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Homage

God created the black and white man; the Portuguese the mulatto (Anonymous)

It is often said that Portugal is not a racist country, despite enormous structural inequalities and decades of documented discrimination. All over the country, you can find monuments and statues dedicated to navigators – glorifying the epic 15th to 17th-century discoveries; crusading missionaries – converting indigenous people to Catholicism, and soldiers – fighting colonial wars in the 20th century against African independence.

But until now there has never been a memorial to Portugal’s pioneering role in the transatlantic slave trade nor any acknowledgment of the close to 6 million lives stolen until the 1960s when the country was still using de-facto slave labor in its colonies.

The forthcoming Memorial-Homage to the Victims of Slavery in Lisbon by Angola’s most successful contemporary artist – Kiluanji Kia Henda – will be the first of its kind. The installation – due to be unveiled at the Campo das Cebolas this spring – features 540 three-meter-high aluminum sugar canes, set five feet apart and painted in black. The artwork refers to the cold economic rationale that drove the lucrative slave trade.

Most of the Black population in Portugal today are immigrants and their descendants from the former Portuguese African colonies – Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé Principe – holding in their memories and histories a very different version of Portugal’s famous past.

‘Our history is full of blanks on how Africans have been portrayed, declares Christina Roldão, a sociologist researching the histories of Black women in Portugal since the 16th century. ‘It is important to know how Black people lived, not only for the Black population today but for everyone else in Portugal’.

It is of note that the memorial is not an initiative of the Portuguese government, but of the Djass Afro-descendent Association, an NGO founded by the Portuguese MP Beatriz Gomes Dias.

Interesting as well is the fact that the memorial’s artist comes from Angola, the country that suffered the most catastrophic loss of lives during the Portuguese slave trade. By the 19th century, Angola had become the largest source of enslaved people taken to the Americas, in particular to the sugar plantations in Brazil.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights – recently stressed that Portugal should do more to confront its colonial past and role in the transatlantic slave trade in order to help fight the increasing racial discrimination and xenophobia in the country.

The Council also expressed concern at the rise in racist rhetoric in political discourse, singling out the far-right Chega (‘Enough’) party, whose sole MP Andre Ventura keeps making derogatory remarks against ethnic minorities.

Initiated by Black Portuguese and conceptualised by an African artist, ‘the slavery memorial will finally bring a visual counter-narrative against the supposed absence of racism and lack of racial prejudice in the Portuguese’, concludes Marcos Cardão, a historian of Portuguese culture and identity.

Stay healthy                          Fique saudável             (pic Público/EsqNet)














Coexistence

‘We were the inventors of bad policy to buy and sell free and peaceful men as if buying and selling beasts’
( Padre Fernando Oliveira, 1555 )

During the Moorish occupation (8th – 12th century) Jews, Muslims and Mozarabs (as Christians were called) in Lisbon lived peacefully together. The three religions were socially integrated and participated fully in the city’s economic life.

After conquering the capital in 1147, Portugal’s first Catholic King Afonso Henriques guaranteed rights and conferred duties on the Mudéjars (Muslims living under Christian domination) in order to integrate the Islamic community into the kingdom. Religious freedom (with permission to build mosques), protection from the crown (with the obligation to work the kings’ lands) and the guarantee not to be harassed by Christians or Jews.

This balance began to fall apart in the 14th century, when the trend to isolate the non-Christian communities intensified, resulting in segregation laws and Jewish and Moorish quarters. Discrimination against Jews and Muslims grew steadily culminating in the Edict of Expulsion – signed by King Manuel I in 1496 – obliging these communities to convert forcibly to Christianity (and become Conversos) or to be expelled from the kingdom.


Around the same time Manuel I decided to give the monopoly in slave trafficking in the Portuguese empire to Lisbon. For two and a half centuries, a substantial part of the population in the capital – circa 10% – consisted of African slaves, performing the hardest tasks.
Black slaves lived outside the urban center in one of the western districts – called Mocambo – currently Madragoa.

The dirtiest work practiced by enslaved African women was that of collecting and carrying human waste, because of the weight of the excrement pot, its filthy content and the long distances they had to travel with it on their head. Not only in ancient Lisbon was the black women the hand that cleaned, even in our modern society this phenomenon continues to be very persistent!


The slavery of millions of Africans was justified by the argument that the Catholic faith had to be disseminated. The attitude of the church was that of saving the souls, representing  a form of salvation through suffering.
When Portugal prohibited the slave trade in 1761, a consequence was the sale of African slaves to Brazil, resulting in a labour crisis in the country. It would take more than a century before slavery was also abolished on the other side of the ocean.


BOAS FESTAS               HAPPY HOLIDAYS               
(pic PalPimenta/Observer)

Sugarloaf

For about 70 years Madeira was the most important sugar producer in Europe

The introduction of sugar cane farming by the Portuguese into Madeira towards the first half of the 15th century – some decades before Columbus discovered America – meant that sugar could be exported, at first through Lisbon and then directly to the ports of Flanders (Antwerp and Bruges). In this way the consumption of the ‘white gold’ spread across the whole of Europe, altering people’s eating habits.

Although the archipelago of Madeira – geographically isolated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – had already been shown on earlier maps, it was only in 1418 that the first Portuguese navigators landed on the island of Porto Santo and subsequently discovered the much bigger island, Madeira.

The newly introduced sugar-based economy called for important innovations such as ‘sugar mills’ and ‘grinding stones’, together with the use of special moulds that gave rise to the famous ‘sugarloaves, the form in which refined sugar was produced and sold until granulated and cube sugars were introduced in the late 19th century. A tall cone with a rounded top was the end-product. The larger the loaf the lower the grade of sugar. A common size that time was 6.4 kg but the finest sugar from Madeira came in small loaves of only 1.4 to 1.8 kg.

From the very beginning of its origins in Madeira, production completely relied on the use of slave labour. Captives were taken along the coast of North and West Africa and brought to work at the sugar mills. When the sugar production in the much vaster territory of Brazil got underway in the 16th century, Madeira lost its privileged position. Sugar from South America was simply cheaper.

Sugarloaf mountain (Pão de Açucar) is the famous mountain in Rio de Janeiro at the mouth of Guanabara Bay in Brazil. Its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of the concentrated refined sugar loaf. The mountain became part of a World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO in 2012.

Bom fim de semana                                              Have a sweet weekend