Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Trade In Men, Part 1 by W.E.B. DuBois

W.E.B. DuBois

Color was never a badge of slavery in the ancient or medieval world, nor has it been in the modern world outside of Christian states. Homer sings of a black man, a "reverend herald"

Of visage solemn, sad, but sable hue,
Short, woolly curls, o’erfleeced his bending head, . . .
Eurybiates, in whose large soul alone,
Ulysses viewed an image of his own.

Greece and Rome had their chief supplies of slaves from Europe and Asia. Egypt enslaved races of all colors, and if there were more blacks than others among her slaves, there were also more blacks among her nobles and Pharaohs, and both facts are explained by her racial origin and geographical position. The fall of Rome led to a cessation of the slave trade, but after a long interval came the white slave trade of the Saracens and Moors, and finally the modern trade in Negroes.
Slavery as it exists universally among primitive people is a system whereby captives in war are put to tasks about the homes and in the fields, thus releasing the warriors for systematic fighting and the women for leisure. Such slavery has been common among all peoples and was wide-spread in Africa. The relative number of African slaves under these conditions was small and the labor not hard; they were members of the family and might and did often rise to high position in the tribe.
Roman Slaves

Remembering that in the fifteenth century there was no great disparity between the civilization of Negroland and that of Europe, what made the striking difference in subsequent development? European civilization, cut off by physical barriers from further incursions of barbaric races, settled more and more to systematic industry and to the domination of one religion; African culture and industries were threatened by powerful barbarians from the west and central regions of the continent and by the Moors in the north, and Islam had only partially converted the leading peoples.
Egyptian Slaves

When, therefore, a demand for workmen arose in America, European exportation was limited by religious ties and economic stability. African exportation was encouraged not simply by the Christian attitude toward heathen, but also by the Moslem enmity toward the unconverted Negroes. Two great modern religions, therefore, agreed at least in the policy of enslaving heathen blacks, while the overthrow of black Askias by the Moors at Tenkadibou brought that economic chaos among the advanced Negro peoples and movement among the more barbarous tribes which proved of prime advantage to the development of a systematic trade in men.
Greek Slave

The modern slave trade began with the Mohammedan conquests in Africa, when heathen Negroes were seized to supply the harems, and as soldiers and servants. They were bought from the masters and seized in war, until the growing wealth and luxury of the conquerors demanded larger numbers. Then Negroes from the Egyptian Sudan, Abyssinia, and Zanzibar began to pass into Arabia, Persia, and India in increased numbers. As Negro kingdoms and tribes rose to power they found the slave trade lucrative and natural, since the raids in which slaves were captured were ordinary inter-tribal wars. It was not until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the demand for slaves in Christian lands made slaves the object, and not the incident, of African wars.
Roman Slaves

In Mohammedan countries there were gleams of hope in slavery. In fiction and in truth the black slave had a chance. Once converted to Islam, he became a brother to the best, and the brotherhood of the faith was not the sort of idle lie that Christian slave masters made it. In Arabia black leaders arose like Antar; in India black slaves carved out principalities where their descendants still rule.

Muslim Slaves

Some Negro slaves were brought to Europe by the Spaniards in the fourteenth century, and a small trade was continued by the Portuguese, who conquered territory from the "tawny" Moors of North Africa in the early fifteenth century. Later, after their severe repulse at Al-Kasr-Al-Kabu, the Portuguese began to creep down the west coast in quest of trade.

They reached the River of Gold in 1441, and their story is that their leader seized certain free Moors and the next year exchanged them for ten black slaves, a target of hide, ostrich eggs, and some gold dust. The trade was easily justified on the ground that the Moors were Mohammedans and refused to be converted to Christianity, while heathen Negroes would be better subjects for conversion and stronger laborers. In the next few years a small number of Negroes continued to be imported into Spain and Portugal as servants. We find, for instance, in 1474, that Negro slaves were common in Seville.

There is a letter from Ferdinand and Isabella in the year 1474 to a celebrated Negro, Juan de Valladolid, commonly called the "Negro Count", (El Conde Negro), nominating him to the office of "Mayoral of the Negroes" in Seville. The slaves were apparently treated kindly, allowed to keep their own dances and festivals, and to have their own chief, who represented them in the courts, as against their own masters, and settled their private quarrels.

Between 1455 and 1492 little mention is made of slaves in the trade with Africa. Columbus is said to have suggested Negroes for America, but Ferdinand and Isabella refused. Nevertheless, by 1501, we have the first incidental mention of Negroes going to America in a declaration that Negro slaves "born in the power of Christians were to be allowed to pass to the Indies, and the officers of the royal revenue were to receive the money to be paid for their permits."

Afro-Uruguay Spirit of Resistance in Candombe

In her article, "Uruguay Spirit of Afro Resistance Alive in Candombe" from Upside Down World, Marie Trigona (a writer, radio producer and filmmaker based in Buenos Aires) reports: In the streets of Montevideo, Uruguay, Afro-Uruguayans celebrate an often-ignored part of their history - Candombe and resistance. For more than 200 years Afro descendants have maintained the tradition of Candombe, a rhythm that traveled from Africa to Uruguay with African slaves. The music carries centuries of resistance and liberation.
The word Candombe literally means "place and dance of Africans." The musical tradition evolved during the colonial era. Africans brought to Uruguay for slave labor used the rhythm of the tambores, or drums, to communicate with each other and defy colonialists.

Today the music thrives in Montevideo's working class neighborhoods, where African descendants have kept alive the tradition of the Llamadas, parades where Candombe is played. Candombe drummer Mitchel Navos says that Candombe didn't originate in Africa, but with Afro-descendants in Montevideo. "Candombe is specifically from Montevideo. Candombe like Montevideo's Candombe doesn't exist in any other part of the world." He also asserts that Candombe's spirit has been passed down for generations despite a historical void surrounding the music's origins.

Origins of Candombe
Montevideo's colonial district is the birthplace of Uruguay's Candombe music. Africans from the Southern and Western regions (Bantú regions which include Congo, Angola and Mozambique) were brought to Uruguay and Argentina through the slave trade beginning in 1750. "Africans arriving from the Bantú region brought with them the Candombe rhythm," explains Navos. "Being from different nations and regions, they didn't have the possibility of communicating through language."
In whatever time their white masters allowed, slaves communicated through drums and dance. The first Llamadas took place at this time. Some historians assert that the word Llamadas - "parade of calls," refers to the drums Africans played to call out to each other in their homes. Each tribe had a particular rhythm that could be identified from afar.

Within these living quarters, African musicians gave birth to a rhythm and tradition which has been passed on for generations. Martin Silva is a young musician from Montevideo's Barrio Sur. His grandparents taught him the Candombe rhythm and the origins of Candombe. "Before the llamadas were held in Ansinas, which was a conventillo or a housing complex here on Isla de Flores and nearby streets. It was a huge housing complex where hundreds of families lived. The llamadas were held there, they paraded inside. It was a different kind of festivity. It's not the same as today."
Upper class whites tried to ban Candombe gatherings in the 19th century. One of the earliest historical documents tracing Candombe music is an 1808 police record, when citizens of Montevideo requested that these dances be severely repressed and completely prohibited. Afro descendants took their music underground, to defy the oppressive conditions of slavery.

"We can't refer to anything before 1900 with historical certainty," explains Navos. There exists an extensive historical void regarding Candombe practices between 1800 and 1900. "What exists today is what we could hide and preserve, which has led to the transformation of Candombe in what it is today, from generation to generation," he continues.

"Barrio Sur and Palermo were where the meat curing plants were located. Many of the black slaves had to work in the meat curing plants, but also many lived in the curing plants. That's where music from Africa mixed with Catholicism." Many historians assert that the first Llamadas took place in clandestine music halls, until they went public with the abolishment of slavery in the late 19th century. "The first Llamadas held was a procession from the Meat curing plants toward Montevideo's main cathedral, in the Old part of the city. In commemoration of Day of the Kings, they made a procession to give a tribute to the Catholic Saints of the Masters. That's when Western Traditions got mixed in. That's when the term Llamadas, or walking procession, came to be. Before it wasn't about walking in the streets, it was held in a hall or like a band performance."

Symbols of Afro descendants' painful past
The dance and music are filled with symbols of African descendants' painful past. The troupes the perform the Llamadas are called comparsas, and are made up of cuerdas (drummers) and dancers. The drummers walk very slowly, barely separating their feet as they walk. This rhythm and style of procession is meant to symbolize Afro-descendants' past and historical roots when their ancestors were made to walk with chains and shackles.

Three main characters lead the llamadas: the Mama Vieja (Grandmother), Gramillero (Old Doctor), and Escobero (Wizard). The Gramillero walks with a cane as if he's about to fall over. The Mama Vieja carries an umbrella attending to the Grammillero. The Escobero sweeps the ground with a great baton.
Navos describes the significance of these three characters. "The Escobero, I don't know if he's a magician or wizard, he's the person in charge of taking charge of the spirit of the comparsa. The Escobero walks in front of the flags to clean the bad spirits opening the way for the comparsa."

The Gramillero and Mama Vieja symbolize two key figures in Afro-Uruguayan history: the old doctor who uses medicinal herbs to cure and the grandmother, the matriarchal figure. Navos explains the significance of those characters. "Those characters are as important to us as our grandparents. In a family they are the roots. They are the oldest people in the comparsa. Their dance is about that. Simulating the pain in their slow dance, there's an expression of fatigue in their dance."

Candombe as a cultural tool

Some of the city's Candombe troops feature more than 50 drummers and dozens of dancers. Each neighborhood has its own rhythm and style. In Barrio Sur, where slaves took the music underground in the 19th century, new Candombe troops are emerging today.

According to Mario Suarez a young musician playing a traditional African drum in the Isla de Flores comparsa, the Llamadas is more than a performance. "The Llamadas and Candombe for the Afro descendants are a passion and a tradition. We have to maintain the tradition. The identity of the comparsa of Isla de Flores is strong, because it's part of the identity barrio Ansinas and Barrio Sur. The first Llamadas took place here in the barrio Ansinas and the barrio Sur."

Today Afro-Uruguayans number around 100,000, or about 6 percent of the population. For many Uruguayans of Afro descent, Candombe is part of everyday life and resistance in a continually discriminating society. The Llamadas ispracticed all year long, not just during Carnival. Uruguayans have also adopted the increasingly popular Candombe music as part of their national identity. Especially in the past 30 years, the music has influenced White musicians. The music was used to express resistance to the repressive regime during Uruguay's bloody military junta from 1973-1984. Today, Candombe isn't just heard in Montevideo but has spread to Uruguay's interior and echoes in Argentina.

"Candombe is not only a question of skin color, it's a way of thinking and being," says Diego Bonga Martinez from the Afro-cultural movement in Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires, the Llamadas have been continually repressed by police and government officials. Martinez adds, "Candombe is a cultural weapon we have used to defend ourselves with, for our culture to live on." From the size and sound of the growing number of comparsas participating in the Llamadas in Montevideo, this tradition will be passed on for generations to come.

"Welli Candombe", a short film by Michael Abt-

Frederick Douglass: What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

Frederick Douglass

During the 1850s, Frederick Douglass typically spent about six months of the year travelling extensively, giving lectures. During one winter -- the winter of 1855-1856 -- he gave about 70 lectures during a tour that covered four to five thousand miles. And his speaking engagements did not halt at the end of a tour. From his home in Rochester, New York, he took part in local abolition-related events.

On July 5, 1852, Douglass gave a speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, held at Rochester's Corinthian Hall. It was biting oratory, in which the speaker told his audience, "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn." And he asked them, "Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?"
Within the now-famous address is what historian Philip S. Foner has called "probably the most moving passage in all of Douglass' speeches."

"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim."

"To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages."

"There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour." (source: PBS Africans in America)

Read the full speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" By Frederick Douglass, on July 5, 1852: here

Danny Glover Reads Frederick Douglass

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Down in Brazil

Brazil has a current population of over 176 million people. It was a Portuguese colony that imported more African slaves than any other nation in the Western Hemisphere and was the last to abolish slavery (l888) after almost 450 years of exploitation.

Today, Brazil has the largest population of African descendants outside the continent of Africa. Its economy is among the world’s ten largest. It is also among the world’s most unequal societies measured by income mal-distribution. The richest 20% of the population (persons whose appearance resembles a European phenotype) possess two thirds of the national income; the poorest 20% (primarily Brown or Black) receive less than 3%. (Beyond Racism)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

History of the Brazilian Apartheid: The Favela


Favela is the Portuguese name from a shanty town. These towns form on the outskirts of Brazilian cities due to massive over population. Brazilian cities were not constructed or planned to handle the millions of people that now live there. People are forced to inhabit makeshift towns in the undesirable parts of the cities. Favelas are usually built on privately owned lands and are illegal.
Most favelas are constructed from whatever material the inhabitants can find. The houses are not sturdily built and do not offer much protection from Mother Nature. Electricity is rare and there is no running water.

Rampant crime is a part of daily life in the favelas. There is almost no police presence. Along with crime, sewage and poor sanitation plague the areas. This leads to the spreading of disease and other harmful medical conditions.

History of the Favelas

A favela (Brazilian Portuguese for slum) is the generally used term for a shanty town in Brazil. In the late 18th century, the first settlements were called bairros africanos (African neighborhoods), and they were the place where former slaves with no land ownership and no options for work lived. Over the years, many freed black slaves moved in. However, before the first settlement called “favela” came into being, poor blacks were pushed away from downtown into the far suburbs. Most modern favelas appeared in the 1970s, due to rural exodus, when many people left rural areas of Brazil and moved to cities. Without finding a place to live, many people ended up in a favela.

Some of the older favelas in Rio de Janeiro were originally started as quilombos (independent settlements of fugitive African slaves) among the hilly terrain of the area surrounding Rio, which later grew as slaves were liberated in 1888 with no places to live. It is generally agreed upon that the first favela to be called by this name was created in November 1897. At the time, 20,000 veteran soldiers were brought from the conflict against the settlers of Canudos, in the Eastern province of Bahia, to Rio de Janeiro and left with no place to live.

When they served the Army in Bahia, those soldiers had been familiar with Canudos’s Favela Hill — a name referring to favela, a skin-irritating tree in the spurge family indigenous to Bahia. When they settled in the Providência hill in Rio de Janeiro, they nicknamed the place Favela hill from their common reference, thereby calling a slum a favela for the first time.

The favelas were formed prior to the dense occupation of cities and the domination of real estate interests. The housing crisis of the 1940s forced the urban poor to erect hundreds of shantytowns in the suburbs, when favelas replaced tenements as the main type of residence for destitute cariocas (residents of Rio). The explosive era of favela growth dates from the 1940s, when Getúlio Vargas’s industrialization drive pulled hundreds of thousands of migrants into the Federal District, until 1970, when shantytowns expanded beyond urban Rio.

Raw sewage drains through the streets

Most of the current favelas began in the 1970s, as a construction boom in the richer neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro initiated a rural exodus of workers from poorer states in Brazil. Heavy flooding in the low-lying slum areas of Rio also forcibly removed a large population into favelas, which are mostly located on Rio’s various hillsides. Since favelas have been created under different terms but with similar end results, the term favela has become generally interchangeable with any impoverished area. Favelas are built around the edge of the main city so in a way they are actually expanding the city. (source: Brazil Geeks)

In Trinidad, Carnival’s Commercial Has Critics

The New York Times reports: "Carnival’s Louder Commercial Beat Adds Dissonance," by John Eligon, 9 March 2011:

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago — To some people here, Dean Ackin, 38, with his boyish face, is an inspiration of entrepreneurship, a bearer of this country’s evolving culture. To others, he is a threat to this nation’s most beloved social and cultural treasure: Carnival.

Mr. Ackin runs one of the country’s most popular Carnival bands, the groups of people who don costumes and masquerade — or play Mas, as locals call it — in the raucous annual two-day street parade. The roughly 5,000 spots available in Mr. Ackin’s band, Tribe, sell out every year almost as fast as they go on sale. Demand has been so high since he started Tribe in 2005 that Mr. Ackin just started a second band.

But some say Mr. Ackin and others like him, who have in recent years spun profitable, year-round businesses out of organizing these bands, threaten the existence of Carnival as Trinidadians know it.

By shunning the conservative, traditional costumes for cheaper, skimpier outfits that are sometimes produced outside of Trinidad, these new bands, critics say, are distorting their forebears’ creation and sending work elsewhere at a time when the government and others are trying to turn Trinidadian-style Carnival into a more profitable and exportable industry.

“We call it two-piece and fries, the bikini and the bras,” said Stephen Derek, a traditional costume maker, referring to the skimpy costumes that have become a staple of the new bands. “The costume comes like a fast food. To them, the bottom line is profit. It has nothing to do about country or culture anymore.”

The entrepreneurial bandleaders counter that they are part of a natural evolution, merely offering what people want.
“If you really look at those people who play Mas with the younger bands, or if you talk to a visitor abroad and say: ‘Hey, have you ever heard of Trinidad Carnival? What band would you play with?’ they would call Tribe or they would call one of the younger bands,” Mr. Ackin said. “That says we are reaching out further than the traditional bands. We are reaching out to the international market.”

With few exceptions, the 1.3 million people living on these twin West Indian islands believe that they do Carnival better than anyone in the world. But the generational clash has raised questions over how today’s Carnival is shaping the country.

Is the reliance on mass-produced bikinis — a far cry from the elaborate, hand-crafted costumes Trinidadians had grown accustomed to — stifling the creative works that have been the hallmark of traditional Carnival, which the government of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has been pressing to revive since she took office last year?

Or does it reflect the country’s new energy, representative of a push beyond Trinidad’s reputation for complacency in developing revenue streams beyond oil production?

Carnival festivities here begin in earnest right after Christmas, but the signature parade was held on Monday and Tuesday, right before Ash Wednesday, adhering to the Catholic tradition of one final period of revelry before the start of Lent.

The tradition here started with the island’s 19th-century slave masters, and was carried on by the African slaves after they were freed in 1834. To make the custom their own, former slaves took to burning sugar cane, to symbolize their freedom from the plantations here, and in later years residents began wearing costumes that both portrayed folkloric characters from Africa and mimicked their colonizers.

Now the event attracts about 40,000 visitors to Trinidad annually, nearly half of them from the United States. In parades held throughout the country, as many as 300,000 people march around trucks blasting Soca music, according to government estimates. Estimates of the economic windfall from Carnival vary widely, from just over $27 million to hundreds of millions.

What distinguishes Carnival here is an emphasis on getting people — even tourists — to purchase a costume from a band for as little as $200 and march. Several bands like Tribe have taken it a step further, charging $400 to $1,000 for a whirlwind experience that includes an open bar for both days, meals, security and shuttle service.

Mr. Ackin said that Tribe, which has around 5,000 masqueraders each year, usually has a waiting list 2,000 people long. Several celebrities have also marched with Tribe, including the actor Idris Elba an the billionaire Richard Branson.

His new band, Bliss, had just over 2,000 masqueraders this year and a long waiting list as well, he said. Over all, the market to pay hundreds of dollars to join a band, even in a tight economy, seems to be growing.
Mr. Ackin, who has emerged as a quasi-celebrity here, spent years working in a bank and running a women’s fashion boutique. But he and his wife, Monique, a co-bandleader, got into the Carnival business by creating a band in 2000 for J’Ouvert, the early-morning parade that kicks off Carnival. His company now organizes five parties around Carnival time here. It also organizes parties at Carnivals in Miami, Washington and London.

The transformation of Carnival bands into businesses has disrupted the social order in which bands used to consist of friends getting together to hang out, make costumes, and eat and drink together, traditionalists said.
“The designers or the bandleaders of those other bands call themselves designers and artists, but I think that is fraud,” said Brian MacFarlane, whose band won large band of the year in each of the previous four years. “If you really, truly are a designer and artist, you’d be holding true to the art form and the culture.”

Indeed, Trinidad’s Carnival has started to resemble that of “Brazil in a lot of ways,” said Winston Peters, the minister of arts and multiculturalism, “where you just have decorated bikinis and stuff with a headpiece. I can’t be against that because that’s what people want. At the same time, we don’t want the traditional Mas of our country to die.”

Perhaps the most contentious aspect of the bikini costumes is that many bands import some of them from China. Mr. Peters has proposed putting a 2,000 percent tax on imported costumes.

Mr. Ackin said that Tribe and Bliss imported about 20 percent of their costume pieces, a necessity to meet their demand and get high-quality production unavailable in Trinidad.

People on both sides of the argument seem to agree that Trinidad needs to better harness the skills of people in the Carnival business — from the artisans who make the costumes to the people who manage the bands — and the country’s resources to create an exportable industry.

The government is considering increasing the prize money for the bands with the best costumes, and it has started a band with which anyone can march in a homemade costume. Those efforts come after the creation of a Mas Academy that teaches and certifies people in Carnival trades.

Derrick Lewis, who, along with his brother Dane, started a wildly popular band, Island People, in 2005, said it was important to find ways to marry the traditional Carnival with the new.

“I think popular culture will become culture,” said Mr. Lewis, 52. “The same that happened with hip-hop. I’ve seen Kanye West performing with full orchestral violins and stuff like that. I think we need to encourage the fusion of the traditional and the contemporary.” (source: The New York Times, Vijai Singh contributed reporting.)


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