What life meant for a slave in Rio…

By Jinge Huang (Student ID: 930888620)

Speaking of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro is the place that has been mentioned the most by a lot of tourists, journalists, and scholars. Indeed, the beautiful Copacabana Beach, the glorious Maracanã Stadium, and the grand Christ the Redeemer statue are attractive to people all over the world. However, as we trace back the history of Rio de Janeiro to early 19th century, the image presented in front of us is different from the city’s beautiful appearance today. The story of the slavery in Rio de Janeiro during that period is the dark page of this glamorous city.

In early 19th century, slaves made up almost half of the total population of Rio de Janeiro (see Figure 1).[1] As foreign visitors back then entered the port of Rio de Janeiro, they would notice not only the beautiful red-tiled and whitewashed houses in the mountains, but also the fleet of slave ships that were heading to the city. A large number of black slaves were shipped to Valongo, the largest slave market in Brazil, waiting to be sold.[2] From the day these slaves were brought to the warehouses where they were “stored” as commodities, they had to tolerate endless cruel torture from the slave traders and their masters. The dirty slave sales and purchases happened in Valongo were witnessed by many foreigners. As Robert Walsh, a British clergyman who visited Rio de Janeiro between 1828 and 1829, describes in his book Notices of Brazil in 1828 and 1829, slaves were whipped harshly by the sellers and examined by the buyers like animals without the remotest inquiry as to the moral quality.[3]



PORT OF THE MINEIROS IN RIO DE JANEIRO C.1820 by Johann Moritz Rugendas[4]

After being sold, slaves would be placed to different occupations and educated with the basic knowledge of the language and the city. The majority of them would become shoemakers, artisans, bakers, laundresses, cooks, wet nurses, housemaids, and sailors. In addition, there were records of slaves became bush captains who could carry weapons to hunt other runaway slaves.[5] Above all, the living and the working conditions were important topics to focus on. These conditions were not identical to every group of slaves, but varied by the racial, occupational, and class factors.


Slave Bush Captain with A Captured Runaway Slave by Johann Moritz Rugendas, 1823[6]

Besides the slave trade and the occupations, the process of slavery in Rio de Janeiro was also accompanied by the culture interaction. For example, the black slaves who once used violao, the viola of Angola, and Marimba, the African Xylophone, were also playing European music instruments such as the violin and the guitar to create new types of music.[7]


Slave Dancing by Johann Moritz Rugendas, 1835[8]



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Reference (Further Readings)

[1] Karasch, Mary C. “Boundries.” In Slave Life in Rio de Janeiro, 1808-1850, 62. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.

[2] Karasch, p 29.

[3] Walsh, Robert. “Notices of Brazil in 1828 and 1829.” 2 vols. (London: Frederick Wesley and A. H. Davis, 1830), II, 323-328.

[4] Rugendas Johann M. Porto da praia dos Mineiros no Rio de Janeiro. 1820s. Source: http://museuvirtualpintoresdorio.arteblog.com.br/17728/JOHANN-MORITZ-RUGENDAS-PRAIA-DOS-MINEIROS-NO-RIO-DE-JANEIRO/

[5] Conrad, Robert Edgar. “How Slaves Responded.” In Children of God’s Fire: A Documentary History of Black Slavery in Brazil, 383. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983.

[6] Rugendas Johann M. Capitão do mato. 1823. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Capitao-mato.jpg

[7] Karasch, p 232-237.

[8] Rugendas Johann M. Jogar Capoëra – Danse de la guerre. 1835.

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rugendasroda.jpg