Note from BW of Brazil: The so called Revolta da Chibata is a moment in history that is often celebrated and reflected upon by Brazil’s black citizens, particularly in November, the Month of Black Consciousness. The event actually took place two days after what would decades later become the Day of Black Consciousness, November 20. The importance of this day in history and the leader of the revolt have been touched upon numerous times on this blog, but it was never fully explained. With November 22nd just passing a few days ago, it was definitely time to give a detailed explanation of why this incident was and is still important in the history of black Brazilians.
The men in this uprising rose up against the use of the chibata, or the whip, which was still a common form of punishment in the navy even with slavery having ended only a little over two decades before. It would be a mistake to look at this uprising as something that only addressed an issue that was a problem over 100 years ago as, just a few months ago, we saw a shocking example of how the black body is still seen as one deserving of punishment by the whip. In the view of many activists, given this cruel type of punishment that harks back to Brazil’s slavery era, today, we see all sorts of violence that seems to be reserved for black Brazilians, not only by police, but sometimes by everyday people.
The Chibata Uprising – 109 Years of a Uprising Against Racism in the Armed Forces
By Mayara Paixão
In Brazil, there was a slave culture of physical, corporal punishment 109 years ago, the coast of Rio de Janeiro was the scene of a popular uprising that originated within one of the most conservative structures in the country, the Armed Forces. The Revolta da Chibata, or uprising against the whip, as it became known, broke out on November 22, 1910 and had as protagonists the workers of the Brazilian Navy.
For six days, sailors seized control of four warships moored in Guanabara Bay and were threatening to bomb the city of Rio de Janeiro and the ships that would not rise up if there was no positive response from the government. And the government, in turn, threatened to bomb the rebels if they did not surrender. At the time, Rio was Brazil’s capital city. Among the demands, the main one was the end of corporal punishment. Also present were agendas such as the fight against the slavery inheritance of the Brazilian state and the conquest of political rights.
The uprising, as well as an example of political dissent within the Armed Forces, represents the organizational capacity and resistance of the povo negro, black people. This is what the professor of History at the Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ) Álvaro Pereira do Nascimento says, in an interview with Brasil de Fato. He is the author of the book Cidadania, Cor e Disciplina na Revolta dos Marinheiros (Citizenship, Color and Discipline in the 1910 Sailors Uprising) (2008).
A resistance with color and history
Just over two decades since the end of slavery in Brazil, the scenario found in the country was one of extreme inequality. High positions of power were reserved for a mostly white bourgeoisie. In the Navy it was no different.
Nascimento claims that, although there is no color registration, research shows that a substantial part of the low-ranking sailors, among the corporals and sergeants, were black men; while the officership was represented by white men. The reproduction of racism was the backdrop for a popular demonstration that attempted to change this reality.
“In Brazil, there was a culture, as there is still – reserved due differences – slavist, of physical corporal punishment under one person who is seen as inferior to another who is superior and, therefore, can beat people. And the issue of slavery here has color. It has an origin. At this time, we see racism persist again,” says the teacher.
According to Nascimento, differences within the workers’ own body are important to demystify the idea of hegemony of opinion and ideology among the military.
“It cannot be said that everyone, being a military man, has the same thought. Quite the opposite. We find divisions by hierarchy, with people from different backgrounds and life experiences. The person who enters as a soldier, sailor or sergeant has a background, a different social and cultural capital than the officership, for example,” he explains.
O Almirante Negro (The Black Admiral)
The main face of the Revolta da Chibata is the sailor João Cândido Felisberto (1880 – 1969). The “Almirante Negro”, meaning the “Black Admiral,” as he became known, grew up in a Brazil that saw slavery abolished. A son of slaves, he was born on a farm in Rio Grande do Sul and became a prominent sailor.
Outrage at the abuses committed in the Navy led him to lead the Revolta da Chibata. The experience that the sailor gained in international travel with the Brazilian fleet also served as fuel, according to journalist Fernando Granato, author of the biography O Negro da Chibata (2000), about João Cândido.
In 1905, an uprising broke out in the armored Potemkin of the Russian war fleet for better working conditions. “He goes back to Brazil imbued with all this social learning he has had abroad,” says the journalist. At the end of the uprising, the sailors conquered the end of corporal punishment. However, they were arrested by the Brazilian Government.
João Cândido survived the arrest and persecution he suffered from the Armed Forces. He carried on a life of anonymity, selling fish in public squares, but went down in history as a synonym of resistance.
Today, João Cândido Felisberto’s trajectory is present in the libraries of Brazilian public schools. Through an action by the Ministry of Education (MEC), copies of Fernando Granato’s book were purchased and distributed in the units.
“It filled me with joy. Because a young black man from the periphery or the great back roads of Brazil to know such a story is a stimulus to raise self-esteem and struggle. To know what it was to plan what it will be. It’s a reference,” says the journalist.
João Cândido was also honored with ”The Mestre-Sala dos Mares”, meaning master of ceremonies of the seas, composed by João Bosco and Aldir Blanc in the early 1970s.
With information courtesy of Brasil de Fato