinnamon-hued brunette)
  91. Morena-jambo (dark red)
  92. Morenada (mocha)
  93. Morena-escura (dark tan)
  94. Morena-fechada (very dark, almost mulatta)
  95. Morenão (very dusky tan)
  96. Morena-parda (brown-hued tan)
  97. Morena-roxa (purplish-tan)
  98. Morena-ruiva (reddish-tan)
  99. Morena-trigueira (wheat colored)
  100. Moreninha (toffeelike)
  101. Mulatta (mixture of white and Negro)
  102. Mulatinha (lighter-skinned white-Negro)
  103. Negra (negro)
  104. Negrota (Negro with a corpulent vody)
  105. Pálida (pale)
  106. Paraíba (like the color of marupa wood)
  107. Parda (dark brown)
  108. Parda-clara (lighter-skinned person of mixed race)
  109. Polaca (Polish features; prostitute)
  110. Pouco-clara (not very clear)
  111. Pouco-morena (dusky)
  112. Preta (black)
  113. Pretinha (black of a lighter hue)
  114. Puxa-para-branca (more like a white than a mulatta)
  115. Quase-negra (almost Negro)
  116. Queimada (burnt)
  117. Queimada-de-praia (suntanned)
  118. Queimada-de-sol (sunburned)
  119. Regular (regular; nondescript)
  120. Retinta ("layered" dark skin)
  121. Rosa (roseate)
  122. Rosada (high pink)
  123. Rosa-queimada (burnished rose)
  124. Roxa (purplish)
  125. Ruiva (strawberry blond)
  126. Russo (Russian; see also polaca)
  127. Sapecada (burnished red)
  128. Sarará (mulatta with reddish kinky hair, aquiline nose)
  129. Saraúba (or saraiva: like a white meringue)
  130. Tostada (toasted)
  131. Trigueira (wheat colored)
  132. Turva (opaque)
  133. Verde (greenish)
  134. Vermelha (reddish)
In the media, they remain invisible. Only recently, has attempt been made to make black and pardo visible on television, movies, and periodicals in Brazil. Netinho de Paula, in Sao Paulo founded Tv a Gente, after expressing frustration with the lack of representation in the media of Afro-descendants in 2005. In 2004, Taís Araújo acquired a major starring role in Da Cor do Pecado, becoming the first Afro-Brazilian in a leading role in a telenovela. Lázaro Ramos became the first black male starring in a lead role on a telenovela in Insensato Coração, in 2012. 

Afro-Brazilians have also made gains in Politics. Edivaldo Brito became the first elected black Mayor of Salvador, Bahia, a city with an 80% black population, in 1980. Benedita Da Silva was the first elected black woman deputy in Brazil's Congress and later senator in 1987. By 1990, Black representation in government were as follows; 6 blacks in Congress of 559, almost no generals, admirals, and ambassadors. In the Judicial branch, Joaquim Barbosa became the first black person to be elected and serve on the Brazilian Supreme Court. He later became the first black chief justice in 2012.

Famous Afro-Brazilian

Jorge Amado
Taís Araujo
Joaquim Barbosa
Edivaldo Brito 
Henrique Dias
Machado de Assis
Lima Barreto
Rosa Maria Egipcíaca da Vera Cruz 
João da Cruz e Sousa
Mané Garrincha
Gilberto Gil
Antônio Francisco Lisboa
José Carlos Do Patrocinio
Zezé Motta
Milton Nascime
Celso Pitta
Lázaro Ramos 
Manuel Raimundo Querino
André Rebouças
Matilde Ribeiro
Benedita da Silva
Marina Silva 

Works Cited 

Castillo, Mariano. Minorities now officially a majority in Brazil. CNN, 16 June 2011. retrieved on 09-Oct-2011
Black Population Becomes Majority in Brazil. MercoPres. 09-Oct-2011. retrieved on 09-Oct-2011

Gates, Henry Louis. Black in Latin America: Brazil Timeline.

Andrews, George Reid(1991). Blacks and Whites in Sao Paulo Brazil 1888-1988. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-13100-9

Hanke, Lewis and Rausch, Jane M(1993). People and Issues in Latin American History, The Colonial Experience. Marcus Wiener Publishing, inc. ISBN 1-55876-061-X

Hawthorne, Walter. From Africa to Brazil: Culture, Identity, and an Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600-1830. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 1139788760, 9781139788762

Rohter, Larry. Brazil on the Rise, the Story of  a Country Transformed. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-61887-9

Schneider, Ronald M(1991). Order and Progress-A Political History of Brazil. Westview ISBN 0-8133-1076-8

Schwartz, Stuart B. Slave, Peasants, and Rebels-Reconsidering Brazilian Slavery. ISBN 0-252-01874-5

Skidmore, Thomas E. Brazil Five Centuries of Change. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505809-7

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