Slavery as History, Slavery as Fiction , Part 1: Racial Paradise: Written and Visual Narratives of Slavery in Brazil

AHA Session 30
Conference on Latin American History 2
Friday, January 2, 2015: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Mercury Rotunda (New York Hilton, Third Floor)
Ana Lucia Araujo, Howard University
U.S. Representations of Brazilian Slavery
Luciana da Cruz Brito, Universidade de São Paulo
The Body of Black Women in Brazil in the Context of Racial Representation
Maria Helena Pereira Toledo Machado, University of São Paulo
Yuko Miki, Fordham University

Session Abstract

This panel discusses how written and visual narratives have represented Brazilian populations of African descent by contributing to construct an official discourse depicting the country as a place where racial harmony prevails. The four papers examine various kinds of depictions of slave life and populations of African descent and mixed ancestry in Brazil, including US travelogues, photographs, oral narratives, novels and telenovelas, in order to discuss the evolution of these representations. In her paper, Luciana Brito explores the comments on slavery in nineteenth-century US travel accounts. Brito shows that US perceptions of Brazilian racial mixture also reveal their fears of miscigenation at home. Particularly dangerous were the "mulatto" women and men, who according these travelers could pass as whites in Brazil. In dialogue with Brito's paper, historian Maria Helena Machado examines the standards of representation of black women bodies during the nineteenth century. Machado examines an important collection of photographs taken by Louis Agassiz and the written observations by Hermann Burmeister. Here again the visual and written depictions of populations of African descent contribute to build a national narrative that in the future will promote racial mixture as a crucial feature of Brazilian society. The narrative of racial mixture is complemented by the narratives emphasizing the benevolence of Brazilian slave system visible in oral narratives of descendants of slaves. In his paper, Torre explores the narratives of the "good masters and generous landlords" by disentangling their difference layers, by arguing that the study of the various layers present in these accounts allows the understanding of the agreements established between former masters and slaves. Finally, Paula Halperin explores the internationally famous telenovela A Escrava Isaura (The Slave Isaura) based on the homonymous novel by Bernardo Guimarães published in 1875. Halperin argues that the telenovela proposes a complex relation between slavery and contemporary race relations. Overall, the four papers contribute to the understanding of how history and fiction helped to shape the memory of slavery in Brazil.