The Multiple Memories of Labor in Portuguese African Colonies

Sunday, January 9, 2011: 11:40 AM
Room 205 (Hynes Convention Center)
Maria Paula Meneses , Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal
The politicization of labor relations in Portuguese colonial spaces, as exposed in secondary school history text books, focus predominantly on slavery and its abolition. However, the crisis of slavery and the need to reform the policies at place in African colonies are the context in which the idea of the civilizing mission emerged. The new colonial policies had dramatic implications for the future Portuguese colonization. Beyond slavery was a 'new world' where the politicization of the color line meant not freedom but a rather complex system of coerced and forced labor, with free labor itself being a flawed ideal, a conceptual construct shaped by intense political, social and cultural debated, still rather absent from most of the contemporary analysis of this period of Portuguese history.

This paper seeks to discuss the complexities of the historical reality of forced labor (disguised as 'obligatory/compelled public work') in a limited area (Angola and Mozambique) and period (end of XIX century - 1960s), as a means to broaden the analysis on the nature and specificities of modern Portuguese colonialism. The second part of this paper questions the construction of the idea of labor through colonization, comparing how slavery and forced labor are studied in contemporary Portuguese history texts books.

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