Lisa Earl Castillo: Mapping the nineteenth-century Brazilian returnee movement: Demographics, life stories and the question of slavery

This paper examines Brazil’s century return to Africa movement from both qualitative and quantitative perspectives, identifying three main stages. The largest single wave of voyages came after an 1835 slave uprising in the province of Bahia, when around 200 freed Africans were deported and roughly a thousand others left voluntarily, fleeing anti-African legislation. In the 1840s, smaller numbers of Africans also traveled to the continent of their birth, many as employees on slave vessels. A new phase of migrations came after 1850, with the end of the Atlantic slave trade to Brazil and the British seizure of Lagos a year later. Previous estimates of the volume of travelers are examined in combination with demographic data on passport recipients, in order to frame microhistorical analysis of individual travelers. In the first and third stages, Africans often traveled with their households, comprising not only blood kin but also their slaves and former slaves, while in the second phase many of those who left for Africa were men travelling alone who later returned to Brazil. The resulting portrait of changes over time offers insights into the varying reasons that led freed Africans to leave Brazil, also raising questions about the continued presence of the institution of slavery in their lives.

Beginning in the 1990s, with the publication of works such as Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic, which drew attention to the historical importance of travels undertaken by Pan-Africanist intellectuals and other free people of color, the trope of the forced migrations of the slave trade began to give way to a new scholarly interest in voyages resulting from individual agency. In the Lusophone world, however, the travels of freed men and women have been noted since the late nineteenth century, and by the 1950s the groundbreaking work of Pierre Verger paved the way for the first in-depth studies.1 This scholarly interest was sparked by the frequency of such voyages in Brazil, where freed people of color were far more numerous than in Anglophone slave societies.2 The city of Salvador, capital of the northeastern province of Bahia, with an especially large black population, was a major port of departure. Evidence of return voyages between Bahia and the Bight of Benin region dates back at least to the mid-eighteenth century and increases substantially in the 1800s.3
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