Note from BW of Brazil: Maranhão is one of those that I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. It’s located in the northeast of the country and is known for its vibrant culture and having one of the largest black populations in the country. In 2012, it was estimated that about 74% of Maranhão’s population consisted of Afro-Brazilians, which ranks the state in the top three of the states with the highest concentrations of black people along with Bahia and Pará. Maranhão is one of those states that we definitely need to learn more about, particularly considering some of the well-known people who come from the state. November is the Month of Black Consciousness celebrated throughout Brazil, so learn about 10 of Maranhão’s most important black people in the brief write up below.
Learn about 10 black people from the northeastern state of Maranhão who made history
The date is celebrated throughout Brazil on November 20th.
The Day of Black Consciousness is celebrated on Tuesday, November 20 and brings discussions on the struggle against racial inequality and the celebration of black culture, symbols of resistance, struggle and diversity throughout Brazil. The date, included in 2003 on the national calendar, alludes to the death of Zumbi dos Palmares, the last leader of the largest quilombo of the colonial period, Quilombo dos Palmares.
Celebrated more than 30 years ago by Movimento Negro (black movement) activists, the date was officialized by Law 12.519 of 2011.
In Maranhão, according to the historian Alexandre Lustosa, the influence of African culture is notorious in all aspects of daily life.
“From cooking to architecture, customs, clothing, languages and religions, black culture is fundamental in the historical formation of the state. The population is black in its majority, and this directly influences our habits and customs, our festivities and religiosity. It is not possible to speak of this history without mentioning the população negra (black population) in Maranhão,” he emphasizes.
To celebrate the date, the we present 10 important black personalities born in Maranhão.
Maria José Camargo Aragão was born in São Luís, the state capital, on February 10, 1910. She moved to Rio de Janeiro where she taught classes to obtain a degree in medicine from the Universidade do Brasil. Maria Aragão was a physician, teacher, director of the Tribuna do Povo newspaper and made history as leader of the Partido Comunista do Brasil (Communist Party of Brazil).
She began her career as a pediatrician, but changed her specialization to gynecologist in order to defend the value of women’s health. A black woman, Maria Aragão fought against racial prejudice throughout her life.
The first black writer in the history of Brazil is from Maranhão. One of the first books published by a woman in Brazil was Ursula, of her authorship. Maria Firmina also reinforced her anti-slavery position – since she helped compose the Abolition anthem – in A Escrava (The Slave), and is still an icon as the creator of the first free and mixed school in the state of Maranhão. In 2017, the celebrated writer was honored at the 11th Feira do Livro de São Luís (São Luís Book Fair).
Cosme Bento das Chagas, better known as Negro Cosme, was an important leader of resistance against the slavery system. Negro Cosme fought against the imposition of the colonizers and freed about 3 thousand slaves. Cosme was imprisoned in the “Combate do Calabouço” (Battle of the Dungeon), in the region of Vitória do Mearim, and taken to São Luís, 170 km to the north. On September 17, 1842, he was hanged in the old Praça da Cruz (square). His history of struggle is celebrated on September 17, the date of his death.
JOÃO DO VALE
João Batista do Vale was one of the most important Brazilian musicians. The son of farmers, João do Vale was born in Pedreiras, Maranhão on October 11, 1934. Like many poor youngsters, he helped out on household expenses by selling candy, sweets, and cakes his mother made. Since adolescence, João wrote beautiful songs that soon would become important in popular culture. Many MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) performers recorded songs written by this composer from Maranhão. One of the great successes of João do Vale is the song “Carcará”, which became known in the voice of the singer Maria Bethânia.
Considered one of the greatest icons of Maranhão culture, a symbol of Bumba-meu-Boi (see note one), João Costa Reis – better known as João Chiador – was master of Boi da Maioba for 32 years (see note two). A composer, Chiador contributed to the creation of classic songs of the state’s Junina culture, was a composer and poet, and one of the most well-known voices in the Maranhão camp. Chiador joined the ancestors in August of 2017.
Euclides Menezes Ferreira or Pai Euclides Talabyian is the babalorixá (holy father) founder and responsible for Casa Fanti Ashanti, a candomblé house of the Jeje-Nagô nation founded in 1954, along with Mãe Isabel, the house is located in the district of Cruz de Anil in São Luís. The Fanti-Ashanti house attracts tourists, researchers and religious followers from all over the world, every year, and is today one of the main houses of Tambor de Mina, which is distinguished from the Bahian Candomblé, the Xangô of Pernambuco, the southern batuque and other matrices of African religions.
‘Marrom’, meaning ‘brown’, as she is affectionately called throughout Brazil, is one of the main Brazilian voices of samba. Born in São Luís in 1947, Alcione moved to Rio de Janeiro to try her life in music. The singer’s career took off across the country, with hits re-recorded by other artists. Marrom established herself as a reference in samba. In 2018 the traditional samba school Mocidade Alegre (SP), honored her 70 years of life and the 45 years of her career, with the theme “A Voz Marrom Que Não Deixa o Samba Morrer” (The Brown Voice That Does not Let the Samba Die), named after perhaps her greatest hit.
Iziane Castro Marques grew up in the Liberdade neighborhood in São Luís, where she learned the first steps to becoming a great basketball player. A reference in the sport in Brazil, Iziane played for six WNBA teams and also joined clubs from Spain, France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia and Russia. Today, in São Luís, the athlete has mounted the Instituto Iziane Castro, where she teaches the sport so that children from the community can discover their talents and not get involved in crime.
Irreverent, popular, talented, black and from Maranhão, the sambista (samba musician) Patativa, now 79, collects life stories and lyrics that mark the culture of the state. Patativa sang throughout her life on the streets of São Luís, in the alleys and bars, becoming a symbol of the batuques, especially in Madre-Deus. The complete artist only managed the recording of her first CD in 2015, at age 77, with an album produced by Zeca Baleiro and with special guest appearances by Zeca Pagodinho and Simone.
Raimundo Irineu Serra – better known as Mestre Irineu – is the founder of the famous doctrine known as Santo Daime. Irenaeus learned through the native peoples of the region, the sacred drink ayahuasca. He developed a study from this drink and was founder of the spiritual doctrine of the Santo Daime, which has as a sacrament the ayahuasca drink, renamed by him (Mestre Irineu) Santo Daime. His doctrine (teaching) is the junction of the consecration of the sacred drink, prayers, songs (hymns) to various deities and the search for self-knowledge.
Source: MA 10
- A popular festival for children, adults and the elderly, where the groups spread from the outskirts to the arraiais (camps/festivals) of the downtown and the malls of the island. In the new or old part of the city, groups from all over the state come together in various arraiais to play until dawn. The theme of the Bumba-meu-boi festival recalls a typical history of the region’s social and economic relations during the colonial period, marked by mono-culture, extensive livestock and slavery, blending European, African and indigenous cultures.
- One of the most well-known groups of Bumba-meu-boi in the state of Maranhão, the group was honored for its 120 years as a symbol of the resistance of popular culture and the people of Maranhão in a Legislative Assembly by lawmakers in June of 2017