African Women In Brazil Essay, Research Paper
AFRICAN WOMEN IN COLONIAL BRAZIL
The social and economic history of Colonial Latin America was greatly influenced by the importation of more than five million Africans spanning from the 16th Century until the 19th Century. Although African history in Colonial Brazil is dominated by images of male slaves, it was a diverse palate of races, genders, and social classes that is sadly neglected in historical text, especially African women. Through sources concerning plantation and urban slavery in Robert Edgar Conrad\’s documentary of primary sources, Children of God\’s Fire, the various roles and levels of social degradation of slave women, free African women, and mulattas in Brazilian society are illustrated and finally recognized in historical text.
African women living on Brazilian plantations worked in the fields and in the slave owner\’s house. According to a Brazilian Consul in Recife, newly arrived African women, bozalas, worked as hard as the enslaved men hoeing and hacking crops with a scythe for up to eighteen hours a day. Some women even worked at the sugar mills. (Conrad, pg. 64, picture) This labor intensive position offered marginal room for self-advancement because they could not could not speak Spanish and usually had darker skin than other acculturated Africans, which placed them into the \”wretched rabble\” (Don Carlos de Siguenza y Gongora, Reader pg. 118) of Colonial Latin American society. Slave women had virtually no means of income and those few slave women who did had to spend their own menial earnings when they wanted to organize a festival \”since they could not lawfully accumulate much money of their own.\” (Conrad, pg. 60) Spanish nobles viewed these women as unskilled and not capable of any job other than physical labor. \”As a result, pregnant black women and those nursing their babies were not excused from hoeing. In some, hard labor prevented the normal development of the fetus.\” (Conrad, pg. 100) African slave women endured many other physical and sexually abusive punishments. In Antonio Francisco de Rego Barros\’s plantation, if a woman offended him, his favorite punishment was the injection of pepper vinegar into the vagina. (Conrad, pg. 75) Often times, these atrocious treatments led slave women to deliberately attempt to abort their pregnancies so that their children would not be forced to endure what they had suffered. (Conrad, pg. 60)
African women on Brazilian plantations dominated domestic slavery in rural Brazil. In Colonel Drummond\’s plantation, all his domestic slaves were female and were not allowed to pass the threshold into the house. (Conrad, pg. 73) Rather than working in the fields, these women worked inside or near the house caring for the master\’s children, cooking, cleaning, and making clothes for other slaves. Domestic female slaves worked for up to fifteen hours a day (Conrad, pg. 73) performing the aforementioned tasks, therefore, their labor was less intense than that of field slavery. This domesticated job was often held by mulattas, women of mixed African and Spanish descent because they appeared to be more \”hispanized\” than bozalas due to their lighter skin tone and more acculturated abilities, such as sewing and speaking Spanish. According to an Italian Jesuit in Brazil in 1711, \”they [mulattas] are the women who have the greatest opportunities in Brazil, because with the blood of whites flowing through their veins (perhaps the blood of their own masters) and any one of them is worth four new slaves.\” (Conrad, pg. 56) Although muluttas were ranked higher than bozalas on the social ladder and made more money through crafts or prostitution, they did not escape hardships. Europeans viewed mulattas as sexual temptresses who would take advantage of their masters\’ favors. This account is highly romanticized and it appears that mulattas were stereotyped and blamed for their sexual aggressiveness to justify the European males\’ illigetimate relationships with them. The liberation of mulattas was not encourgaed by the Spanish because once they were freed they supposedly \”continued to be the downfall of many people.\” (Conrad, pg. 56)