The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent
Note from BW of Brazil: The slavery era in the Americas has had and continues to have an incalculable influence on the descendants of enslaved Africans living in this region of the world. One facet of slave life that comes up from time to time is the existence of the “stud”, or “slave breeder”, the black man who was made to mate with female slaves with the objective of creating more slaves for his slave master. Perhaps by analyzing the outcome of this practice, we can continue to get a clearer picture of how the past laid the groundwork for the splintering and devastation of the black family’s history and current status. For a quick background on the “slave breeder” in Brazil, the Kilombagem website tells us that:
“Brazil was the country that received the most Africans in the world. For centuries, every African who came here was a slave, so every African who came here was black. After the Euzébio de Queiroz Law prohibited the importation of Africans, procreation in the senzalas (slave quarters) was one of the ways out of trying to supply the demand for obra negra (black labor). It is in this historical context that the figure of the escravo reprodutor (stud/slave producer) emerges forcefully. It was a series production system. Within this scheme every child of Africans was born a slave, thus all were black. To speed up the process to better and faster supply the market, the masters themselves helped in the production. There were situations in which the white man, not only master of the slave but also of his wife, forced her to have sex with her black breeder so that she could also generate in her womb another slave who, regardless of his/her color, was already born an escravo (slave), was already born black…This logic, which in Brazil for centuries has associated Africans and their descendants with slavery, was responsible for transforming the word negro – which means escravo – into a synonym for Africans and afrodescendentes (African descendants). That is why many of us (an increasing number of) descendants of slaves and enslaved in Brazil have been refusing the term negro in favor of preto (also meaning black).”
With this history in mind, we present to you the story of Roque José Florêncio…
‘Slave breeder’ had more than 200 children and lived for 130 years, says family
By Stefhanie Piovezan
“It’s a true story, it’s not a legend,” says Maria Magdalena Florencio Florentino while holding her grandfather’s photo. Born in Sorocaba (state of São Paulo) in the first half of the 19th century, Roque José Florêncio was bought by a farmer from São Carlos (state of São Paulo) and chosen to be a “escravo reprodutor” (stud/slave breeder) in Santa Eudóxia district. Relatives and a study claim that he had more than 200 children and, according to the death certificate, died at 130 years of age.
The document, drawn up on February 17, 1958, indicates that Roque died of heart failure, myocarditis, sclerosis, and senility. The number of children was counted in an old book of the Fazenda Grande. But the family says they have no birth certificates and are looking for their offspring on social networks. “They exist in Broa, in São Paulo, Araraquara, but when I ask, they say they don’t know. It’s an unknown,” said grandson Celso Tassim, 54.
According to Marco Antonio Leite Brandão, a researcher in the history of São Carlos, the oldest document on slavery in the city is from 1817. He also says that the peak of forced labor came from the mid-1860s, with the expansion of coffee.
“Perhaps the most important of my research was the identification of a slave trade route between the Province of Bahia, centralized in the municipality of Caetité, and São Carlos. There was, in fact, a slave market, Fazenda Babilônia, the border between São Carlos and Descalvado,” he said. “But nothing about breeders or about Pata Seca.”
For the psychologist Marinaldo Fernando de Souza, a doctor in education from the Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp) with a thesis that deals with the history of Pata Seca, the explanation for the lack of documents lies in the devaluation of black memory. “Official history tends to force the forgetting of black memory,” he said. “In Santa Eudóxia there is a story to be searched, to be told, and that is relegated to a status of lesser value.”
According to Souza, it is estimated that more than 30% of residents of Santa Eudóxia are descendants of Roque and his role as a producer can help explain why the number of slaves in the region continued to increase even after restrictions such as the Eusebio Queirós Law.
“If he was a white man, it would not be a legend. He’s real, he was enslaved.” “This story needs to be rescued and it doesn’t need documents, documents are forged on behalf of the elite branca (white elite). Memória negra (black memory) must surface.”
‘Father of more than 200’
The family tells us that Roque was bought in Vila Sorocaba and sold to Visconde da Cunha Bueno, owner of a latifundio (plantation) focused on coffee production. On the property, he earned the name and surname of Pata Seca because of his long, thin hands.
Since he was tall – he was 2.18m (7’2”) – and at the time, it was believed that men with thin shins would have male children, was chosen to lie with the female slaves and generate more labor.
He also took care of the horses and was responsible for transporting correspondence between the farm and the city.
According to his granddaughter, it was as a ‘courier’ that he met his wife. “He was going to get the letters in São Carlos, and when he passed, he saw a thin girl sweeping and sweeping,” Magdalena said.
One day he asked for the girl’s hand and, with the “yes,” he put the girl on the saddle and headed for the farm. The wedding was celebrated and Roque received 20 bushels of land from his bosses 20 bushels. After generating more than 200 children in the senzala (slave quarters), it was time to form his own family with Palmira, with whom he had nine more children.
Without wire to surround the entire land, Pata Seca ended up losing much of the property. To support the family, he made tin cups and baking dishes, raised chickens, planted zucchini and cassava, and prepared rapaduras. Then he went out to sell the eggs, utensils and sweets for farms in the area.
“He had a little horse and, because he was very big, he dragged his feet on the ground. They said that he would kill the animal and he said he wouldn’t, that it was his ganha pão (breadwinner),” Madalena said.
A friend of Roque, Marcílio Corrêa Bueno, 88, remembers this time. “I used to live at the Fazenda Grande, and at the time I lived there, he would go to sell eggs, chicken, rapadura (1). He would make rapadura! Of coconut, pumpkin, papaya, milk, cider…”
“He got along with everyone, my father would get along with him,” recalled the retiree, remembering that Pata Seca was religious and used to hold parties at the site in honor of São João (St. John), always receiving the guests well.
Magdalena also keeps memories of the conviviality with her grandfather and doesn’t hide her pride in talking about him. As a child, she remembers Roque always in a white shirt and upright posture.
He tells us that Pata Seca made a point of sweeping around the house of the farm, surrounded by mango trees, and that the coffee was prepared by Uncle Zé. Roque always ate cornmeal scrambled in the pan with lard and black coffee, and brought the coffee to Palmira, who went blind after complications in one of the births. At lunch, he used to eat rice and beans with torresmo (pork rinds) or chicken.
To sleep, he would lay on a cot bed with mattress of cornstraw. For his grandchildren, it was from this bed that the nail fell that injured their grandfather’s foot. “He got a screwworm. They used medicine from the senzala – smoke, urine and alcohol – and a girl took care of it, but she traveled to Rio Preto and it got worse,” said Madalena.
Interned at Santa Casa de São Carlos, Roque died in February 1958, just three months after attending the city’s birthday parade as the oldest man in the county.
“I found the photo.”
The only photo of the patriarch is precisely this parade and was found after years of searching. Madalena discovered that an old friend of her grandfather had the image and after several searches, relatives of this gentleman found the portrait in his wallet.
Today, the image is on the shelf of Madalena’s house, right in front of anyone entering the room. There are also souvenirs behind the door, where she keeps the old house keys and a nail like the one that fell on her grandfather’s feet, and in the kitchen, following the same recipe to produce rapadura.
For her, her grandfather lived a long time because, unlike other slaves, he lived in the Casa Grande (Big House) and could eat better, and research on this past continues. She goes on searching for information and says that before dying she intends to donate the memories to a museum. “I am very happy, very proud to tell my grandfather’s story.”
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