Colonial Roots of Modern Brazil: Papers of the Newberry Library Conference

By Dauril Alden | Go to book overview

STUART B. SCHWARTZ:


Free Labor in a Slave Economy:The Lavradores de Cana of Colonial Bahia

For more than one hundred years sugar ruled Brazil. From the end of the sixteenth to the beginning of the eighteenth century the cultivation of sugar provided Brazil with its raison d'être and shaped the society that grew around it. Even after its decline in the colony's total economic production, sugar continued to mold the land of the coastal Northeast and the lives of the people upon it. Social scientists, historians, and novelists have probably written more about the plantation life of the Brazilian Northeast than about any other region or aspect of the Brazilian past. Many of these authors, writing from the vantage point of the late nineteenth century, have traced the outline of the colonial Northeast in a sharp contrast of black and white, slave and master, and paid little or no attention to social elements that do not readily fit the authors' model of a semi-feudal, almost manorial agrarian society based on slavery.1 Slavery and latifundia undoubtedly cast a long shadow over the colonial past, but our histories, peopled with governors, planters, slaves, and a few missionaries, have left little space for the artisan, small farmer, wage laborer, poor white, and freed slave. The stories

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1
The classic, of course, is Gilberto Freyre, The Masters and the Slaves, Samuel Putnam trans. ( 2nd ed. in English; New York, 1956). The literature on sugar is enormous. Deserving of special mention are Manuel Diegues Jùnior, O Banguê nas Alagoas ( Rio de Janeiro, 1949) and José Wanderley Pinho, História de u engenho do Recôncavo ( Rio de Janeiro, 1946). In the 1940s, José Honório Rodrigues published a series of articles in the pages of Brasil Açucareiro which in their totality constitute an extremely important contribution to the study of the colonial sugar economy. As guides to sources, the reader is directed to Rodrigues' "Notas à literatura brasileira sôbre açúucar no século xvii," Brasil Açúreiro, XXV ( 1945), no. 5, 420-424; "A literatura brasileira sôbre açúcar no século xviii," Brasil Açúcareiro, XX ( 1942) no. 1, 6-25: "A literature brasileira sôbre açúcar no século xix," Brasil Açúcareiro, XIX ( 1942), no. 5, 16-38. The best short descriptions of the colonial sugar economy are Alice P. Canabrava's "A grande propriedade rural," in Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, ed., História geral da civilização brasileira, 5 vols. to date ( São Paulo, 1959--), 1:2, 192-217; and Frédéric Mauro, Le Portugal et l'Atlantique au xviie siècle ( Paris, 1960), chaps. III, IV.

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