sábado, 13 de dezembro de 2008

Sou, não raras vezes, acusado por alguns leitores deste blog de falar demais sobre a escravatura, de ser obcecado pelo assunto. Confesso não saber se a critica é justa ou não, o que sei é que é matéria digna de não ser esquecida. A este propósito a UNESCO publicou um estudo sobre a escravatura da autoria do Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation e Joel Quirk: “Unfinished Business: A Comparative Survey of Historical and Contemporary Slavery”.

Transcrevo aqui o capítulo dedicado a Portugal. Para ler, ficar a saber e não esquecer! Pois…


The three cases outlined above have long dominated discussion of the legal abolition of slavery. While there are undoubtedly valid reasons for this analytical focus, it is also necessary to consider parallel developments in other parts of the globe, which frequently occurred through quite different trajectories. One major point of departure here concerns the political dynamics surrounding legal abolition in Portugal.

As we saw in chapter two, the Portuguese dominated both the early history and final stages of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, ultimately carrying far more slaves than any other European power. This overall dominance was bound up in two colonial fiefdoms, Angola and Brazil, which were pre-eminent source and destination regions for Trans-Atlantic slavery. In stark contrast to Britain and the United States, Portugal never saw the emergence of a popular anti-slavery movement, and instead primarily came to legal abolition as a cumulative result of external pressures and contingent circumstances.

When the British Parliament abolished national involvement in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807, the Portuguese were ‘profoundly unaware of the issue of abolition’ (Marques 2006, 10). This began to change in 1808, at least at a diplomatic level, when the vulnerable Portuguese government, which was reliant upon British support at many stages over the course of the nineteenth century, reluctantly entered into a series of treaties restricting slave trading (1810, 1815, 1817). Having limited leverage, the Portuguese conceded the right of the British navy to search suspect vessels in 1817, but were able to limit the abolition of slave trading to north of the equator, thereby strategically defending the core of the valuable trade to Brazil.

This exception ostensibly closed in 1822, following Brazilian independence (foreign slave trading had been prohibited), which divided responsibility for a then flourishing slave trade into two distinct jurisdictions. In both countries public opinion remained hostile to the heavy handed British, while significant commercial interests in Portugal, Brazil and Angola (where metropolitan control was tenuous) favoured a continuation of slave trading. Frustrated by Portuguese intransigence, the British eventually resorted to the drastic step of unilaterally seizing slave traders operating under Portuguese colours, forcing the justifiably outraged Portuguese into signing a new treaty in 1842.

While this treaty gave legal support to the efforts of the British navy to interdict slave traders, it was not in itself sufficient to end illegal slave trading to Brazil, which eventually ended somewhat unexpectedly in the early 1850s, following the use of similarly coercive measures against Brazil (see Bethel 1970; Marques 2006; Miers 1975, 23-30 It also appears, however, that Portuguese behaviour changed in important ways in the 1840s. This involved a qualified commitment by the Portuguese navy to suppressing illegal slave trading in African coastal waters, which resulted in a much lower incidence of slaving vessels using the Portuguese flag (with other flags now being preferred) and changes in the locations where slavers purchased slaves in Africa. For Joao Pedro Marques, this transformation can be chiefly traced to questions of honour: “The big difference in relation to earlier periods was the convergence of national honour and abolitionism … The political elites in government and in the Cortes came to see abolition as an unavoidable necessity, not only for humanitarian reasons or future economic interests, but mainly because Portuguese respectability was at stake” (Marques 2006, 181).

In this formulation, it is not necessary to be a committed abolitionist to take up the cause (or, more commonly, signal the appearance of commitment to the cause): challenges to collective honour instead serve as a catalyst for various reforms. This is important on several levels, providing both a key insight into why many states took formal steps against slavery in the absence of popular anti-slavery sentiment, and an equally important insight into why many of these measures proved largely ineffective.

Once the main point at issue is appearance, rather than substance, there will always be many strategies available to uphold collective honour while leaving key features of the status quo largely intact. On this front, the Portuguese commitment to anti-slavery proved to be fairly limited. While slavery itself was ostensibly abolished in 1869, a complex mix of legalized forced labour and breaches of relevant regulation ensured that slavery effectively continued long after this date. Despite its best efforts to uphold national honour, Portugal would be vulnerable to British pressure into the twentieth century, paving the way for a series of further scandals and conflicts over disguised slave systems in operation within colonial Africa (Duffy 1967; Grant 2005, 109-134).

Grant, K. 2005. A Civilised Savagery: Britain and the New Slaveries in Africa, 1884-1926. New York: Routledge
Marques, J. 2006. The Sounds of Silence: Nineteenth-Century Portugal and the Abolition of the Slave Trade. New York: Berghahn Books
Duffy, J. 1967. A Question of Slavery. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Miers, S. 1975. Britain and the Ending of the Slave Trade. New York: Africana Publishing Company
Bethel, L. 1970. The Abolition of the Brazilian Slave Trade: Britain, Brazil and the Slave Trade Question 1807-1869. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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