Play, Posturas, and Policing: Slaves and Entrudo in 19th-Century Brazil

Saturday, January 8, 2022: 9:30 AM
Grand Ballroom D (Sheraton New Orleans)
Hendrik Kraay, University of Calgary
Nineteenth-century observers of Brazil’s slave society frequently commented that slaves eagerly participated in the pre-Lenten celebrations of entrudo. The water fights, throwing games, and other rowdy activities that constituted entrudo have been variously interpreted as challenging or respecting the social hierarchies of this slave society. Others suggest that participation in entrudo served as a way to test social boundaries. This paper examines the regulation of slaves’ involvement in entrudo through municipal posturas (ordinances or by-laws) that forbad activities labeled entrudo in five Brazilian provinces (Maranhão, Pernambuco, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo) and through police records from these provinces’ capital (or largest) cities (respectively, São Luiz, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo). These regulations and their enforcement reveal the patterns of slave celebration that provoked masters’ and authorities’ concern. Newspaper commentary on entrudo and its repression, as well as literary sources and travelers’ accounts, provide additional documentation on slaves’ participation in these celebrations, which ranged from working to support their masters’ amusement to sometimes rowdy games and other activities among themselves. Through these sources, slaves’ participation in entrudo (and the anxieties and concerns that this prompted among the free) provides insights into social hierarchies and social change in nineteenth-century urban Brazilian slave society. At a time when Brazilian cities were increasingly open to outside influences, when slavery was increasingly questioned (the slave trade ended in 1850), and when elites sought to promote the image of a “civilized” and “modernizing” Brazil, members of the elite and authorities viewed entrudo and slavery as the stubborn relics of a past that could not be easily eradicated. That waves of efforts to repress entrudo in the early 1830s and the 1850s coincided with major actions against the slave trade suggests connections between policing of popular culture and anti-slavery.
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