Days of National Festivity in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1823-1889

By Hendrik Kraay | Go to book overview

Introduction

In 1826, during its first session, the new Brazilian empire’s parliament instituted five national holidays or “days of national festivity,” a literal translation that better captures what deputies and senators understood as these days’ purpose. Four of them were closely connected to Emperor Pedro I (1822–31): 9 January (the date of his 1822 decision to stay in Brazil in defiance of the Portuguese parliament that had called him to Lisbon); 25 March (the day on which he swore his oath to the constitution that he had granted in 1824); 7 September (the date of his Grito do Ipiranga [Cry or Shout from the Ipiranga (River)], his 1822 declaration of “Independence or Death,” which had been constructed as Brazil’s independence day in the previous years); and 12 October (his birthday and the date of his acclamation as emperor in 1822). The fifth day of national festivity, 3 May, commemorated the annual opening of the legislative session, mandated by the constitution for that date.1

The institution of national holidays was, of course, one of the many symbolic attributes of statehood. Throughout the Americas, the newly independent countries produced their own flags, coats of arms, and currencies, and they designated days on which to celebrate their independence and sometimes also their principal political institutions. Through this invention of national traditions, to paraphrase Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s familiar phrase, Brazilian senators and deputies, like their counterparts in Spanish America, sought to perpetuate the collective memory of their nation’s institutional origins or to create what Pierre Nora has called lieux de mémoire, or memory spaces, to anchor the new nation.2 Nation, for them, meant a political community. As José Antônio Pimenta Bueno (the future Marquis of São Vicente), the great jurist of nineteenth-century Brazilian constitutional law, put it in 1857, “the empire of Brazil” was synonymous with “the Brazilian nation”; both terms referred to “the civil and political society of a free American people.”3 The men who had assembled as the Brazilian nation’s representatives understood the creation of what Benedict Anderson calls the

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