Buying Freedom

Hi! I'm Lauren Arneson and I'm writing about our 15th day in Brazil!

The weather has continued to stay hot but has cooled down considerably since leaving Rio.

Today we took a day-trip to a town called Cachoeira to visit the Sisterhood of Good Death and Danemann cigar factory. On the way, we had a chance to stop at a local market that sold fresh fruits, vegetables, and clothing. We enjoyed interacting with the locals, especially a man who sold fresh tobacco and homemade remedies. He showed us spices and oils that can be used to clear sinuses and soothe body aches. After visiting the market, we arrived at the Sisterhood of Good Death (Irmandade da Boa Morte) where we learned about the Sisterhood and its origins. One of the fascinating things about the Sisterhood of Good Death is that the "Good Death" is in reference to the death of slavery. Another interesting fact shared with us is that the oldest Sister died exactly 3 years ago today (January 18) at age 110. The average age Sister is 80-100 years old! After visiting the Sisterhood, we ate lunch at a local farm where we are able to celebrate Blake Heeren's birthday! We finished our day at the Danemann cigar factory, which is said to sell the second best cigar next to the Cuban cigar. We got to see women making the cigars that are still sold today.

Sisterhood of Good Death connects with a major topic we have been talking about throughout our stay in Brazil: slavery. Over 40% of slaves were brought to Brazil, in comparison to the 5% brought to the United States. Bahia specifically received a large number of slaves; "The number of enslaved Africans imported to Bahia was 142,300 for the period 1811-1830. Over the next two decades (1831-1850), imports still totaled 98,600" (Nishida; p. 365). The Sisterhood of Good Death was formed by a group of women who were nannies for slave masters. Since women were seen as less threatening than men, the Sisters were able to eavesdrop and relay messages to the slaves from the master's house. This trust in the women was partially due to the fact that they were seen as intelligent because of the way they spoke and dressed. During their non-work hours, they were able to rent out their free time, which allowed them to buy their freedom. The buying of freedom was available not only to the Sisterhood, but also other slaves. This created the "growth of a relatively large class of African freedmen (and women) with disposable capital over the course of the 19th century" (Castillo; p. 12). Essentially, if a freed slave was at the market and saw a family member for sale, they were given the chance to buy them since slaves were sold so cheap in Brazil. As Nishida said, "This wage-earning system... enabled the enterprising slave to accumulate money eventually to purchase freedom" (p. 269). This is one of the many differences between slavery in Brazil and the Unites States; in the United States, slaves were unable to buy their freedom and slaves were not cheap.

When it came to buying freedom, some slaves had advantages over others. For example, Brazilian-born, infant, and child slaves were more likely to receive help from locals like Bahian abolitionist societies, whereas African-born slaves did not have as much assistance (Nishida; p.384 & 385). Nonetheless, the slaves who were able to buy their freedom were given the chance to work as a free African in Cachoeira. One of the main places these freed people went to work was the tobacco fields. As Nishida explains, "the city of Salvador developed as a major export city of sugar and later for tobacco..." (p. 364). There was a large demand for labor in these fields, providing the opportunity for the Africans to work as free people. An interesting point our tour guide, Simone, brought up was the fact that slavery still exists in a sense. One example she gave was about sugar plantation workers who have to travel for work. They are paid by the kilo, which allows the plantation to pay them very little. Simone explained that these workers do not have rights and that it is almost worse than slavery.

We are continuing to learn something new every day! Check back for more!

Castillo, Lisa Earl. "Icons of Memory: Photography and Its Uses in Bahian Candomblé." Stockholm Review of Latin American Studies 4 (2009): 11-23. Print.

Nishida, Mieko. "Manumission and Ethnicity in Urban Slavery: Salvador, Brazil, 1808-1888." The Hispanic American Historical Review. (1993): 361-91. Print.

The group at Irmandade da Boa Morte
The founder of Irmandade da Boa Morte