Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

Throwback to slavery era? In the city of Vassouras, descendant of plantation owner dresses as ‘mistress’ and employees as slaves to greet & serve tourists


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Note from BW of Brazil: So you wanna understand how race relations work in Brazil? Today’s article is a perfect example of how Brazil’s 350 year experiment with slavery and race relations of the era are still fresh in the minds and continue to influence the behavior of the society. We’ve already seen a number of good examples of how the imagery of slavery continues to underline modern day thoughts of race and place.

In April of 2015, we presented a restaurant that sought Tia Anastácia (ie ‘Aunt Jemina’) types to greet customers at its entrance. One week prior to that piece, we showed how Brazilians have a nostalgic feeling regarding the slavery era. In March of 2013, we presented a report of a controversial joke in which a white college student was photoed with a person painted in blackface who depicted the famed 18th slave figure Xica da Silva. These are but a few of the examples besides the everyday jokes that make reference to slavery (see here or here) and modern day novelas (soap operas) that are set in the slavery era.

Keep all of this in mind as you read the material below especially the part when the descendant of a plantation owner can’t understand why her idea for a slavery era tourist site complete with black women dressed and acting as slaves couldn’t understand why some would consider such a display to be racist. After all, we’re speaking of country where only 1.3% of the people admit to being racist, where the myth of racial democracy is part of a Brazilian’s education, and where denouncements and complaints of racism are minimized as ‘whining’.

After you consider all of this, then you will understand how someone could up with such an idea in the first place and see no problem with it whatsoever. 

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Tourists can be slaveholders for a day on a farm ‘without racism’

If you wish to be served by a black person dressed as a slave, you can stay at Fazenda Santa Eufásia in Vassouras, 111 km from downtown Rio

By Cecilia Olliveira; photos by Igor Alecsander

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A farm in the interior of Rio de Janeiro, reproduces slave model rituals, such as black people serving white guests

Bucolic landscape, verdant fields and a pleasant climate. The combination would be perfect for sipping coffee and relaxing on a farm in the Paraíba Valley of Rio de Janeiro, had there not been so much blood spilt there. The region, enriched by the exploitation of slave labor on the coffee plantations, was also known for the peculiar brutality with which slaves were treated. Today the economy in the region has received a second wind: it’s now a part of Rio de Janeiro’s map of the culture of Rio de Janeiro exploring a type of tourism that naturalizes racism and slavery.

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If you wish to be served by a black person dressed as a slave in the middle of 2016, you can visit, for example, the Fazenda Santa Eufrásia in Vassouras, the only private farm listed by the Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional no Rio de Janeiro (Institute of National Historic and Artistic Patrimony) in Rio de Janeiro (Iphan- RJ) in Vale do Café, constructed around the year 1830. Starting in 1895, seven years after the abolition of slavery, the estate had several owners until it was acquired by Coronel Horácio José de Lemos, whose descendants are still owners of the farm. Restoration plans were approved in 2013 and currently the farm is receiving daily pre-scheduled visits.

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The region has a particular history of savagery against blacks made into slaves. So much so that in 1829, the then prosecutor of Vila de Valença (today Valença, a municipality next to Vassouras), Eleutério Delfim da Silva, expressed concern about the “brutal punishments that slaves from that Vila received”, even testifying to city council exposing such brutalities. But this doesn’t seem to be a relevant issue for anyone exploring the region’s tourism potential.

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Vassouras, located in the state of Rio de Janeiro

Tourists rarely sympathize with the horrors of African slavery. They cry, they get sick, they voice indignation on the social networks and afterwards they are able to spend a weekend listening to a sarau on a farm like this, being served by people dressed as slaves and guided by sinhás (mistresses of the plantation), to make a “return to the past”, with no critical sense on the issue. And this is because tomorrow to the detriment of yesterday is prioritized, as it happened in the downtown of the capital of Rio de Janeiro with the construction of the generic Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow), erected where it was the point of arrival of the largest contingent of black men and women made into slaves of the history of humanity. Governments have systematically chosen to bury this part of history.

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On tour of plantation, tourists are greeted and served by black women dressed as slaves

“I usually have a mucama (female slave), but she ran away, she went to the woods, I already sent the capitão do mato (captain of the woods/slave catcher) after her, but she didn’t come back…When I want to get a dress, I say ‘two mucamas, please!’ Because no one can reach up there.” It seems like it’s 1880, but the phrase is said by Elizabeth Dolson, one of the great-granddaughters of Colonel Lemos and owner of Fazenda Santa Eufásia, receiving tourists on her lands, as can be seen in this video, where she presents herself as if she were a sinhá. Visits are still guided by her, dressed in clothing of the era, accompanied by mulheres negras (black women) dressed as slaves, serving those who are willing to pay between R$45 and R$65 (about US$13-18) for the service.

Elizabeth lived in the city of Chicago for 23 years, where she worked with tourism and says she brought the idea of re-enacting slavery, disregarding the whole debate about slavery and race taking place in the United States and Brazil. “Racism? Because of what? Because do I dress up as a sinhá and have mucamas who dress up as mucamas? What are you talking about? No, I’m not doing anything racist here. What’s wrong with having … no!” she replied, bewildered, when questioned about the racism of her theater.

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Elizabeth Dolson, heiress of Fazenda Santa Eufásia, who had the idea of dressing up as a sinhá to attract tourists

The sinhá has a maid who dresses up as a mucama and hires – according to the demand – women to dress up as mucamas. “He’s an employee, who lives here, who helps me, who dresses himself as an employee, but he’s a branquinho (white), so color has nothing to do with it,” she justifies.

This posture is not seen as a problem, as a daily and glossed over reproduction of racism. On tourist tip sites one can see compliments such as: “D. Elisabeth welcomed us with kindness, with costumes of the era and tells us the beautiful history of the farm and her family.”

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For the historian Luiz Antônio Simas, high schools and universities teach to think exclusively with a Western head. “The Brazilian school is a reproducer of discriminatory values and a radical enemy of the necessary transgression. It’s no use adopting quotas for blacks and Indians if the school environment continues reproducing only a white, Christian and European worldview, based on preconceived concepts of civilization that deny the ancestral wisdoms and inventions of the Afro-Amerindian world,” he says.

History with no history

At the time of the first national census, in 1872, 58.2% of the population of Vassouras was enslaved, almost 60% of men and 56.4% of women, for a total of just over ten thousand inhabitants. A situation similar to that of the neighboring city, Valença, where the largest quilombo (maroon society) of the State of Rio is located. In 1873 there were 27 thousand slaves in Valença, which was equivalent to more than 70% of the population of the time. Today, almost half of the population of Valença is black, but the proportion of white people earning more than five minimum wages is 29 times greater than that of negros (pretos/blacks and pardos/browns). On the other hand, black people earning up to two minimum wages is 1.7 times higher than their white neighbors.

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Elizabeth Dolson, heiress of Fazenda Santa Eufásia, right, and one of her employees dressed as a ‘mucama’ (female slave)

That is, the blacks in Valença – as well as the rest of the country – worked hard, gave their blood – literally – but could not ascend in the social pyramid. On the other hand, the owners of farms – who didn’t pay for work – are compensated when their lands are recognized as quilombola lands, those in which enslaved people and their descendants found refuge and resisted against slavery.

This is the case of the São José da Serra Quilombo, in Valença. “Today is a very important day, because today we are going to have a victory that we have worked toward for a long time.” Today, said by Tio (uncle) Mané, was April 2015. “I was born and raised here. I’m 95 years old, but I was born right here.” Tio Mané was born free, 12 years after abolition, on the land where his mother was enslaved and where today he’s raised children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In the quilombo there are approximately 200 blacks, who are the seventh generation since the first Africans became slaves bought to work in the coffee plantations of the farm of the same name, São José.

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A “slave” prepares to serve tourists on the farm

Just over a year ago the courts recognized the area of 159 hectares as quilombola land. The owners were indemnified at R$569 thousand for the area. The enslaved earned double: they were forced to work for years and now, they’re receiving compensation on the land where they were exploited.

Racist Public Policy

“Somos todos iguais” (We’re all equal) (1). I’m a grandson of immigrants and my parents worked hard to get where they are.” It is not uncommon to come across questions like these in an attempt to call into question public reparation policies – such as the granting of land titles to descendants of enslaved people and quotas – making the comparison that “my father came here with nothing and prospered.”

But not quite. Brazil encouraged the arrival of white foreigners through public policies, with the crystalline purpose of embranquecer a população (whitening the population), since blackness was seen as a problem to be confronted.

Also in the First Republic, Decree No. 528, of June 28, 1890, subjected the entry of people from Asia and Africa to special authorization of Congress. The goal of whitening the population has been reiterated over the years. A bill, in 1921, ruled that “the immigration of human individuals from races of black color is prohibited in Brazil.” Two years later, a bill was presented that said: “The entry of colonists of the black race is prohibited in Brazil, and for the yellow, a number corresponding to 5% of the individuals in the country will be permitted annually.” Years later, Decree-Law No. 7.967/1945, on Brazil’s Immigration Policy, established that the entry of immigrants into the country should be done observing “the need to preserve and develop, in the ethnic composition of the population, the most convenient characteristics of its European ancestry.”

Through subsidized immigration, entire white families earned government-paid tickets to emigrate to Brazil. Farmers, meanwhile, were blamed for the colonist’s spending during his first year in the country. In addition, the settlers would receive a fixed annual salary plus a salary according to the volume of the crop, fixed per bushel of coffee produced. That is, it wasn’t just effort that helped them succeed.

With the arrival of immigrants, parliamentarians glimpsed the hope of a whiter Brazil. Congressmen began to articulate changes in the 1934 Constitution, with measures that would demonstrate the white and literate society idealized for education in Brazil, promoting eugenics in the country.

The same Constitution that established the guarantee of primary education and its gratuity throughout the Brazilian national state, also established, in its article 138: “to stimulate eugenic education,” that is to say, the government was betting on the “improvement of the human species” by mixing between the “biologically gifted” and also the development of educational programs for conscientious reproduction of “healthy couples”, the core of Nazism. Article 138 then stated that mulatos, negros or disabled (of any level) were limited in regards to education, and that actions of a social, philanthropic or educational nature would only be palliative and would not solve the problem of the race.

This document lasted a few years, but the mentality persisted. Years later, Decree-Law No. 7.967/1945, on Brazil’s Immigration Policy, established that the entry of immigrants into the country should be done observing “the need to preserve and develop, in the ethnic composition of the population, the most convenient characteristics of its European ancestry.”

Currently, we have a law that defines the crime of racism and another that defines injúria racial (racial injury/slur), which has milder penalties and is more commonly applied. The euphemistic application of the law is yet another example of how Brazil continues to deny the existence of racism.

As Joaquim Nabuco said: “It is not enough to end slavery. It’s necessary to destroy its work”. We have barely ended one, and we’re far from ending the other.

Source: Rede Brasil Atual

Note

  1. As we can see here, yet another example of the discourse that “we are all equal” uttered by so many Brazilians in the face of a society that is strongly divided along lines of race/color.

5 comments on “Throwback to slavery era? In the city of Vassouras, descendant of plantation owner dresses as ‘mistress’ and employees as slaves to greet & serve tourists

  1. Momo
    December 8, 2016

    This is absolutely disgusting!! There’s NO way that trash would’ve done this in Chicago, she knew better and that’s why she ran back to Brazil to do this nonsense. I’m amazed how low racist “white” (because some of these people wouldn’t pass as white in the U.S.) in Brazil can go and, to my surprise, they continue to go lower and lower. I hope one of the employees burns this plantation to the ground…yet I wouldn’t want them to spend years rotting in a Brazilian prison for this trash.

    • Bamabrasileira
      December 11, 2016

      Having lived in Chicago for 23 years – possibly illegally – and constantly being g reminded of how white she IS NOT, I wonder if her slave experiment wasn’t caused by her having been gobbled up and spit out by a country that didn’t love her as much as she undoubtedly posted it. I wonder how many n*ggas in Chicago were able to bypass her in the game of life in a way that would have been unheard of to her in her own country. Looks like the right person in her life FINALLY died and left her enough money to live out her slave fantasy for the rest of her little life…

  2. Realist
    December 9, 2016

    Nothing about race in Brazil can surprise me any more. Words fail.

  3. Bamabrasileira
    December 11, 2016

    I would love to ‘be able to simple paint this woman’s actions as being “just racist” but I cannot. It is because of the convoluted and confused collective consciousness of Brazilians in almost all aspects of life inside Brazil! Are these women dressed as slaves or are they dressed as Baianas and serving food to people at someone’s house, instead of at the beach? How do THEY feel about how they are dressed ( assuming they think or feel anything at all)? I’d love to say that Brazil is full of woke Brazilians fighting the good fight but it isn’t. Moreover, they have a similar problem that lower class Black Americans have. They tend to block intersections a couple times a year, causing temporary irritation to people who couldn’t care less, and nothing more. They are woefully behind the way the world works. We blacks are often so behind as a collective that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry! We still want to live in a world that is “just” and “fair”, rather than understanding how the world truly functions (just as it always has). We hate a d fear Blacks who learn the true secrets of success, rather learning from them. We disempower ourselves even more by insisting on seeing ourselves though the white gaze, rather than simply not caring about what “they” think of us. The woman in this article is yet another symptom of the complex nature of tribalism as it exists in Brazil and the rest of the world.

    • juleej1111
      January 15, 2017

      You are on point regarding what at the source of disempowerment of our people in the diaspora. We need to look within as a collective to help each other rise up around the world. Starting with the self-talk and self esteem of our youth. Check out this initiative in Toronto, Canada where I live. An initiative fully funded by local black success. No hand outs, no pity. This is what we have the power to do in our communities around the world. http://www.100strong.ca

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This entry was posted on December 7, 2016 by in black Brazilians, black women, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .
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