a color defect

Image: Adir Sodré


Commentary on the novel by Ana Maria Gonçalves

The book a color defect, by Ana Maria Gonçalves, is a monumental work, indispensable for anyone dedicated to studying the historical formation of Brazil. It is the long, painful and thought-provoking journey of the character Kehinde – Luísa Andrade da Silva in the XNUMXth century – a novel that has as its background the historical background, the social, economic and political context of a unique time.

Kehinde is an extraordinary and differentiated woman. A heroine, in the mythological sense, such as the experiences she lived, the amazing situations she was involved in, the feelings she experienced, the times she was close to death, that she fell and got up. All she survived, with unbreakable strength, courage and dignity.

In Brazil there is little to compare – a narrative that spans nearly a century. And in Brazil, no historical phenomenon was more intense and lasting, nor left deeper marks in Brazilian life, than slavery.

Kehinde is lucky – at the most desperate time, the broken statue of Oxum gushes gold in nuggets and dust. She owns an enviable intuition; she is honest, grateful and loyal and, like few others, is sympathetic to the helplessness or suffering of those around her. It is moving how she relates to people, how she gathers them around her, and how (generally) they are grateful and reciprocate with the same esteem and loyalty.

The character is skilful, transits with equal ease in African devotional places, in the most modest environments, in the circles of the powerful. Curious and intelligent, she soon learns to read and write, even before the well-born Maria Clara, of the same age. A perceptive observer, she notices and keeps the details of each discovery well – everything will serve her along the way.

Strong, she sees her mother being raped and killed, and her brother murdered by warriors from the Kingdom of Dahomey, She, her grandmother and her twin sister Taiwo, are captured by slave traders, and embarked on the macabre journey to Brazil – thirst, hunger and illness, the closed holds of the ship, amid the fetid odor of vomit and excrement, if not the corpses of those who succumbed. On the fateful journey, the grandmother and sister die.

On the first farm where he works as a slave, he saw Sinhá Ana Felipe, out of jealousy and pure malice, gouge out the eyes of the black woman Verenciana, with whom, as was customary, Sinhô slept. She herself, Kehinde, is raped by her boss. And before the terrified eyes of the newly devirgined slave, Sinhô, out of jealousy and revenge, sodomizes black Lourenço, a supposed “rival”.

On the farm, she “lives” in the small slave quarters, destined for the servants of the house, but is punished and transferred to the large slave quarters, where the heavy-duty slaves sleep. There, still a young girl, she works in the furnace and foundry – a metalworker from the XNUMXth century.

There, Banjokô is born, the spurious son of José Carlos, half-brother of little Maria Clara, an unforgettable character, with whom Kehinde forms an unlikely friendship, however genuine and profound, that lasts a lifetime.

A slave, she is “rented out” to the English Clegg family. However, Banjokô remains with Sinhá Ana Felipa, who practically takes the boy as hers, after Sinhô's horrible death. She notices that the English masters are formal and distant, but they treat her (and the other slaves in the house) with a certain respect and consideration. In the English townhouse, she learns to make cookies, which would later become her first business. With ingenuity and art, he makes a living with a certain ease and comfort, awakening, however, the hatred and envy of Miss Ana Felipa, who, being her owner, can still do him a lot of harm.

Luck, however, favored Kehinde (the gold from the statue of Oxum), and she was finally able to pay for her manumission. Kehinde then thrived in the business world, selling cookies, baking, and after many adventures, selling cigars, stylishly wrapped in Salvador, with tobacco leaves produced in the Recôncavo.

Kehinde starts to live together with the Portuguese Alberto, a contradictory man, because although he is affectionate with his wife, being white, he is ashamed of her, black. In addition he is a compulsive gambler, losing small fortunes at cards, and who drinks immoderately. He marries, at a certain point, an ambitious, white, “thin and ugly” woman, whom the heroine nicknames “Dry”. Alberto regrets having married her. He has, even after the union with Resequida, amorous encounters with Kehinde. Banjokô dies in a stupid way, a common accident. Kehinde regrets, but conforms, because his early death was predicted by the African deities.

From her marriage to Alberto, Omotunde is born, who would play a leading role in the protagonist's life – when Kehinde returns from a trip, Otomunde had disappeared with her father. From then on, Kehinde travels to Rio de Janeiro, Santos, São Paulo, Campinas, moves the heavens and does everything to find her son again – from then on, she can say that she lived to find him again.

In the meantime, Kehinde gets to know and get in touch with and immerses itself in the enchanted world of African deities – the ceremonies, parties, clothes, rituals, props, funerals. A Color Defect is a vast panel of Mother Africa's beliefs and devotions, with her voduns, protective orixás, guns and gunguns, war and nature deities, guides and prophets.

Ordinary mortals, followers of beliefs, celebrate with the entities – those who direct and even seal the destiny of each one, for good or for bad –, dealings of compromise and coexistence, through pleasantries, offerings, dances, songs and prayers.

Religion, in the book's narrative, is a way of discovering and understanding the world, the external and visible sign of the transcendent and psychic dimension, a vigorous link of belonging to the homeland, to the language, to the human group of origin, to ancestral customs .

The religious bond extends to brotherhoods, associations of mutual aid, of social solidarity, which, among other purposes, lend themselves to raising funds for the purchase of manumission.

The protagonist closely follows and comments on the politics of the Empire and sometimes participates, sometimes touches on the events of the time – social movements, popular rebellions, such as the Malês Revolt, an uprising of black Muslims, the muçurumins, in Salvador, 1835; or like the Cemeterada, a revolt by religious cults, including Catholics, against the installation of a cemetery. For the rebels, the cemeteries were not, as was propagated (and it was true) a matter of public health, but a desecration of ancestral customs.

The character comments on the political situation in Brazil in the XNUMXth century, regional skirmishes, local revolts, federalist and republican currents. She gives us news of the arrest in Salvador – and later the escape with the help of local sympathizers of federalism – of General Bento Gonçalves, the hero of the Farroupilha Revolution in Rio Grande do Sul.

In passing, she cites the American Revolution and the historic event of the Paris Commune as responses by the people against the power of the strong and oppressive contingency.

The entire book is interspersed with secondary stories, which value and contextualize the main plot. Ana Maria Gonçalves is a master of storytelling. Through the voice of Kehinde, she recounts the drama of Perpétua Mineira, a famous delicacy maker in Rio, whose destiny was marked by the love of Joaquim José da Silva Xavier. Perpétua Mineira watches from afar the hanging of Tiradentes, in Campo do Rosário, in Rio de Janeiro. She is later found dead in Ouro Preto, in the place where a piece of the dismembered body of the inconfidente had been exposed.

She is also a master in the difficult art of describing places and cities, internal environments, African cults, deities, occasional clothing, human types, and even sports and martial practices, such as capoeira.

Through the voice of Kehinde, she lectures with total authority on the entire chain of operations of a sugar mill – the great wealth of the time. She does the same with cigar making.

The human types portrayed by the author are unforgettable: in addition to the main protagonist, there is the horrifying sinhô José Carlos, the denatured sinhá Ana Felipe, parents, however, of the sweet little missus Maria Clara, Tico and Hilário, Fatumbi, Esméria, Piripiri, Padre Heinz, and dozens of unique and fascinating extras.

The character speaks Yoruba (African language), Portuguese and English. She reads Padre Antônio Vieira and Cervantes and, in Rio, meets the writer Joaquim Manuel de Macedo.

At the age of 37, he decides to return to Africa. On the ship, he meets John, an English mulatto son of a slave, who won manumission and made his living in trade. From the encounters on the ship, the twins João and Maria Clara were born. John and Kehinde get married, live together for a long time, during which time Kehinde starts a new and (once again) successful business, building houses, in Uirá, Lagos and the entire Slave Coast.

She makes contact – and becomes one of the leaders – with Brazilian communities, common throughout the area: freed slaves, freed slaves and even fugitives, who managed to return from Brazil and settle, mainly in Uirá and Lagos.

With John, her husband and business partner, they make huge profits from selling guns and gunpowder from the English to kings and local chiefs in Benin and Nigeria. Kehinde never entered the most prosperous business at the time, trafficking. She recognized the contradiction – without guns there would be no trafficking.

I don't know if Ana Maria Gonçalves' book is much appreciated by black activists today. After all, she fell in love with a white man (Alberto), she became a friend and confidant of Maria Clara, the daughter of rapist José Carlos and her mother Ana Felipa. She had a refined taste and appreciated luxury objects and accessories. And she was mainly (in today's terms) an enterprising businesswoman, who knew how to make money and became rich. As if that wasn't enough, she called the African natives who had never left there savages.

In the poignant account, she does not exonerate the African chiefs who captured natives into slavery and promoted the human slave trade. She also does not forgive the common blacks who acted at the behest of chiefs, white or black – those who captured slaves in Africa, the cruel guards of tumbeiro ships, those who applied the whip and oppressed and murdered their colored brothers.

Ana Maria Gonçalves's novel is grandiose, to be read in one breath, like a suspense novel – the common reader will quickly advance through the almost thousand pages, anxious to know what will happen next. It is grandiose as a literary work – the author has avoided the temptation of the political pamphlet, although she is certainly a progressive writer.

There are more than 900 pages, written in the first person, in colloquial language, as if giving echo to thoughts and memories and free course to the most intimate and profound feelings. A Nobel Prize-worthy masterpiece, perhaps. Unmissable.

*Nelson Wedekin is a lawyer, journalist, was a deputy and senator for Santa Catarina.


Ana Maria Gonçalves. a color defect. Rio de Janeiro, Editora Record.

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