Brazil is but one region of the Portuguese Atlantic world in which elites from Europe discriminated against people of indigenous and African descent. Although the origins of prejudice and discrimination may be found in early colonial Brazil, we can also observe patterns of social relations based on older Iberian concepts of "race" preserved in Brazil's interior in the former captaincy of Goiás, now the modern states of Goiás and Tocantins. In the eighteenth century, Goiás had been one of the richest captaincies of Brazil due to its gold mines. As in other captaincies of Brazil, the Portuguese had transferred their traditional values and hierarchical social structure from Portugal to this remote region, where they justified their rule and defined those they governed utilizing a number of criteria to distinguish themselves from the strangers in their midst and win others to their side as loyal allies of the Crown. In doing so, however, they rarely invoked "race" in the modern meaning of the word. Instead, Luso-Brazilian elites focused on their own religion, quality, and white color that differed from the slave origins, darker colors, or foreign background of others. Although we are limited to documents produced by the literate Luso-Brazilians of the Captaincy for status values and definitions of "the other," occasionally, we also obtain insights into how indigenous people defined "the other" or how freed Africans self-identified in black lay brotherhoods. One result of such flexible categories is that Portuguese governors did not always privilege white men in Goiás and even allied with free men of color and indigenous women against local whites. But this was typical of colonial Brazil in which a talented few could escape the limitations of their low status or slave origin, but the status of their ethnic or racial group remained unchanged.
Copyright © 2012-2013 Estudios Interdisciplinarios de América Latina y el Caribe.
Editores: Ori Preuss; Nahuel Ribke
Instituto Sverdlin de Historia y Cultura de América Latina, Escuela de Historia
Universidad de Tel Aviv, Ramat Aviv,
P.O.B. 39040 (69978), Israel.
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