The Paraguayan War (1864-1870), fought between Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina & Uruguay, was South America’s worst conflict; war had Aryanizing effect on Brazil, eliminating about 100,000 black slaves
By Marques Travae
MASP, Museu de Arte de São Paulo, or São Paulo Museum of Art, is located on São Paulo’s most important avenue, Avenida Pauista, and is widely recognized as the city’s most important museum. It was founded in 1947, has hosted numerous exhibits and is word reknown for its vast collection of European art that is considered the finest in Latin America, also housing smaller collections of African and Asian art. The collections include sculptures, drawings, engravings and much more.
Starting in late June, the Museum became host to a larger number art pieces focused on the African Diaspora, featuring a selection of about 450 pieces, by more than 200 artists from Brazil and the Americas from the 16th to 21st centuries. The pieces present a story that was the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade andthe routes of African bodies flowing from Africa to Europe and the Americas. Entitled the Exposição Histórias Afro-Atlânticas, or Afro-Atlantic Histories Exposition, it is a showcase of the 2014 exhibition entitled Mestiças Histórias, (Mixed Race Histories) held in 2014 at the Instituto Tomie Ohtake by Adriano Pedrosa and University of São Paulo professor Lilia Schwarcz, who act as curators of this MASP exhibition, along with two other invited curators, Ayrson Heráclito and Hélio Menezes, as well as assistant curator, Tomás Toledo.
For Toledo, the exhibition represents important parts of not only Brazilian history, but also that of regions of the Caribbean, the southern states of the United States as well as South America, where enslaved Africans were taken and forced to submit to the construction of the lands under brutal, torturous regimes. Of course, he didn’t describe the reality of slavery in this manner. In typical Brazilian fashion, he spoke of the “impact of the African presence in these cultures.”
Toledo would go on further to express the idea that the exhibit would be a manner for a public to see black productions that are often times forgotten in the annals of art history. As we’ve pointed out in previous posts, Brazil is the country that received most African bodies during the slave trade, receiving, according to various estimates, a low of 38% to as high as 46% of the 11 million Africans arriving in the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Brazil received so many Africans during that period that it was once known as a second Africa, an aspect of the country that its leadership surely didn’t take too kindly. And as such, once perceiving the influence of the African on so many parts of the country’s history and culture, a decision was made to rid Brazil of its African element by any means necessary. I often discuss the promotion of miscegenation with millions of incoming Europeans immigrants who would mix with these Africans and descendants and eventually whiten the population, but there was an even more sinister, blatant plan to get rid of black bodies in a more immediate manner.
In presenting such an exhibit, the curators carry on a very effective and common educational tactic that is used in Brazil when it comes to the history of Afro-Brazilians, that of conveniently forgetting, or would it be disingenuously hiding Brazil’s effort to continuously whitewash blatant efforts to effectively disappear the black population while simultaneously promoting the positive contributions of former slaves and their descendants to Brazilian history and culture.
Such is the case when one of the curators, University of São Paulo professor Lilia Moritz Schwarcz tells us that “On the slave ships came not only enslaved people, but symbols, cultures, religions and philosophies.” The curators will also tell us that the exhibit is taking placing during the recognition of the 130 years of the abolition of slavery in 1888, although this coinciding with the release of the exhibit was not the original intent.
What the curators won’t tell their audience and surely won’t be prominently displayed in the exhibition is the de-negrifying effects of more than five years of conflict (December 1864 to March 1870) that was the Paraguayan War, which is also known as the Triple Alliance War that was fought between Paraguay on one side and Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay on the other side. The death of black Brazilians in this, the deadliest conflict ever fought among South American nations, should in fact be called a black genocide when the number of Afro-Brazilian casualties is taken into consideration.
On November 6, 1866, an almost full 22 years before the official abolition of slavery on Brazilian soil, the colonial government passed Decree no. 3.725 that would grant freedom to any slave that volunteered services and also offered prizes to masters who freed their slaves in order that they may participate in the war effort. According to historian Robert Conrad, an estimated 20 thousand slaves actually secured their freedom in this manner. But the casualty rate of black soldiers in the conflict far outnumbered those who earned their freedom.
Historians Clóvis Moura and Júlio José Chiavenato document the devastating facts. Fourteen years after Brazil, under British pressure, passed legislation to ban the importation of any more African slaves, the black population “suffered a true genocide in this war, where the Brazilian Army commanded an overwhelming majority of blacks. But the command posts were always occupied by whites.” Protecting their own lives, “the sons of the slave masters, when summoned (to serve), sent two or three, up to five captive blacks in their place.”
In effect, the Paraguayan War – among other objectives, served to eliminate blacks in what could be defined as what Chiavenato defined as “a brutal process of Aryanization of the empire” in that the war reduced the “45% of blacks in the total population of the Empire in 1860 to 15% soon after the war. While the white population grew 1.7 times, the black population decreased by 60%” if we count the period between the five years prior to the war to five years after the war’s end (1860/1875).
To get a clear understanding of how this genocidal Aryanizing effect on the Brazilian population went down, I cite this passage from Clóvis Moura’s classic Dicionário da escravidão negra no Brasil (dictionary of black slavery in Brazil) (2004).
“The slave masters, in order to escape the duty of joining the army troops, sent slaves of their property in their place, increasing the army’s troops. In the ranks were enlisted only blacks, mulattoes, and the scum of the white population. This description demonstrates the ideology of the white elites, who sought to send to the front that population of which they intended to get rid for social and racial reasons. The ideology of embranquecimento (whitening) worked dynamically, seeking to restructure and ethnically re-order our society through a selective policy, in which members of the elites only participated in the conflict (when they participated) as deliberators. Law no. 1101, dated September 20, 1865, in its Article 5, paragraph 4, and then Decree no. 3 513 provided for the substitution of the summoned or recruited by another person and the payment of “an indemnity” to the government. The blacks were coercively sent out in large numbers to the front line and were the great victims of the battles fought there. Recording foreign travelers’ opinions, it is concluded that in the Brazilian Army, for each white soldier there were no fewer than 45 blacks. Again, in the words of J.J. Chiavenatto, ‘the consequences of the Paraguayan War were terrible for blacks. The strongest, in a selection that took them from tending to the plantation to the war, died fighting. The dead blacks totaled from sixty to a hundred thousand – there are estimates that report of up to 140 thousand. That’s on the front lines of the battle in Paraguay. Compared with Brazilian military estimates – including Caxias – in the margins of the official historiography, of the foreign observers, the Argentine allies themselves, one arrives with relative security to around ninety thousand blacks killed in the War of Paraguay. In the war itself, because thousands more died of cholera during the training phase, of dysentery, of maltreatment in their transport.’ The paradox, as we’ve already said, is that he Brazilian army proclaimed itself the liberator of the Paraguayan people, when, institutionally, there was escravidão negra (black slavery) in our territory.”
I wonder why these facts are generally not taught to the Brazilian people. It’s actually quite simple. By continuously speaking positively of the African contribution to Brazilian culture and history and the positive attributes of centuries of miscegenation, the narrative hides the decimating, genocidal effects on the Africans that arrived in Brazil between the 16th and 19th centuries. When we consider the brutal slave regime in which the average slave lived only seven years, the elimination of around 100,000 black slaves during the Paraguayan War, the whitening effects of high rates of miscegenation and the ongoing genocidal murder of black Brazilians every year, we can see a sinister plan of eliminating blacks from Brazilian soil. And I wouldn’t count on seeing such facts being displayed in any important museum any time soon.