Places of memory of slavery

Alexandre Calder


Commentary on the book organized by Isabel Cristina Martins Guillen

Places of memory of slavery and black culture in Pernambuco is a book that should be read in every city in Brazil and abroad. It was organized by historian Isabel Cristina Martins Guillen, who brought together researchers and teachers under the theme of the history of slavery in Pernambuco and its oblivion. In this “forgetting”, hiding, the reader already sees similarities with crimes against humanity in other countries.

In the book, some places of black resistance in Recife are evoked and restored: Monument to Zumbi dos Palmares in Praça do Carmo, Statue of Naná Vasconcelos in the city's Marco Zero, Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men of Recife, Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men of Muribeca, Monument to the maracatus-nation, statue of the black poet Solano Trindade and the Patio of São Pedro do Recife.

But the most important thing comes from the texts that contextualize such places, based on the discussion and references to documents that have not yet been made publicly available. In the words of Isabel Cristina Martins Guillen, organizer of the book: “In the specific case of Recife and its metropolitan region, there is a significant erasure of this memory of slavery in public space. There are very few explicit references to the slave past.”

At this point, we understand that it is symptomatic to have Rua do Bom Jesus recognized internationally as one of the most beautiful in the world, but with the forgotten scene of the horror of the slave market. As found in the text by Ezequiel David do Amaral: “Sold on the main street of the city, Rua da Cruz (currently known as Rua do Bom Jesus). François de Tollenare, in 1816, saw an everyday scene of slavery in Recife: an exhibition of slaves for sale. In your Sunday notes, This is how the traveler describes the scene about Recife…”.

And here, once again, we note that the indignity of slavery, in its fierce inhumanity, is invisible to the local elite. The brutality is only perceived by foreign eyes: “Groups of black people of all ages and all sexes, dressed in simple loincloths, are exposed for sale in front of the warehouses. These bastards are squatting on the ground and indifferently chewing pieces of sugarcane given to them by the captive compatriots they find here. A large number of them suffer from skin diseases and are covered with disgusting pustules” (Tollenare, quoted by Ezequiel David do Amaral).

But we learned more. Just look at the impressive discovery. In the research that shows the slave trade in Pernambuco, in the revealing text by Marcus Joaquim Maciel, we come to know: “The forgetting of the memory of the slave trade is also surprising, because, since this subject began to be studied in the Americas, Pernambuco appears in the sources and in literature, as the captaincy began to receive enslaved people from Africa very early on. It can be said that Pernambuco was the first place in Portuguese America where this process became routine. By data from Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, it can be seen that, between the 1630th century and the Dutch invasion, in XNUMX, Pernambuco received practically half of all Africans taken to Portuguese America”.

In the text by Marcus Joaquim: “It was in the 1820s-1830s that Francisco de Oliveira really stood out in this important trafficking business. The fact that he was a drug dealer did not make him any different from so many other so-called good people, but immersed in the sordidness of an unscrupulous daily life. He had his feelings, so much so that, in 1839, he announced in Journal of Pernambuco the disappearance of Petit, her little white dog, 'very thin, with languid eyes, with ears the color of coffee with milk, a thin belly, very thin and long legs'”.

But, at the same time (or for that very reason), he was capable of unimaginable cruelty towards slaves: “In 1845, Mr. Cowper, the English consul in Recife, said that Francisco de Oliveira was probably the richest man in the city. Francisco was greatly feared by his captives. When a piece of jewelry was stolen from his house, he became suspicious of a domestic captive who, in despair, preferred to throw herself out of a window rather than be punished. The poor woman died instantly. Francisco didn't act like he was asked and ordered the woman's belly to be opened in search of the jewel. He was disappointed not to find what he was looking for, to the astonishment of the English consul”.

Observe this anonymous complaint, on the pages of Diario de Pernambuco on August 29, 1856 in the Página Avulsa section: “It is pitiful to see a slave of such a master! Scratched, grazed and tugged up they look like furies; their macerated and injured bodies serve as pasture for worms and, barely covered, they lie on display to the public, when they leave at the behest of said harpy. Just three days ago, he beat a slave over 50 years old so badly that he gouged out her eye.” (Quoted in the text by Ezequiel David do Amaral)

It is curious, not to say symptomatic, that such violence does not appear in Gilberto Freyre's work. And look, he did a lot of research in newspapers. I have already published once about the mitigating myopia of violence against slaves in the writer's work.

Maria Graham, the worthy writer who visited Pernambuco in 1821, saw it. I quote the words of the Englishwoman: “The dogs had already begun an abominable task. I saw one dragging the arm of a black man from under a few inches of sand, which the gentleman had thrown over his remains. It is on this beach that the extent of insults given to poor black people reaches its maximum. When a black man dies, his companions put him on a board and carry him to the beach where, below the high tide level, they spread some sand over him.”

But in the dangerous writing of Gilberto Freyre, the same story is told like this: “It was on a beach near Olinda that Maria Graham, returning on horseback from the old city to Recife, saw a dog desecrating the body of a black man badly buried by his owner. This, in 1821. Olinda seemed to the Englishwoman to be extremely beautiful, seeing the isthmus and the beach along which, going from Recife, she reached the foot of the hills of the first capital of Pernambuco”.

You read it: horror occupies a single line in Gilberto Freyre, lost in the beautiful view of Olinda. Whoever wants to, check it out, this concealment of the real is in your Olinda, practical, historical and sentimental guide to a city.

So let's go back to the book Places of memory of slavery and black culture in Pernambuco. Professor Rosely Tavares de Souza makes an impressive critique of the lack of compliance, in practice, with Law No. 10.639/2003 in Basic Education: “When discussing ethnic-racial issues, taking as a reference the memory of slavery in Recife and its metropolitan region, we observed a gap between what we know so far and the necessary updates on the topic in teaching. During my experience as a primary school History teacher, I closely analyzed the subject's textbook collections. I observed that the theme of the slavery period in Brazil is treated based on repeated and old commonplace approaches when dealing with the practices of black men and women enslaved in the country. Even worse: the places and images that illustrate the historical period, which we reference here, are limited to just a few regions, such as Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, while Recife is neglected in the chapters that deal with this content”.

And more: “When teaching a short course and workshops on 'analysis of History textbooks' for History teachers, as an activity we asked teachers to observe whether the aforementioned teaching aids under analysis contemplated Law No. 10.639/ 2003. When asked about their knowledge of the aforementioned law, to my surprise, most of the teachers were unaware not only of the document, but also of an updated historiography on the subject of slavery”.

This happens after more than 20 years of the Law being in force: 'In primary and secondary education establishments, both official and private, teaching about Afro-Brazilian History and Culture becomes mandatory.

§ 1o The programmatic content referred to in the caput This article will include the study of the History of Africa and Africans, the struggle of black people in Brazil, black Brazilian culture and black people in the formation of national society, rescuing the contribution of black people in the social, economic and political areas relevant to the History of Brazil.

§ 2o Content relating to Afro-Brazilian History and Culture will be taught throughout the school curriculum, especially in the areas of Artistic Education and Brazilian Literature and History.

“Art. 79-B. The school calendar will include November 20th as 'National Black Awareness Day'.”

 Art 2o This Law shall enter into force on the date of its publication.

 Brasília, January 9, 2003; 182o of Independence and 115o of the Republic.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva”

This shows, unfortunately again, that the historical process of Brazilian society goes beyond the legal. It’s as if the law regarding black people “doesn’t stick”. As if the civilization put into law by President Lula was not valid. This is revolting. In fact, it is as if the slave trade had not yet ended. Both due to the documents yet to be revealed, the erasure of the history of black people in the cities, and the torture and deaths against worthy citizens, it is as if human trafficking continues.

Places of memory of slavery and black culture in Pernambuco It is a book to be discussed everywhere, schools, universities, congresses and parties. In order to inflame ignorance and barbaric prejudice against black people in Brazil.

*Urarian Mota is a writer and journalist. Author, among other books, of Soledad in Recife (boitempo). []


Isabel Cristina Martins Guillen (org.). Places of memory of slavery and black culture in Pernambuco. Recife, Cepe Editora, 2023.


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