Brazil is responsible for the life and legacy of an abolitionist

0 13

Luiz Gama he had a good understanding of injustice from an early age. His mother told him that she was captured in West Africa and brought to Brazil in chains. Freed before Gama was born in 1830, she continued to take part in slave revolts – by some accounts she organized them – and disappeared when the boy was seven. Gama’s father was a Portuguese gentleman with a gambling habit. When his son was ten, he illegally sold him into slavery to pay his debts.

Thanks to a law student who often came to his master’s house, Gama learned to read and write; the student also took an interest in the law and encouraged him to prove that his slavery was unjust under Article 179 of the criminal code, which prohibited the “capture of a free man”. As an adult, Gama wrote a book of satirical poems and attended the Largo de São Francisco Law School as an auditor (professors and classmates opposed his formal enrollment because of his race). Through the courts, Gama went on to free about 500 slaves. He led the debate on abolition in print, too, in Diabo Coxo, a magazine he founded in 1864, as well as major newspapers. He died in 1882, of complications related to diabetes, before seeing his ultimate goal realized. Princess Isabella signed a law abolishing slavery in 1888.

Gama is the Brazilian Frederick Douglass, says Lígia Fonseca Ferreira, a professor at the Federal University of São Paulo who has spent the last 20 years studying his legacy. Despite this, he is not treated as a giant in Brazilian history. It was only in 2003 that a law made it compulsory to include Afro-Brazilian history and culture in the school curriculum; for a long time history was taught in a way that overlooked the efforts of black activists such as Gama, José do Patrocinio and André Rebouças, and suggested that Princess Isabella and the white parliamentarians of the abolish slavery. The Museu Afro Brasil in São Paulo opened in 2004, but it covers a wide range of objects. Universities do not regularly teach the story of Gama.

That is now changing, as Brazil reckons with the past, especially its role in the slave trade. Last year a volume of previously unpublished Gama texts was published and sold out; his complete works, compiled in ten volumes, are now being published. A biographical film (see above) was released in August in cinemas and on Globoplay, one of Brazil’s largest streaming services; it was selected for the American Black Film Festival, the largest event of its kind in the world. Titled “Doutor Gama”, the film tells the story of Gama’s life and follows him as he defends an enslaved man who killed his master. (The case of the real ones Gama worked on is fictional.) Jefferson De, the director, thought Gama’s story was so impressive that “someone must have already told it in the movies” – but no one was on it.

abolitionist, ex-escravo, brasileiro Luiz Gama (c. 1860)

Some storytellers who try to draw attention to Gama’s efforts have made mistakes. Last month the publisher of a children’s book about his life withdrew; written by two white authors, “Abecê da Liberdade” (“ABC of Freedom”), first published in 2015, shows a young Gama playing on a slave ship. Detractors on social media accused the authors of presenting an unrealistic and insensitive view of addiction. The publishers have said that the edition will no longer be printed.

Many Brazilians see connections between Gama’s civil rights activism and the discussions about racism going on today. In “Doutor Gama” the actor who plays the main character breaks the fourth wall as he describes Brazilian society in the 19th century and says: “You commit the crimes that and sleeping like little angels.” After the credits, a statement appears on the screen – “Vidas Negras Importam” (“Black Lives Matter”). As in many countries in the West, demonstrations against hate -race has been in Brazil in the past year, especially after a black man was murdered in a supermarket in November. Jair Bolsonaro, the president, has to describe such protests as “attempts to introduce racial tensions that are foreign to our history”.

Of course, Gama’s legacy is disputed. The Brazilian political right emphasizes that Gama’s path, from slaves to intellectuals, is an example of the success of meritocracy. Sérgio Camargo, a friend of Mr. Bolsonaro and president of the Fundação Palmares, a foundation for the preservation of black culture, tweeted in May 2020 that the left is the “playing victim” and therefore Gama is “the antithesis” of their arguments . Such debates steamroll nuance and complexity. “It will be difficult for any ideological version to fully capture Gama’s ideas,” said Bruno Rodrigues de Lima, the historian who is editing his complete works.

At least an artistic retelling of Gama’s life seems to be reviving interest in his intellectual contributions. The University of São Paulo – the same institution that refused to allow him formal study more than 150 years ago – awarded him his most prestigious honorary degree in June. The law school has named a room in his honor. Many scholars go back to his original writings. From this month, at the request of the High Court, Mr. Lima will teach a course to his judges on the life and work of Gama. It seems the time has come, as Gama once said, to “wake up the people”.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.