The combats of Abdias do Nascimento

Image: Pille Kirsi


Abdias do Nascimento's decolonial project wants, above all else, the maximized freedom of Afro-Brazilians


This essay addresses a small fraction of the thought of the Afro-Brazilian intellectual Abdias do Nascimento (1914-2011). Author of a multifaceted work marked by black activism, Abdias do Nascimento presents himself as an important interpreter of Brazil. Actor, poet, playwright, plastic artist, university professor, politician and activist, we find in his performances of thought and action the possibility of withdrawing from latency possible worlds of African matrix covered by the violence of civilization in Brazil.

A subject with a rare critical perception of the national political and social universe, Abdias do Nascimento is capable of re-reading the history of Brazil “against the grain”, restoring our energies to the forces that dominate the experiences of history. Reading it is, at the limit, a gesture of resistance, as well as an opportunity to think and work for a tomorrow with more hope and equality.


In the work of Abdias do Nascimento, we find original and significant opinions about the historical and social horizons of blacks in the Brazilian scenario, especially with regard to the nefarious consequences of racism and discrimination within the scope of the institution of citizenship in the country. Aware of the importance of the Afro-Brazilian experience as an axis of what we are and what we intend to be, the general idea of ​​this essay is to highlight, based on some of Abdias do Nascimento's ideas, his direction in time both in terms of denunciation in the face of violence that is entangled in duration, as well as demonstrating the character of resistance that accompanies it. By rescuing their “combats”, we have as a horizon the updating of their activist agendas aiming at their dissemination to wide audiences, thus providing operations of conscience with the real.

We perceive, in Abdias do Nascimento, the agency of social representations, or discursive formations, fundamental for the recognition of the plans of historicity that involve the senses of being, and of not being, Afro-Brazilian. Afro-Brazilians thus come to be understood as “symbols of a conscious desire for life, a powerful, floating and plastic force, fully engaged in the act of creation and even living in different times and different stories at the same time” ( MBEMBE, 2014, p. 20).

In the fruitful work of the Brazilian intellectual, unfortunately still little known academically and by the general public, we find a movement of thought that claims resistance and that establishes permanent denunciation. Among so many struggles fought in his intellectual and political trajectory, certainly the one involving racism is the most outstanding. As a black intellectual, speaking of the martyrdom of Afro-Brazilians throughout history, the scholar from São Paulo puts the state of violence in the perspective of duration, in a scope that encompasses past-present-future, responsible for establishing the social reality of the country.

Ultimately, the motive for their actions points to the problematization of the role of black people, and their culture(s), within this space of experience, as well as to new possible forms of perception and approach of them in a minimally citizen public environment. Faced with this situation, his work The genocide of the Brazilian black (1978), a book of unsuspected critical dimension written by a Brazilian, highlights the underworlds of civilization in the country, above all, from everything that is concealed by the so-called “ideology of racial democracy” that, since at least the Bavarian Von Martius, it reifies an artificial harmonious coexistence between the ethnic groups that make up Brazil, with the (false) openness to equal opportunities and without racial prejudice.

The extermination of alien thought, which objectifies otherness, is presented as a strategy of alienation that guarantees the gears of capital, as well as an investment in dominance and decisive oppression to impose on blacks the condition of subalternity and perpetual inferiority (PESSANHA, 2019). The mobilization of the race category, for example, to designate states of humanity and rationality is an accentuated form of coloniality of power (QUIJANO, 2009; MBEMBE, 2014).

Abdias do Nascimento exposes this logic when he perceives the interdiction of Afro-descendant action in terms of historicity. The past, through its cultural memory, is erased along with the entire production of African-based knowledge. Furthermore, the present is not habitable, because in it black people are unable to achieve social and economic promotion, either because of violence against their bodies or because of the impossibility of access to education. Meanwhile, the future is prefigured by the “whitening ideology”, as it deprives the authority of black culture and knowledge.

Em The genocide of the Brazilian black we see Abdias do Nascimento fighting epistemicide disguised as racial democracy. According to the author, this “ideology” is absolutely speculative, however, supported by the so-called major historical sciences. It imposes on Afro-Brazilians a reading of the historicity that entangles them based on the supposed harmony between blacks and whites, in which there are equal conditions with social reality, thus not having ethnic-racial impacts on this dynamic.

Racial democracy, according to the Brazilian activist, is heralded by Gilberto Freyre, the famous author of Big house and slave quarters (1933). Abdias do Nascimento fights the theory of luso-tropicalism, which Freyre starts to develop in the 1940s, given that it appears as an ideological foundation that legitimizes Portuguese colonialism, making it impossible to have a fair reading of the African diaspora. Thus, Freyre's luso-tropicalist theory, based on the assumption that history recorded a definitive inability of human beings to build important civilizations in the tropics (the "savages" of Africa, the Indians of Brazil would be living documents of this fact), states that the Portuguese were successful in creating not only a highly advanced civilization, but in fact a racial paradise in the lands they colonized both in Africa and in America (NASCIMENTO, 1978 p. 42).

One of Abdias do Nascimento's wishes is, then, to deconstruct the ideological-racial principles of Luso-tropicalism championed by Freyre, but which propagates in other segments of thought. This offers a “perception of the world” that positively values ​​Portuguese conquests and colonization on a global scale, making possible a model sui generis of society supported by the Portuguese racial superiority, destined to command a new type of advanced civilization mediated by the said plasticity implied in the process of miscegenation commanded by it. This perspective must be, for our author, fought with fervor by the “contemporary quilombos”.


Quilombismo, an Afro-Brazilian political alternative, in the opinion of Abdias do Nascimento, can also be considered as a decolonial posture. Decolonial studies are present today as an integral part of what we call the paradigm of difference. More: scholars of decoloniality problematize the maintenance of the marks of colonization, from the epistemic scope to that of power, in the sense of transcendence and emancipation from its forms of domination and oppression established over time.

From a (trans)disciplinary perspective, one wants to value the local epistemic contingents in the face of the (unwanted) inheritance bequeathed by the colonial historical condition. It is within this horizon of concerns, of great social appeal, that we understand the political and social thought of Abdias do Nascimento, especially his conception of “quilombismo”, capable of granting space for historical experiences, in the Afro-Brazilian case, that locally enmesh the peoples oppressed by the capitalist-colonial order.

The projected relevance with Afro-Brazilians as fundamental social agents in our historical experience, especially from the revelation of all kinds of violence derived from a social universe marked by racial hierarchies, makes it possible for Abdias do Nascimento to clarify not only the factors that involve the “real consequences of slavery for Brazilian blacks”, but, above all, it demonstrates the “currentness of the debate on their social condition” in Brazil (PEREIRA, 2011, p. 18).

Our author immediately reverses the pacifist perspective, without conflict, perhaps initiated by a Varnhagen, present in Brazilian history. This reflective movement is elaborated through the suspension of a philanthropic and humanitarian vision regarding slavery, in which a black person is only submissive and disciplined (TEIXEIRA; FLORES, p 169). It is against this reading of Brazilian history, in a decolonial gesture, that Abdias do Nascimento stands up, that is, for him there are no harmonious bonds in the relations between colonizer and colonized, much less an entire social system organized by the passivity of Afro-Brazilians , in the sense of renouncing resistance and compacting with the current genocidal order.

In this direction, our author argues that “This colonizing rambunctiousness intended to imprint the seal of legality, benevolence and civilizing generosity to its performance in African territory. However, all these and other official dissimulations failed to cover up the reality, which consisted in the plundering of lands and peoples, and in the repression and denial of their cultures – both sustained and carried out, not by legal artifice, but by imperialist military force” ( NASCIMENTO, 2002, pp. 89-90).

The decoloniality of Quilombismo “proposes to break with the thoughts engraved in the minds and bodies for generations”, represented by Eurocentric cultures, thus assimilating “the thought of the original peoples (Indians) and of the forced diaspora (Blacks)” as an authorized epistemic repertoire to the social life of colonized countries (COSTA NETO, 2016, p. 51). It is clear that Brazil hides, in his view, its links with the African continent.

The dominant classes, in the scholar's view, do not fail to disseminate, as a norm often masked, their prejudices towards Afro-Brazilian cultures, eradicating possible forms of affection between Brazilian men and women and Africa, understood as a set of nations, fatherland or native land. Abdias do Nascimento declares the following, inserting his own body into the experience of history: “However, no obstacle had the power to completely obliterate the living presence of mother Africa from our spirit and our memory” (NASCIMENTO, 1985, p. 19) . The decoloniality present in the author's intellectual project denaturalizes the great metanarratives of meaning of Eurocentric modernization, evoking voices, sensitive bodies, differential experiences, cultural memories of subaltern groups and communities, in this case Africans and Afro-descendants.

The author's fight is conditioned by the perception that Afro-Brazilians have never been and are not treated based on the seal of equality of the white segments of the country that maintains the exclusivity of power, well-being and income in the country. The Brazilian black, at the present time that Abdias do Nascimento writes, was on the margins of the employment system, often finding himself in underemployment or semi-employment. Not to mention the work analogous to slavery. In addition, Afro-Brazilians experience, according to their perception, geographic-residential segregation, that is, they inhabit “ghettos” with various names: favelas, mocambos, portions, flooded areas, invasions, villas, residential complexes, etc. They experience police brutality and arbitrary arrests for simply being black. It is understandable “why every conscious Afro-Brazilian does not have the slightest hope that a progressive change can occur spontaneously for the benefit of the Afro-Brazilian community” (NASCIMENTO, 1985, p. 24).

It is precisely from there that the intellectual from São Paulo traces the historical tradition of resistance by the quilombos as a possible way for Afro-Brazilians to act in the contemporary scenario. The Quilombist experience must compose the memory of these subjects, insofar as it can actively symbolize, in an absolutely decolonial gesture, the horizons of freedom and the struggle of black people in resisting captivity passi passu to the institution of free communities in Brazilian territory.

The quilombos, seen in the broad scope of historical transformations, present themselves as legitimate socio-political and economic movements that are expansive, critical and permanent. They are spaces of physical and cultural resistance, offering continuity to the African heritage. The quilombola movement, present in Brazilian history, is a way of transcending the alienation of black people in the face of the impacts of domination. Quilombismo implies non-submission, defense of exploitation, overcoming humiliation, confronting the violence of slavery seen from the perspective of duration. He is apraxis Afro-Brazilian resistance to oppression and political self-assertion […]” (NASCIMENTO, 1985, p. 24).

This Quilombist tradition existed and exists throughout America. The Quilombist reading of history emphasizes resistance to the forms of domination typical of Eurocentric civilization, while it projects the performance of non-Western pasts into the present, which results, in some way, in awareness on the part of Afro-descendants (and of all society) of democratic plans of historicity, making room for historical transformation and projection of possible worlds. From this movement, the culture of silence is rejected, as well as the historical marks of colonialism present in the cultural memory of Afro-Brazilians are overcome.

What Abdias do Nascimento seeks to achieve is the construction of a meaning based on the Brazilian historical experience that points to the intermittent struggle of Afro-Brazilians in favor of freedom. In a way, the author shows the other side of Brazilian history, that is, that which is not that of the winners, but which does not stop resisting. It is not a history of Brazilian identity through the Afro-Brazilian spectrum, but the very narrative of difference that historically entangles these populations. In this direction, Quilombismo performs as a cosmopolitan alternative for the political organization of black populations. “In effect, Quilombismo has proved to be a fact and capable of mobilizing the black masses through discipline due to its deep psychosocial appeal whose roots are ingrained in the history, culture, blood and experience of Afro-Brazilians” (NASCIMENTO, 1985 , p. 25).

Quilombismo, a constituent part of the experience of Brazilian history, from the perspective of a non-Western past, acts as a kind of driving idea, also presenting itself as a form of energy that inspires organizational structures within the scope of duration. In a way, Abdias do Nascimento sees in Quilombismo a process of updating. Therefore, it shows itself as a latency that moves the action of black people throughout Brazilian history. Latent because it is repressed by dominant structures.

Abdias do Nascimento clarifies that this socio-existential movement is nationalist-cosmopolitan, that is, in combat with imperialism, a pan-Africanism is organized that sustains solidarity between African and Afro-descendant peoples in order to promote the fight against exploitation, oppression, racism and racial, color, religious, gender and ideological inequalities. It is, then, a faceless uniformity in the name of solidarity, which is rooted in cultural identity and in the experience of history. The sense of quilombism is, for Abdias do Nascimento, as alive as it was in the past, to the extent that the black scourge in Brazil would endure in invariable social structures.


Quilombismo is in tune with decoloniality, given that both suspend the forms of production and accession of knowledge from the point of view of episteme eurocentric. Abdias do Nascimento was aware that Afro-Brazilians, in addition to fighting in the arena of the current social system, should propose a confrontation with intelligentsia dominant, responsible for the ideological coverage that oppressed them through theorizations that go in the direction, for example, of biosocial inferiority, of subtly compulsory miscegenation, of the myth of “racial democracy”, etc. Our author's decolonial effort moves in the direction of suspending the alleged universality linked to knowledge of the Euro-Western matrix and the predominance of this culture, in addition to revealing the violence (symbolic and physical) underlying such coloniality of power (QUIJANO, 2009).

This so-called “science of history” linked to this horizon of thought would still be in force in some way: “This 'intelligentsia', allied with North American European mentors, manufactured a historical or human 'science' that helped to massacre and exploit Africans and their descendants, justifying this crime through dehumanization. This proves that European and/or Euro-Brazilian science is not appropriate for black people. A history that does not serve the historical needs of the people to which it refers denies itself” (NASCIMENTO, 1985, p. 29).

The decolonial scope of quilombism does not consist solely of decolonization, but implies the rescue and even the restitution of epistemologies typical of populations of African origin, violently attacked and suppressed throughout history.

A question accompanies Abdias do Nascimento's itinerary: how can the human sciences be useful to Africans and their descendants, in view of their universal analytical, thematic and problematic spectrum?

For the scholar: “The black race knows firsthand the fallaciousness of 'universalism' and the 'exemption' of this Eurocentric 'science'” (NASCIMENTO, 1985, p. 29). It appears, however, that the idea of ​​a pure and universal historical science, typical of syntheses devoid of empiricity, is outdated. If you want to invoke the difference, what is not in the universalizing standardization of the science of history. This makes it possible to revisit Brazilian history against the grain. Abdias do Nascimento goes so far as to speak of crimes of scientific Eurocentrism due to the promulgation of dogmas about Afro-descendants as fiery marks of the definitive truth.

The Brazilian scholar once again confronts the colonial matrix of power: “we gave back to the obstinate 'white' segment of Brazilian society its lies, its ideology of European supremacy, the brainwashing with which it intended to steal our humanity, our identity, our our dignity, freedom and self-esteem. Proclaiming the bankruptcy of Eurocentrist mental colonization, we celebrate the advent of Quilombist liberation” (NASCIMENTO, 1985, p. 29).

True democracy in Brazil emerges, then, through quilombism, insofar as it embraces the country's dispossessed and disinherited people. If you want a radical transformation of the structures in vogue. It trusts in the mobilization of critical and inventive knowledge of Afro-Brazilian institutions, historically concealed by colonialism and racism. This is the path of quilombism. Quilombo is not the meeting place for runaway slaves, as Abdias do Nascimento pointed out.

But it would mean a horizon, in the past, in the present and in the future, fraternal and free. Instance that would encompass, at the limit, solidarity, coexistence and existential communion. This conceptual instrument is steeped in the experience of history. His conceptual repertoire even constitutes a method of social analysis, through the understanding and definition of a concrete experience. Thus, Quilombismo, an authentic, legitimate and necessary decolonial proposal, “expresses a scientific theory inextricably fused with our historical practice” (NASCIMENTO, 1985, p. 30).

Quilombismo is a political-intellectual-cultural initiative that fights epistemic coloniality, the coloniality of power, the coloniality of nature and the coloniality of beings based on mobilization, dialogue and acceptance of knowledge and experiences that go beyond the academic universe and the Eurocentric spectrum. It “has its focal point and its pivot in the human being, as an actor and subject, within a worldview in which science is only one among other ways of knowledge” (NASCIMENTO, 1985, p. 31).

Abdias do Nascimento's decolonial project wants, above all else, the maximized freedom of Afro-Brazilians, considered subaltern within a Eurocentric culture, recognizing the historical-cultural authenticity that accompanies them.

* Paula Ribeiro is a doctoral candidate in history at the Federal University of Ouro Preto (UFOP).

*Piero Detoni He holds a PhD in Social History from the University of São Paulo (USP).


COSTA NETO, Antonio Gomes da. Cesáire's Denouncement of Decolonial Thought. EIXO magazine, v. 5, no. 2, 2016.

FLORES, Elio Chaves. TEIEIRA, Elisa Ferreira. Abdias do Nascimento: experiences and writings for ethnic-racial education. Proceedings of the XVII Regional Meeting of History. Guarabira: UFPB, 2016.  

MIGNOLO, Walter. Coloniality. The darker side of modernity. Brazilian journal of social sciences, vol. 32, no. 97, 2017.

MIGNOLO, Walter. Decolonial challenges today. Southern epistemologies, vol. 1, no. 1, 2017.

NASCIMENTO, Abdias do. Brazil in the sights of Pan-Africanism. Salvador: EDUFBA: CEAO, 2002.

NASCIMENTO, Abdias do. The genocide of the Brazilian black. Process of masked racism. São Paulo: Paz & Terra, 1978.

NASCIMENTO, Abdias do. O quilombism: an afro-brazilian political alternative. Aphrodiasporas. Journal of Black World Studies, year 3, n. 6 and 7, Apr./Dec. 1985.

PEREIRA, André Luís. Social and political thought in the work of Abdias do Nascimento. Dissertation (Master in Sociology) – Graduate Program in Sociology at UFRGS, Porto Alegre, 2011.

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • A myopic logicRED MAN WALKING _ 12/06/2024 By LUIS FELIPE MIGUEL: The government does not have the political will to make education a priority, while it courts the military or highway police, who do not move a millimeter away from the Bolsonarism that they continue to support
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives