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Does Princess Isabel have ‘slave blood on her hands’, as Mangueira sung?

Does Princess Isabel have ‘slave blood on her hands’, as Mangueira sung?

Theme samba of the green and pink school diminished the princess’ role in the abolition of slavery. What is the truth?

Luan Sperandio

The connection of samba school Mangueira to criminal organizations was not the sole controversy related to its 20th title obtained in the Marquês de Sapucaí.

The victorious theme samba of the 2019 Rio de Janeiro carnival parade had as its subject the struggle of blacks, indigenous peoples and women throughout Brazil’s history. Entitled “História pra ninar gente grande” (“Lullabies for grown-ups”), the song paraded through the Sambadrome reciting the verses “Brasil, meu dengo/ A Mangueira chegou/ Com versos que o livro apagou/ Desde 1500/ Tem mais invasão do que descobrimento/ Tem sangue retinto pisado atrás do herói emoldurado/ Mulheres, tamoios, mulatos/ Eu quero um país que não está no retrato” (“Brazil, my love / Mangueira is here / With verses that the book has erases / Since 1500 / There has been more invasions than discoveries / There is black blood being stepped on behind the framed hero / Women, tamoios, mulatos / I want a country that is not in the portrait”.

For the author of the song, Leandro Vieira, the samba criticizes the fake laudation of heroes of our history. “What I am proposing is to look at the dead people, at the blood behind characters like Duke of Caxias, the Bandeirantes, Floriano Peixoto, Princess Isabel, and the Brazilian state, which allowed the country to be that last one in the Americas to abolish slavery.” To convey that image, historic figures were presented dancing over bloodied corpses of dead Indians and slaves.

The inclusion of Princess Isabel in this infamous pantheon, however, has been discussed by historians and writers.

An Educafro advisor, author of the e-book “13 de Maio: A Maior Fake News de Nossa História” (“May 13th: the Biggest Fake News in Our History”), Irapuã Satana agrees that Princess Isabel can be quite a controversial figure. “Brazil almost didn’t have any slaves on May 13th, 1888. At the time, black people couldn’t buy lands, nor have access to formal education. In view of this situation, what did Princess Isabel do to revert the situation? Did she revoke the unjust laws which made slaves left to their own devices? She merely fulfilled one of her several obligations, and took too long to do it!”

But inferring that there is the blood of slaves on the hands of Princess Isabel, like the school claimed, is to distort history.

“It is easier for an asteroid to destroy the Earth than a theme samba have any historical coherence or originality,” criticizes Leandro Narloch, author of “Escravos: A vida e o cotidiano de 28 brasileiros esquecidos pela história” (“Slaves: The Life and Daily Routine of 28 Brazilians Forgotten by History”). “Even Princess Isabel, the person responsible for abolishing slavery around here, is depicted as a slavery advocate in theme sambas,” says the journalist. Santana, on the other hand, defends that “even though the lyrics were making an artistic narrative, they shouldn’t be discarded, because they are a good source of information for the lower classes. To ignore them or mock them only shows a pretension filled with prejudice.”

For Narloch, the history of Brazil as told by theme sambas is “more simplistic than children’s tales,” by depicting Indians and blacks are “Care Bears”, and the Portuguese or the Brazilian elite as characters who, simply by sadistic motivations, maintained slavery.

Regarding the fact that slavery lasted for so long in Brazil, he points out that “many feared that abolition would result in a civil war, like the one in the United States. Nowadays, it is easy (and naïve) to blame whites for this regrettable aspect of our history. Especially because many of the forefathers of current Brazil’s white and wealthy classes were European or Japanese immigrants who arrived here in the late 19th century and early 20th century, and didn’t own slaves.”

Gazeta do Povo columnist and professor Paulo Cruz clarifies that the abolition was not a gift handed by Princess Isabel, as many believe, but to particularize her actions is definitely a mistake.

“She campaigned for abolitionism with her own children, supported quilombos (communities in the countryside formed by runaway slaves) and sheltered slaves in her own palace. Besides, recent studies have shown the great popular process which resulted in the Brazilian abolitionist process. When, in 1867, emperor Pedro II mentioned the need to abolish slavery, members of Congress lost the fear of debating the issue,” he says. “By the end of that decade, the creation of associations had intensified (since they had existed since 1850), and became notorious after the creation of the Abolitionist Confederation, led by Rebouças, Patrocínio, and Nabuco. They congregated multitudes in their rallies, making the abolitionist agenda extremely popular.”

Paulo also defends the role of Princess Isabel after the abolition, getting involved in a project to provide financial compensation to former slaves. “Even though it was unsuccessful, her role cannot be hidden from history.”

 

READ IT IN PORTUGUESE:

A Princesa Isabel tem ‘sangue de escravos nas mãos’, como cantou a Mangueira?

Samba-enredo da escola verde e rosa diminuiu a atuação da princesa na abolição da escravatura. Qual é a verdade?