Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Afro-Brazilian vitality

Guest blogger:
Chris Fennell

Associate Professor, University of Illinois, and Editor of the Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage

These are exciting times for African diaspora research in South America. For example, archaeological and historical research projects continue to reveal the astounding creativity and fortitude of African heritage people in Brazil over centuries of challenges. The rebellions that formed quilombo settlements in Brazil, such as the remarkable domain of Palmares, were paralleled by smaller-scale, quotidian acts of resistance and social creativity. Recent archaeological studies help us understand the spectrum of Afro-Brazilians’ innovations, determination to undertake resistance against colonial oppression, and constant fight for freedom. Recent studies by historians, such as Ana Lucia Araujo, Manuel Barcia, Kalle Kananoja, and João José Reis, examine uprisings and the dynamic interdependence of individual and social group agencies across the country. New publications in edited volumes and peer-reviewed journal articles present highly valuable considerations of what is now known and what questions may best frame future investigations.

Even in the shackles of injustice and captivity, individuals retained their humanity. Recent excavations in the Valongo Wharf area of Rio de Janeiro by Tania Andrade Lima, Marcos André Torres de Souza, Glaucia Malerba Sene, and their colleagues have revealed poignant evidence of captives’ efforts of self-protection. Hundreds of thousands of newly captive Africans were brought into the Brazilian plantation system in that harbor and market space in the mid-1800s. Many combated the bewildering experience of bondage and asserted their resilience. Archaeologists have recovered numerous personal possessions that were deployed to seek spiritual protection against harsh adversities. Investigations by Luís Cláudio Pereira Symanski and his colleagues on sugar plantation sites in Mato Grosso province have uncovered evidence that enslaved laborers employed similar beliefs and strategies in those work spaces as well. As archaeologists, we are privileged to reveal such traces of aspiration and struggles for self-determination.

Other researchers are examining large-scale rebellion communities. Among other questions, they can explore the degree of exceptionalism in those defiant settlements. Did the social spaces of quilombos exhibit different degrees of cultural creativity than spaces enveloped within a slave market or plantation? Did rebellion communities provide greater opportunities for continuing developments of facets of particular African cultures from which individuals were abducted and brought to Brazil? In turn, findings from these projects in Brazil can be compared and contrasted with research at sites of rebellion communities in North America. Discussions in books, articles, and conferences promise fascinating new developments to come. The injustices of colonialism and slavery are scrutinized and contrasted by the triumphs of those who persevered.

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