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The Portuguese and Spanish Slave Trade - Part 2
by Alexandra Pereira
2009-01-05 10:10:40
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With the blessings of the Holy See (Pope Julius II, 1506), the “discovered lands” and the ones still officially unknown but sensed in advance (like Brazil)[i] were divided, in Europe, between rivals and cousins, in 1494: half of them for the Portuguese and the other half for the Spanish.

pic_1_400These negotiations actually marked a triumph of the direct diplomacy diligences, as before them the Bulls Dum Diversas (1452) and Romanus Pontifex (1455) by the Pope Nicholas V (giving discovered lands to Portugal and the Order of Christ), and the Bull Æterni regis (1481) by the Pope Sixtus IV (dividing lands by a parallel crossing the Canary Islands) had represented the main legislative documents on such disputes.

“The medieval tradition of the political supremacy of the Holy See still subsisted, which recognized to Rome the right to dispose of the lands and the peoples. Adrian IV, English Pope (1154-59) endowed Ireland to the English King and Sixtus IV (1471-84) had granted the Canary Islands to the Kings of Castile (1471-84). Such acts were based, in part, on the fact that an Edict by Constantine conferred to the Pope Sylvester the sovereignty over all the islands of the globe: and such happened because all the lands still undiscovered were, by then, supposed to be exclusively islands.” (the Brazilian historian Delgado de Carvalho, transcribing Oliveira Lima in The Discovery of Brazil, Book of the Centenaries, 1900)

Cabral arrived to Brazil in 1500, and in 1524 the Maluku Islands and the Philippines had to be given to the Spaniards in exchange of the Brazilian lands.

pic_2_400The Company of Jesus owned several slave trade ships which sailed, like all the others – but without paying taxes – from Angola, Cabinda, Mina, Guinea, Saint Tomé and Mozambique to the coasts of Brazil.

In the New World, every product traded (including slaves, one of the most profitable “products”) was taxed and a big slice of those taxes was delivered to the Holy See. Just like the fazendeiros[ii] of Brazil, this institution owned thousands of slaves, together with hundreds of plantations of coffee and sugar cane, cattle ranches and public buildings, and was involved with the trade of gold and precious metals, as some common conquistadores were. The lands of the New World were vast, and their abundance was tempting for everyone.

Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566), a missionary in Cuba and Venezuela and Bishop of Chiapas, was one of the most notable voices in the Spanish-speaking South America opposing the slavery of Native Americans, still he curiously advocated the slavery of blacks in the New World. Anyhow, his ideas were not broadly accepted, as the Pope condoned the actions of the conquistadores and the Inquisitor Cardinal Cisneros, twice a regent of Spain in those times, paladin of the Spanish campaigns in the North of Africa (he had an active role in several conquests) had not been impressed by his arguments either.

The same didn’t happen with the King Charles I of Spain who, after conceding to Bartolomé a territory in today’s Venezuela so he could “apply his theories” there, in 1540 listened to de las Casas’ demands in defence of the Native Americans, while being influenced by the new legal ideas concerning “The Rights of the People” (Francisco Vitoria). In 1542, Charles I promulgated the New Laws, in which he prohibited the slavery of the Native Americans, ordered that all the natives should be freed from their encomenderos[iii] and considered under the direct protection of the Spanish Monarchs.

In the Spanish colonies, the colonial institution of the Encomienda was a social-economic system which demanded that a group of individuals should reward other individuals with work or goods in compensation for the services lent by the first group. Such system derived from the Castile and Aragon Middle Ages, when the goods or services were estates, buildings, rents or benefits commonly owned by a Military Order, which the individuals of the second group (generally the peasants, the plebs) should reward with semi-slave work, most of the goods they produced or owned, absurdly high taxes and a number of other mortifying obligations.

pic_3_400If the system was already problematic in the Old World, in the New World the natives had not shown any particular interest or motivation to adhere. Besides, the supposed protection by the encomenderos was seldom guaranteed, on the contrary: the natives were enslaved, exploited and often beaten up. In 1512, the Spanish Laws of Burgos, formulated by a panel of theologians and jurists, had already tried to organize this notion of property in the New World, with no success apparently, after protests by Antonio de Montesinos about the conditions of the indigenous people during his sermon in today’s Dominican Republic/Haiti (1511).

Socially, Montesinos was not alone – Gil Vicente the playwright, for example, had been presenting some anti-slavery, anti-colonization and anti-materialist theatre plays before the Kings of Portugal and their court, in 1502-09 –, but he was one of the first voices speaking against slavery inside the Catholic institution, and as a Dominican friar his positions eventually had resonance over King Ferdinand of Spain, who convened the commission of Burgos.

So the conclusions of the Burgos panel of theologians and jurists (1512) had been as follows: 1) the Indians are free men; 2) the Catholic Kings are masters of the Indians because of their evangelization compromise 3) the Indians can be forced to work, as long as the work is tolerable and the salary fair, although the salary can be paid in goods/services/others instead of money 4) war is justified if the Indians refuse to be Christianized 5) the Requerimiento, which authorises and announces the violent subjugation of the Indians who refuse to be evangelized.

The two most influential members of this panel were: Juan Rubios, the passionate and solid defender of the theocratic argument which justified the papal concession (determined by the Bulls Inter cœtera, Eximiœ devotionis and Dudum siquidem, 1493, of Pope Alexander VI to the Kings of Castile[iv]), and Matías de Paz, a senior lecturer and professor of Theology in the University of Salamanca, also theocratic, who insisted in the need to inform the Indians of the rights of the King of Castile, with a Requerimiento, either before subduing them pacifically or declaring war against them.

Still talking about the religious representatives in particular, Priest António Vieira (1608-1697), who vigorously defended the end of slavery in Brazil, was arrested under multiple charges by the Inquisition, for several times, and implacably interrogated – most of the charges were related with defending the slaves, Indians and blacks[v], the converted Jews and the accusation according to which he was a pagan. Vieira was an extraordinary writer of uncommon sermons and other pieces of prosal art, which became famous.

pic_4_400On the other hand, Priests like Jorge Benci (1700) defended the "good treatment of the slaves by their owners" (this good treatment was arguable, while mostly restricted to baptism, marriage and other evangelization tasks), but not their freedom. If baptized by the Bishop of Luanda (Angola) before embarking, the traffickers didn’t have to pay taxes for their slaves when the final destiny of their ships was Brazil. In Central and South America, the official policies of the religious institutions ended up defending the non-slavery of Indians and the slavery of blacks.

For the Grego-Roman mentality, slavery had been licit, and in old times the owner of the slaves had the right to decide about their life and death. The Bulls conceding rights over the natives of non-Christian lands, including the right to enslave/trade them and the obligation of evangelizing these natives, were not uncommon and include: Bull Clara devotionis (1471), Bull Aeterni Regis clementia per quam reges regnant (1481), Bull Ortodoxas fidei (1486), Bull Dudum cupiens (1491), among several others.

Those had been preceded by documents of the Popes Callixtus III (Bull Inter caetera que nobis divina disponente clementia incumbunt peragenda, 1456), Nicholas V (Bull Romanus Pontifex Regni Celestis Claviger, 1454), Eugene IV (Bulls Dudum cum, 1436, and Preclaris tuis, 1437), among others. The Bull Inter Coetera (1493), for example, grants “plain, free and unrestricted power, authority and jurisdiction so that you [Kings of Castile and Léon] can subdue, in favour of the Divine Clemency, those lands and islands [of the New World], as well as their inhabitants, and reduce them to the Catholic Faith", adding that, by acting accordingly, the Kings would be “paying a favour to the Catholic Church".

The authors of this Bull were, of course, far from imagining all the dimensions and the complete implications of such favour. The Christian teachings, in deep connection with the struggle for survival, the African tribal roots (the Yorubas, Lukumi, Igbo and Fon from Nigeria, Benin and Togo, the Kimbundus fom Angola, the Congolese Bantus, the Ewes from Ghana; Guinea and Cameroon language groups, etc.), and the beliefs of the American Natives, new syncretic religions were born in the Quilombos of Brazil, the Cimarrones of Colombia and the plantations of Peru or the Caribbean: Santería, Umbanda, Candomblé (with its nations Jejé, Bantu and Ketu), Ifá, Palo Monte, Haitian Voudou, Abakuá, Obeah...


1-      Quilombo dos Palmares, one of the structures of the main settlement, Alagoas, Brazil (photo by Ana Pereira).

2-      Statue of Zumbi dos Palmares, city of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil (photo by Ana Pereira).

3-      Excerpt of a theatre play by Gil Vicente (1502), by www.joraga.net.

4-      Illustration of Priest Vieira by Arnold van Westerhout (1651-1725).

Sources added to the ones mentioned above:

- Theatre plays by Gil Vicente: Auto da Visitação (1502) and Auto da Índia (1509)

- Sermons of the Priest António Vieira (1608-1697), including Sermon of St. Anthony to the Fishes (1654), Sermon of the Sixtieth and Sermon of The Good Thief (1655)

-Documentation of the National Archives and National Libraries of Spain/Portugal/Brazil and the Archives of the Vatican

- BENCI, Jorge (Priest): “Christian Economy of the Masters Governing the Slaves – reduced to four moral speeches”, Jesuitic Mission of the Province of Brazil, 1704 (Archives of the Company of Jesus, Rome).

- BUENO, Eduardo, History of Brazil, São Paulo, Publifolha, 1997

- LEITE, Serafim. History of the Company of Jesus in Brazil: 16th century. Lisbon: Portucália, 1938.

- MACEDO, Joaquim Manuel de, Lessons of the History of Brazil, Garnier Bookshop, Rio de Janeiro.

- Wikipedia

[i] There are theories according to which the lands of Brazil had already been seen or suspected during the navigation of Vasco da Gama in 1497-1499, in his inaugural voyage to India, by Duarte Coelho in 1498 or even by one of the other Portuguese navigators who sailed to the Western regions of the Atlantic in the final years of the 15th century - the Atlantic streams usually forced the vessels to distance themselves quite much from the Coast of Africa, to the West.

[ii] Owners of Fazendas or Roças (large farm or estate/ranch/plantation).

[iii] The Spanish encomenderos benefited from the slave and semi-slave work which, under the designation of “personal services” their native encomendados should do. In return, they had the obligation of teaching the natives the Christian doctrine, protect them and their goods, which was seldom the case.

[iv] These documents bestowed to Castile the right of conquering America and the obligation of evangelizing it. Pope Alexander VI was part of the Valencian family of the Borgia, so God could be considered to be playing at home, in this particular case.

[v] Having seen black African slaves disembarking in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, the priest wrote a long and revolted letter to the regional authorities and religious superiors, expressing his disapproval of such practice, as well as several sermons before and after that incident happened, which were actually great literary pieces, condemning Slavery in general as a system, both of blacks and American natives (with whom he had contacted too, in the Amazon region), as well as the persecution of Jews.

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Emanuel Paparella2009-01-05 11:12:55
For a nuanced and well crafted understanding of the ambiguities created by the confusion of two concepts and symbols--that of sword and that of the cross—that existed in the European colonizer’s mind, see the movie The Mission based on historical facts, directed by Roland Joffè and written by Robert Bolt. Its stars are Jeremy Irons, Robert De Niro and Ian Neelson who play Jesuits who in the 18th century have set up a mission around the Iguazu falls at the border between Brazil and Argentina with the Guarini natives. The movie won eight Oscar nominations and 12 other awards in 1986 and is perhaps the most underrated movie of the century. The issue of the cross and the sword comes to a head at the end of the movie in a heated argument between Father Rodrigo Mendoza (played by Robert De Niro) an ex slave trader now a Jesuit and Father Gabriel who attempts to convince him that one ought to keep the two separate, alas to no avail. Mendoza picks up the sword again and defends the natives against the very Portuguese he traded with who with the blessing of the Church have come to claim the land from the Spaniards and destroy the mission. Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) offers non-violent resistance and stays with the women and children to be brutally slaughtered by the Portuguese. It’s the kind of movie that will keep you thinking for a long while.

AP2009-01-05 11:55:05
"Kimbundus from Angola" (last paragraph)

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-05 15:10:31
“For the Grego-Roman mentality, slavery had been licit, and in old times the owner of the slaves had the right to decide about their life and death. The Bulls conceding rights over the natives of non-Christian lands, including the right to enslave/trade them and the obligation of evangelizing these natives, were not uncommon…” (Ms. Pereira)

That the Greco-Roman mind-set saw nothing wrong with slavery is on target. They had high concepts of freedom and human rights but they were dispensed and protected by the State and accrued to citizenship within that State. St. Paul claims those rights as a citizen and has to be granted a trial before being sentenced under the law; which is to say that the Greco-Roman world had no concept of inalienable human rights. St. Paul does when he proclaims that we are all children of the same Father and brothers in Christ. He also proclaims freedom from spiritual slavery in his letter to the Galatians as already pointed out. Of course in practice nothing happens after those proclamation 2000 years but the seed has been thrown underground and it germinates in the West some 19 centuries later.

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-05 15:11:02
So to make a direct link between the Greco Roman world and Christianity is a fallacy. While it is true that the roots were Greco-Roman, Christianity adds a new element. Without it one will understand precious little about the Renaissance which is indeed a synthesis of Greco-Roman with Christianity and produced eventually the concept that will defeat slavery: the concept of inalienable human rights. One is born with those rights, they are not granted, and they cannot be taken away by the State. That concept I would suggest is the core of the Declaration of Independence and the US constitution and because it is makes a Jefferson and Washington (two great founding fathers but slave owners nevertheless) appear as two hypocrites not measuring up to their own convictions and principles. Nobody thinks of Plato and Aristotle as hypocrites, but we thinks of Jefferson and Washington such and that makes all the difference between the Greco-Roman mind set and the Christian mind-set. Were there abuses and dismissal of those principles. No doubt, but they were the deviation, not the norm and to insist on portraying them as the norm is to be cherry picking and clever by half.

AP2009-01-05 15:38:00
As we have seen before, St. Paul would sometimes say something like that, other times he would encourage slaves to return to their masters, joyfully be beaten up and not disobey. The concept of inalienable human rights existed long before Christianity and is not even originally a western concept. This is my opinion. You have to see reality in all its nuances - that's not cherry picking, that's lemon, strawberry, mango, guava, cranberry, banana, orange, blueberry, pineapple picking. In sum, a juicy fruit salad, just in time for lunch.

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-05 15:45:27
Could you kindly point out for me and other readers burdened by ignorance about this matter, where is the concept of inalienable human rights to be found before the existence of the concept of the Providential Fatherhood of the one true God as introduced by the Jews? Thank you.

St. Paul for sure is not advocating an activists' Marxist kind of revolution subversive of the established order in order to abolish slavery but in the letter to the Galatians he does speak of spiritual slavery extensively and the desirability to be rid of it no matter one's social status.

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-05 15:52:43
To be sure the concept of brotherhood of St. Paul is not that of the French Revolution but then again to postulate brotherhood without Fatherhood sounds a bit hallow and clever by half, wouldn't you say? In fact, it xould not sustain the concept of freedoma and equality for very long, to wit Napoleon.

AP2009-01-05 15:55:57
There's some research for you to do.

I perfectly understand that many abolitionists (specially the ones before Marxism was even a doctrine) could not be Marxists. That's not a pity, but maybe for St. Paul it would be.

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-05 17:13:53
Indeed Ms. P., a very profitable research could be done on the Christian concept of socialism which seems to be there from the very beginning of Christianity but seems to be unknown to a Marx eager as he is to assert that religion is an opium and a crutch for sick people, thus transforming it into a caricature. In fact, in the Acts of the Apostles we read that “they owned everything in common” which, to my mind, suggests that the concept of socialism has less to do with the violent social struggle of classes and more to do with the aspiration of the human heart for solidarity, justice and decency which can be found even in Plato’s Republic; wouldn’t you agree? Those, to my mind at least, are the seeds that eventually bring down the whole sorry structure of slavery in the West. In any case I remain curious and willing to acknowledge my ignorance in the matter: where, in your research and scholarship on slavery, have you found documentation which points to an understanding of the concept of “inalienable rights” before the advent of the Judeo-Christian ethos postulating a Providential God who cares for his creation and the brotherhood of man because of a common Father? And we are not talking here of beliefs and their practice or freedom of religion for that matter; just a powerful idea that germinates some 19th centuries later. Perhaps it was too slow, but then consider how long had slavery existed before the advent of the Judeo-Christian ethos.

AP2009-01-05 19:25:16
For a discussion on Marx and the struggle of classes, please interpellate a communist (I'm not interested).
Concepts which point to such understanding are found in several cultures - I told you before where. Not interested either.

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-05 19:39:17
Which is it, that you are you not interested in a dialogue or you don't know? If you are not intereted in a dialogue why write those encycopedic article on issue which you don't wish to discsss? The question after all was simple and to the point, the point being the existence of "inalinable rights" before the advent of the Judeo-Christian era.

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-05 19:42:57
Errata: inalinable ought to be inalienable.

AP2009-01-05 19:43:02
The concept, as a principle, existed before. Not interested in discussing because we have discussed this before. A right I have.

AP2009-01-05 19:45:28
Right? Right.

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-05 22:03:33
That may be so but frankly I don’t remember the issue having been settled one way or the other. Of course I fully respect your right to simply put forth facts without discussing them and surely you respect my right under free speech in a magazine of opinion to disagree with the interpretation of those facts and give the assumptions and criteria of that disagreement. So let me state, perhaps for a second time in the magazine but for the first time under this particular article on slavery how I conceive of an “inalienable right” and why I remain fairly sure that there was no such concept neither in Greco-Roman culture, one of the most advanced at the time, nor in any other culture which at best tolerated slavery prior to the advent of the Judeo-Christian ethos.

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-05 22:05:44
As stated in the Declaration of Independence, the individual, is endowed at birth with rights which are unalienable because given by his Creator, not by a State, not by any institution, not by any group or any legal system. The concept of Man's rights being unalienable is based solely upon the belief in their Divine origin; without such a belief, inalienable rights are inconceivable for then there is no moral basis for any claim that they are unalienable or for any claim to the great benefits flowing from this concept. God-given rights are sometimes called Natural Rights--those possessed by Man under the Laws of Nature, meaning under the laws of God's creation and therefore by gift of God. Man has no power to alienate--to dispose of, by surrender, barter or gift--his God-given rights, according to the assumptions of the same Declaration of Independence. This is the meaning of "unalienable." (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-05 22:06:26
One underlying consideration is that for every such right there is a correlative, inseparable duty--for every aspect of freedom there is a corresponding responsibility; so that it is always Right-Duty and Freedom-Responsibility, or Liberty-Responsibility. There is a duty, or responsibility, to God as the giver of these unalienable rights: a moral duty--to keep secure and use soundly these gifts, with due respect for the equal rights of others and for the right of Posterity to their just heritage of liberty. Since this moral duty cannot be surrendered, bartered, given away, abandoned, delegated or otherwise alienated, so is the inseparable right likewise unalienable. This concept of rights being unalienable is thus dependent upon a belief in God as the giver. Indeed this indicates the basis and the soundness of Jefferson's statement (1796 letter to John Adams): "If ever the morals of a people could be made the basis of their own government it is our case . . ." It also unfortunately indicates his hypocrisy, for had he been true to the principles he enunciated in the Declaration of Independence then slavery could not be conceived in a state that so boldly, on paper at least, declared such a concept.

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