Fear of the Dark

Fear of the Dark

By Brazzil Magazine

Ideology is an unconscious tendency underlying religious and scientific as well as
political thought: the tendency at a given time to make facts amenable to ideas, and ideas
to facts, in order to create a world image convincing enough to support the collective and
the individual sense of identity…the total perspective created by ideological
simplification reveals its strength by the dominance it exerts on the seemingly logic of
historic events, and by its influence on the identity formation of individuals.

Eric H. Erikson, Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History

Since the transition of the Brazilian political system from military to civilian rule
in 1985, Brazilian and American scholars, civil rights activists, and politicians have
intensified their studies and debates on race and race relations in Brazil. One result has
been a healthy growth in the number of scholarly manuscripts and journal articles on a
wide variety of subjects. Unfortunately, much of the debate still centers around questions
about Brazilian racial democracy. Critics in this country and in Brazil have
continually charged that the image of Brazil as a racial democracy with few racial
antagonisms was essentially a myth constructed by the Brazilian elite. Defenders of
Brazilian culture who point to many examples of racial cooperation, particularly in the
realm of popular culture, have responded that even so, blacks and whites in Brazil have
encountered less tensions throughout history than many of their Latin American
counterparts and certainly less than their counterparts in the United States. Few scholars
have sought to address the historical roots of the Brazilian racial ethos, although many
agree that the 1930s was a crucial decade in the formulation of the modern discourse on
race and national identity in Brazil.

Less than fifty years after abolition in 1888, Brazil saw the emergence of a new
political regime with a nationalist worldview. This nationalist period coincided with an
age of technological developments in communications and media, which saw a proliferation
of newspapers and radio stations around the country. This was also the decade that
witnessed the emergence of Brazil’s first national civil rights organization, the Frente
Negra Brasileira (Brazilian Black Front or the FNB). The relationship between
patriotic nationalism and ethnic nationalism in the 1930s would impact the discourse on
Brazilian national identity for the remainder of the century.

This work examines the position of blacks and the idea of `blackness’ within Brazilian
patriotism and national identity from the turn of the century to the end of World War II,
placing particular emphasis on the period from 1930-1945 when national icons and symbols
became institutionalized thanks to the effort of President Getúlio Vargas who
consolidated the federal system of Brazil for the first time. It assesses the dialogue
between the struggle for black political and cultural representation and the larger
developments of Brazilian patriotic nationalism paying close attention to popular mediums
of communication.

Brazilian nationalists under Vargas forged and propagated an all-inclusive national
identity which promoted the idea of a racially harmonious Brazilian national family.
Vargas’ generation succeeded in encouraging Brazilians to identify with `the nation’ above
other possible communities such as racial, ethnic or regional ones. In the process,
nationalists created enduring national myths and symbols which successfully marginalized
racial consciousness for the rest of the twentieth century. This introductory chapter aims
to place the Brazilian process within the larger Latin American discourse on race and
national identity. The marginalizing of ethnic movements coexisted with a denigration of
the African influence and a general de-legitimization of blackness as a viable component
of national identity. While contemplating the value of minorities to the nation,
intellectuals in the 1920s and 1930s, Vargas’ generation, promoted Latin American’s
hybridity and racial mixing above an authentic appreciation of separate cultural
identities within one nation. Moreover the views of miscegenation and the mulatto in
particular, was often stereotypical or one-dimensional.

Given the legacy of slavery, and the association of blacks with that institution,
official Brazilian nationalism had for decades successfully avoided associating blacks and
blackness with Brazilian nationhood. By focusing on economic, cultural, political, and
racial unity, Brazilians established a national rhetoric of brasilidade, or
Brazilianness, based on the uniqueness of a so-called Brazilian cosmic race comprised of
Africans, Europeans, and native peoples. Aided by a host of optimistic intellectuals, and
a popular faith in the country’s potential, as late as the 1960s, Brazilian
authoritarianism had successfully avoided introspection and any meaningful discussion of
its history and the role of blacks within the nation.

The military, which had suspended all civil rights in 1968, had in 1964 rebelled
against the government of João Goulart, a protégé of Getúlio Vargas. Vargas was
Brazil’s most controversial and longest serving chief statesman who served as president
from 1930-1945, and again from 1951-1954. The nationalist tactics perfected under the
military regime in the 1960s first emerged in Brazil with the rise of Getúlio Vargas to
national prominence in 1930. Technological developments in print journalism, together with
new developments in the radio industry allowed the regime to create Brazil’s first
national propaganda machine with widespread, yet ambiguous duties. Benedict Anderson’s Imagined
Communities (1983) has already shown that a nation’s means of communication plays a
significant role in establishing links among individuals with shared experiences within a
nation. Earlier, Karl Deutsch iterated those claims in Nationalism and Social
Communication. This is particularly true of the forging and propagation of a dominant
national identity—how a nation defines itself. And Ernst Gellner likewise reported
that nationalism invented nations where they did not exist.

While the invention of the printing press aided in the propagation of national
identities, newspapers were not the only, or even the most important, forms of
communication. Indeed non-written texts such as musical compositions, oral traditions and
the like, have been crucial to the propagation of national entities. In countries where
there are low literacy rates, oral modes of communication have played important parts in
maintaining a cohesive sense of national self. This is particularly true of Latin American
nations in general and Brazil in particular. In the twentieth century, music has not only
helped to disseminate myths of `the national’, but musical styles and rhythms have
become inextricable intertwined with individuals’ identity.

National identity, like any label, however, is a starting point which, upon closer
examination, is quickly fragmented by individual human experience. Race, not surprisingly,
represents one of the most important social parameters that have affected our visions of `the
national’. Despite widespread miscegenation which facilitated a Brazilian culture
based on the combining of distinct cultural elements, `race’ remained an important
indicator of privilege in society. Moreover, Brazilian society continues to maintain an
unofficial caste system based on color in which brancos (whites) remain at the top,
people of mixed racial ancestry (mulatos, mestiços, morenos, coboclos, etc.) occupy
the middle sector, and blacks (pretos) occupy the lowest rung. Racial prejudice
aside, Brazilian writers have often employed the term raça to refer to the
Brazilian nation, made up of members of all races.

While exploring the state, intellectual, and popular conceptualizations of Brazil’s
identity through important national institutions, it will be important to document the
Brazilian nationalist desire to distance modern Brazil from slavery (which implied
avoiding associating Brazilian-ness with blacks or blackness). The inability of black
Brazilians to affect or contribute to the discourse of national identity relates largely
to the social position of blacks in Latin American society and the relatively few
mechanisms which allowed for social mobility. In seeking to place this study of Brazil in
a larger Latin American, if not, American framework, two tasks must first be accomplished.
First, it will be important to examine the contribution of scholars whose work has
informed this study. Second, this introduction surveys Brazil’s historical discourse on
race and national identity in relation to the wider Latin American discourse of the
nineteenth century.

The Scholarly Contribution

The work of many scholars have informed this book. Indeed this work seeks to dialogue
with other works in the fields of nationalism and race relations. The scholarship on
Brazilian nationalism is varied and uneven. The now classic work by Nelson Werneck Sodré,
Raízes históricas do nacionalismo brasileiro attempts to explain the roots of
Brazilian nationalism, while Olympio Guilherme’s work, O nacionalismo e a política
internacional do Brasil looks at foreign relations, particularly from 1930s, and
emphasizes Brazil’s economic nationalism. José Pereira Lira’s book Temas de nossos
dias: Nacionalismo, corrupção, presença das massas, published during the same
period, is more critical and contains diverse essays on nationalism from the 1930s to the

Recent book-length publications have revisited the Vargas years from diverse
perspectives. Two were most helpful, Lúcia Lippi Oliveira, A questão nacional na
Primeira República provides an analysis of nationalism in the period prior to the
Vargas’ Estado Novo. Arturo Ariel Betancur examines Brazilian nationalism from the outside
in Getúlio Vargas: nacionalismo y industrialización en el Brasil, 1930-1945. The
author traces Vargas’ economic policies and its impact on neighboring countries.

Several articles by Brazilians have helped shape my ideas, and are properly cited in
the text. Many others will be of immense importance to students of Brazilian cultural
nationalism. They include works by Regina Maria do Rego Monteiro Abreu, `Emblemas da
nacionalidade: o culto a Euclides da Cunha’; Aracy A. Amaral, `Oswald de Andrade e as
artes plásticas no modernismo dos anos vinte’; Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro, `Sob a
máscara do nacionalismo: autoritarismo e anti-semitismo na era Vargas, 1930-1945′; and
Mônica Pimenta Velloso, `A brasilidade verde-amarela: nacionalismo e regionalismo
paulista’. Leonardo Senkman’s 1997 essay, which compares the nationalist and populist
tactics of Juan Perón in Argentina to those of Getúlio Vargas provided a framework for
future intra-American comparisons.

Works in English have, of course, been equally as important. Victor Alba’s 1968 book on
the tensions between the oligarchy and the masses, Nationalists Without Nations helped
lay the foundations for future studies of nationalism in Latin America. While few works
have been dedicated specifically to nationalism under Getúlio Vargas, Robert Levine’s
work on Vargas has been indispensable, particularly his 1998 Father of the Poor? Vargas
and His Era. In an earlier work, The Vargas Regime: The Critical Years 1934-1938, Levine
includes a chapter on patriotism and nationalism in the 1930s that place these ideologies
within the Brazilian twentieth century context.

Studies on race in Brazil have tended to focus on abolition and the pre-abolition era,
although that may change in the near future. Many compare race relations in Brazil with
other American national formations, particularly the United States. Donald Pierson for
example, emphasized that conflicts were not racial but cultural in his article `Os
africanos da Bahia’. He tended to support the theory of the forerunner of comparative race
relations, Frank Tannenbaum, who portrayed the African slave of Latin America in a rather
positive light in comparison to the slave in the southern United States. Stanley Elkins
followed with a similar study that developed Tannenbaum’s thesis, arguing that slavery in
the U.S. was a result of rampant capitalism while in Latin America the presence of the
Church and laws of manumission did not allow the slave to be reduced to the status of
commodity. This line of thinking served to enhance Brazilian nationalist writers who
claimed that the uniqueness of the Brazilian racial experience engendered a Brazilian
`cosmic race’, based on the construction of the `Casa Grande’.

Many others, such as Seymour Drecher, have argued the contrary. In his article,
`Brazilian Abolition in Corporate Perspective’, Drecher points to various local factors
that made Brazilian slavery not milder, but more distinct from American slavery.
Meanwhile, Robert Brent Toplin in his The Abolition of Slavery in Brazil and in Freedom
and Prejudice documented the abolitionist movement, implying that abolition in Brazil
was rushed through by often violent means in order to avoid social revolution, or anything
similar to what occurred in Haiti. Arthur F. Crownin follows Toplin’s lead, explaining
that emancipation liberated blacks in name only. As evidence, he states that today blacks
still occupy the bottom of the socioeconomic scale. The debate will undoubtedly continue
and involve many scholars who are not listed above. Luckily, Stuart B. Schwartz provides a
comprehensive assessment of the literature in the first chapter of Slaves, Peasants,
and Rebels: Reconsidering Brazilian Slavery (1992).

The period from 1888-1945 has not received the same amount of attention as the
nineteenth century. The seminal work to date on race relations and national identity in
this era is undoubtedly Florestan Fernandes’ The Negro in Brazilian Society. Florestan
Fernandes has written a plethora of articles and books on race and national culture.
Fernandes, however, dealt specifically with the status of blacks in São Paulo. Numerous
scholars follow in Fernandes footsteps looking at racial relations from a socio-historical
perspective. Carl Degler’s Neither Black nor White briefly looked into color
consciousness in his work on race relations. Degler concludes that whites dilute their
prejudice, but as blacks educate themselves and become more stable economically,
prejudices will manifest themselves as in the United States. Abdias do Nascimento goes one
step further in his O Genocídio do Negro Brasileiro that chronicles the
cultural and physical genocide of blacks in Brazil. Finally, Clóvis Moura’s Brasil: As
Raízes do Protesto Negro has contributed to the historiography by looking at the
black movement in São Paulo from 1930-1970.

Other studies have reinterpreted the ideas of Gilberto Freyre and Tannenbaum using
modern social science techniques. In Democracia racial: ideologia e realidade, Thales
de Azevedo has gathered a series of views on racial democracy in Portuguese that has yet
to be translated. Alberto Guerreiro Ramos makes a poignant attack on the myths of
nationhood by looking at the differences between facts and myths about race relations in
Brazil. Other studies have shown the complex relationship between race, class, and
regional perceptions. Robert Toplin, for example, has looked at racial relations in the
context of Brazil’s boom in development, while Charles Wagley has looked at race relations
in the backlands.

A handful of studies have looked at the role of intellectuals and the connection of
their ideas to the politics and events of their respective eras. Intellectuals and their
forging of national identity is the focus of a superb collection of essays edited by
Richard Graham. Thomas Skidmore investigates racial attitudes and social policy in Brazil
from 1870-1940, and Bolívar Lamounier has looked at the political
implications of whitening and the co-optation of lower classes by national ideals that
stymied the successful mobilization of black consciousness movements as well as any form
of non-white solidarity. A decade earlier, Edison de Sousa Carneiro studied the inclusion
of blacks as part of national culture in his acclaimed essay `La nacionalización del
negro en el Brasil’.

In the 1950s, Era Bell Thompson’s popular piece posited one of the more
important questions and problems of co-optation and absorption of cultural minorities in
`Does Amalgamation Work in Brazil?’ This question was one of the main focuses of several
good essays and literary texts. Many have attempted to articulate the contribution of
history and literature to national image and identity. Among the more salient are Antônio
Cândido’s `Literature and the Rise of Brazilian National Identity’, and Wilson Martins’ The
Modernist Idea. Martins’ work is the best historical study of modernist influence in
Brazilian history during the period 1910-1950, although John Nist has also produced
an excellent appraisal of the modernists in their quest for a nationalist aesthetic. David
T. Haberly has also published a work that looks at racial identity, mixture, and ethnic
diversity as depicted in Brazilian literature.

João Cruz Costa and Emilia Viotti da Costa have produced the most decisive works that
analyze intellectual thought and political myths in modern Brazil. Cruz Costa’s work
represents one of the few studies which has provided an evolution of ideas in Brazil to
date. He provides a thorough analysis of the influences of European philosophy on
Brazilian thinking and the adaptation of some of those ideas to Brazilian reality. In the
Hegelian tradition, Cruz Costa discusses the constant dialectic between the idea or desire
and the material reality.

Emilia Viotti da Costa’s The Brazilian Empire: Myth and Histories provides
another historical analysis of Brazilian social history. It deals extensively with ideas
in Brazil from liberalism on to the 1930s nationalist ideology. In chapter nine, she looks
closely at the myth of racial democracy as an idea, and attempts to explain how ideas are
both products of their time as well as reflections of the people that espouse them. She
provides a refreshing reappraisal of race relations in the twentieth century from a
philosophical perspective taking into consideration evolving social relations.

More recently, scholars such as George Reid Andrews, Blacks and Whites in São
Paulo, Brazil, 1888-1988 (1991), and Michael George Hanchard, Orpheus and Power:
The Movimento Negro of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil, 1945-1988 (1994) have
explored black political organizations in the post-abolition era. Kim Butler’s recent Freedoms
Given Freedoms Won: Afro-Brazilians in Post Abolition São Paulo and Salvador (1998)
is an important contribution to the study of black political and social life. Butler
provides an array of insightful information on black social, cultural and political
activities, while carefully placing them into the broader national contexts. Still,
information on the role of race in the construction of Brazilian national identity remains
an understudied field of inquiry. No work to date has examined how Brazilian nationalism
in the 1920s and 1930s succeeded in forging and institutionalizing a dominant national
identity based on cultural inter-mixing, but with a clear aversion to `blackness’. Nor
have scholars paid enough attention to the nascent media, particularly the developments in
print journalism, radio and the record industry that allowed these forums to be exploited
in the forging of Brazilian national identity.

In many ways, Brazil is both typically a Latin American country with its transference
of Iberian culture and its reliance on indigenous and African labor, and unique in its
struggle for independence while depending almost exclusively on Africans and peoples of
African descent for its economy. It is often said that after Nigeria, Brazil has more
people of African descent than any other country in the world. After Tokyo, Brazil’s
industrial city of São Paulo is home to more Japanese than any other place in the world.
There is also a sizable German, Italian and Jewish population in Southern Brazil. Yet as a
rule, even today, Brazilians remain more nationally conscious than racially so. As in
other areas of Latin America, ethnic nationalism, although growing in some areas such as
Uruguay, has never matched the fervor of patriotic nationalism. No discussion of race and
national identity in modern Brazil is possible, however, without first examining the
historical construction of Latin American nations in general and the Brazilian nation in

The importation of African slaves to Brazil began as a measure to supply a much needed
labor force. In 1559, a triangular trade route began between Brazil, Portugal, and Africa.
The impetus for the slave trade was the commencement of a way of life that privileged the
Portuguese colonizers. As Colin MacLachlan has indicated, the plantation system based on
African slavery began the ideal model for the Portuguese’s American colony. The slave
population in Brazil in 1798 was estimated at over a million and a half, and before 1850
another million and a half would reach Brazilian shores.

In multiracial or multiethnic societies such as the American nations, national identity
is necessarily a product of the racial or ethnic tensions that have developed over time.
In the United States, for example, dual categorization of racial identity ensured that
race and class were closely related. The colonial class structure engendered a caste
system in so far as the white colonizers, by virtue of their race, were inherently of a
higher status. People of African descent, regardless of economic considerations, occupied
an inferior social status. The dominant national identity in such a system was synonymous
with one’s social class. Although whiteness did not always indicate privilege, blackness
signified the lack of it. In most Latin American societies a similar social structure
emerged, although official recognition of miscegenation blurred the dual relationship of
power. The first stage of colonization excluded the participation of European women,
therefore European men took native women and later African women as sexual partners.
Henceforth began a widespread process of miscegenation, creating a new people of mixed
racial heritage. As history would have it, a large population of mulattos and mestizos
emerged as a distinct social category, but still inferior to the white.

Naturally, these distinctions varies from region to region and in some cases from town
to town. Given the historical autonomy of Brazilian captaincies, which later
developed into states, for example, strong state identities emerged over time.
Nonetheless, the general distinctions between the conquerors and the oppressed in Latin
American colonial societies paralleled other European frameworks of empire. This European
framework where difference was treated as inferior assured European settlers of superior
positions in societies. Thus, Europeans born on the peninsular, (renois in the case
of the Portuguese, peninsulares for the

Spanish) were socially superior to Europeans born in the Americas, (Creoles in Spanish
America, mazombos in Brazil). Indians and Africans occupied the lowest level of the
social hierarchy, and the mixed population facilitated ethnic fluidity.

The emerging class system in Latin America was incompatible with the Iberian
categorization of race. Theoretically, Africans and Indians or those who were tainted with
their bloods were not considered gente boa (good people). However, many Spaniards
and Portuguese raised their mestizo or mulato children as white. In turn,
the society at large considered them such, affording them privileges based on their class
status. Other mestizos and mulatos not recognized by their fathers lived and
were raised by their African and indigenous mothers and attained the consciousness of the
lower classes. Thus patriarchy established a male-determined pattern of power and
privilege in society which served as a model for the construction of the national family,
that is the nation.

By the end of the eighteenth century, European Enlightenment had produced a new
philosophy of liberalism which called for the equality, liberty and fraternity of men.
These were the supposed tenets of the French Revolution of 1789 which would have a direct
impact on Latin America. But liberty was shaped in terms of an anti-colonial discourse.
Equality referred to equal standing of Creoles with peninsulares. Only in Haiti, a
colony that was overwhelmingly black did abolition of slavery and independence go hand in
hand. In other regions, independence preceded abolition in some cases by twenty to thirty
years, and in the case of Brazil almost seventy! Nonetheless, the promise of abolition
helped Latin American independence leaders attain the support of their slaves.

With the exception of Haiti, the wars of independence were detrimental to most blacks
in Latin America. Blacks and mulattos, slave and free, participated disproportionately in
these fights, and hundreds died for a Creole cause. Mulattos such as José Antonio Paez
were instrumental in Simón Bolívar’s struggles in northern South America. The expression
`damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ surely applied to blacks and mulattos in the wars
of independence, since despite the fact that they gave their lives for the nationalist
cause, they were often looked upon suspiciously. The `Temor del Negro/Temor do Negro’ or
`The Fear of the Black’ lingered as Creoles and Mazombos dreaded the possibility
that blacks would somehow take over the country as they did in Haiti. It takes no stretch
of the imagination to see that this fear could only result in the marginalization of
blacks from future national economic and political possibilities.

Prior to the nineteenth century, national consciousness, where it existed, was an upper
class luxury. Latin Americans from the upper classes derived their identity from their
class positions, in part reflecting racial overtones. Although Spaniards strongly
identified with regions in Spain, in Latin America they also identified with a central
metropolis symbolized by the monarchy. The major obstacle to economic and political
dominance of the Latin American upper classes, were the European peninsulares who
controlled trade and commerce and reinforced the distinction between peninsular and
Creole. National consciousness was predicated on racist beliefs that European dominance
was justified by natural law, and thus excluded other non-white racial groups from their
discussions of regional identity. Even after the wars of independence, in which many
non-whites participated, when Latin American writers wrote of the Mexican or Brazilian
nation, they essentially meant Creole Mexico or Luso-Brazil. Their writings dominated due
to access to the means of communication of the time (especially newspapers). Indians and
Blacks as well as the lower class mestizos were absent from this formulation. This should
come as no surprise considering the fact that only in the latter part of the twentieth
century are we beginning to hear diverse ethnic voices, even in the United States where
access to capital far outstrips Latin American possibilities.

Aversion to `blackness’ has been fundamental to all American nations which have
attempted to promote a `modern’ image, as if `modern’ meant eliminating history. In the
absence of a concerted social and political program that would guarantee black citizens’
rights, Latin American leaders have traditionally carved out a place for blacks in its
static formulations of national culture and history. At the same time, many states pursued
immigration policies, discrimination and other mechanisms which have succeeded in
marginalizing blacks from any opportunities of power. In this regard, black pride
movements such as negritude, which began with French Caribbean and African writers
in Paris in the 1930s, were important anti-nationalist revolutions of the twentieth
century which brought the question of race to center stage. Black intellectuals exposed
Western societies’ aversion to blackness, and their dismissal of black culture to the
West, a world that was their own. While no strong negritude movement has ever
emerged in Spanish or Portuguese-speaking Latin America, the black contribution to the
modern nation formation is undeniable. Unfortunately, official avoidance of discussion of
that contribution is equally so.

Independence, Race and Nationhood

Simón Bolívar (1783-1830), the South American independence revolutionary hero, was
like most Creoles of his day, intensely skeptical of the ability of the masses to partake
fully in the new United States of South America that he envisioned. Disdain for the masses
became a general of his stature regardless of his political persuasion, as did a racist
ethos which pervaded Latin America since the time of Columbus, and which held Africans and
Indians in considerably low esteem. Still, at the turn of the nineteenth century,
Africans, Indians, and their offspring constituted a majority of the population of the
Americas. Add to that the growing numbers of mulattos, mestizos and other castas,
Creole men such as Bolívar were an absolute minority. Still, with history, morality, and
liberalism on his side, Bolívar, armed with both pen and sword, galvanized the masses to
create a unified front against Spanish oppression, tyranny, and the rape of American soil.

Bolívar was initially reluctant to include blacks in his campaign against the Spanish,
but prejudice gave way to political expediency. Among the former African slaves who
participated in the independence wars were Lieutenant Leonardo Infante, the mulatto
general José Laurencio Silva, and the black Colombian admiral and popular personality,
José Prudencio Padilla, hero of the Colombian Navy, who saw battle in Venezuela. Padilla
served as a vivid reminder of the price of independent thought. He was eventually executed
in 1828, supposedly for attempting to murder Bolívar. Padilla is only one story among
many. Blacks, of course, participated in the campaigns of San Martín in the Rio de la
Plata region, and in the struggles of Mexico and Central America. In Uruguay the famous
`Black Battalion’ gave their support to the Uruguayan independence. During the Cisplatine
War, 1825-1829, Afro-Uruguayans such as Dionisio Oribe and Joaquin Artigas showed valor,
as had many others in the creation of the Banda Oriental del Uruguay, the youngest South
American republic. After independence, the race question centered mostly on slavery and
its role in the modern nation, not on the welfare of blacks. As the nation-states defined
their geopolitical territories, national consolidation and order became of primordial
importance. Within this context, the post-colonial elites wanted to ensure that their
nations possessed the appropriate labor to guarantee the proper functioning of their

Bolívar’s Creole identity served him well, for despite his privileged position he was
able to claim solidarity with his `American’ brothers, both slave and free. The common
enemy—Spain—had provided a cause around which he galvanized the support of the
popular masses for whom he had a genuine sympathy although his social background would not
allow him to regard any of them as his equal. The masses had proven loyal in the attack on
French colonialism in Saint Dominique, and Bolívar counted on them to fill the ranks of
his armies. Bolívar employed the language of unity like a politician who is about to run
for office despite the anti-black feelings that he and his class harbored.

To fight colonialism, Creoles planted the seeds of nationalism which espoused the
creation of American nations. While nationalism urged identification with (if not
adoration of) the community of people we call nation, seeing that identification as
fundamental to its political, economic, or cultural survival, strictly speaking, the wars
of independence were not nationalist wars. Men like Bolívar were interested in the
creation of states, political units, that would have responsibility for the laws of the
land. The rhetoric of an incipient nationalism was at best romantic praise of some
abstract notion of patria. Creoles did not dream of a multiethnic nation of
citizens; rather their larger goals of freedom from Spain had no vision aimed at resolving
racial disparities. The nineteenth century seemed like a Pirandello play: `Creole
Nationalists in Search of Latin American Nations’. Indeed as Edward Said has argued,
nationalism which accompanies decolonization passes through two stages: resistance against
an outsider and secondly, ideological resistance when efforts are made to reconstitute a
shattered community, to save or restore the sense and fact of community against all

Resistance against the Portuguese metropolis in Brazil was not as torrid as in the
Spanish-American cases. Brazil’s road to independence represents one of the many Latin
American anomalies in the formation of the modern Brazilian nation-state. The famed
Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, popularly known as Tiradentes, launched the Inconfidência
Mineira, an attack against the Portuguese colonial government in late 1788. The
Portuguese thwarted this effort, however, executing Tiradentes in 1792.

The War of the Tailors, an eighteenth-century revolt by soldiers, sharecroppers, and
mulatto artisans who espoused the abolition of all existing governmental structures
including slavery compounded their fears. Nonetheless, it created a conservative backlash
resulting in the capture and death of the leaders of the revolt, and the precarious slaves
saw no amelioration in their condition. Slave protests, riots, rebellions and growing
philosophical opposition to slavery accelerated the process of abolition, and the eventual
signing of the Lei Áurea, or the Golden Law in 1888. Despite anti-Portuguese
attitudes and the emerging abolitionist movement, the socioeconomic system remained
unchanged. Moreover, the absence of a national university and the limited Catholic
authority in Brazil (since the Jesuits had been expelled in 1759) meant that no other
authority could challenge the elite’s world view.

With the French Revolution, one year after the independence cries of Tiradentes, news
of the abolition of slavery by the French reached slaves’ ears. The 1791 success of the
Haitian Revolution led by blacks and mulattos against the white aristocracy also shook
Brazil. Although the threat was closer to Cuban shores, Brazilian elites suffered from the
`Fear of the Negro’. Events in Brazil compounded their fears. The liberal ideas which in
western Europe meant the struggle against absolutism and the Power of the Church, as well
as against any obstacles to free trade and material progress, were also adopted by Latin
American elites of the nineteenth century. The supporters of liberalism in Brazil were
traditionally those agricultural lords connected with the import-export economy, who
supported slavery as well as progress, which they saw as closely linked. Though many
pushed for more autonomy, compared to other Latin American nations, the Brazilian
independence movement was weak.

This text was excerpted from the first chapter of Avoiding the Dark by
Darién J. Davis, Ashgate, 1999, 260 pp.

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Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's main international affairs advisor, Marco Aurélio Garcia, ...

Bush and Sharon Pointed as Terrorists by 200,000 at Brazil’s WSF

The President of the United States, George W. Bush, did not attend the opening ...

Trial of Gunmen Accused of Murdering US Nun Starts in Brazil

The trial of two of the five hired gunmen and mentors in the murder ...

Elections: Brazil Debates Abortion While Letting Kids Die After They Are Born

It is not surprising that the issue of abortion, sexuality, and Christian faith is ...

Hendrik Meurkens: The Brazilian Sounds of a Carioca from Germany

Harmonica player, vibraphonist and composer Hendrik Meurkens may have been born in Germany, but ...