Essay Writing Help on Scene from a Coffee Plantation in Rio de Janeiro


The historical process of Brazil during the sixteenth century through to the nineteenth century can be termed a complex. During this time, so many activities socio economic were happening in the different parts of Brazil. These included the coastal towns through to the interior parts of Brazil. The Portuguese royal officials lived in the coastal port towns and used administrators to govern the vast lands of Brazil. The people who lived in the interior included the Portuguese nationals, Indians, Mulattos Mestizos and Blacks. These communities involved themselves in farming activities. These included sugar cane farming and animal rearing. Sugar cane farming was the major agricultural activity. The whites had bigger lands and overshadowed the rest of the people. Additionally, the more the land the more slaves a farmer would get from the Portuguese administration. All the other groups were only small-scale farmers who lived around the large-scale farmers.

The Portuguese used male slaves for protection against attacks from Indians and working on the land[1]. The Indians were also servants of the whites until they freed themselves significantly from the slavery of the whites. The Portuguese were powerful and the master in enslaving other groups regardless of race and gender. However, in the period between sixteen eighty’s and eighteen hundreds the slave trade took place and many Africans through west Africa were taken into slavery in Brazil. They then formed the largest labor force in the sugar cane plantations. The female slaves were mostly at home for domestic chores. However, they also worked on the sugar cane fields. It is worth noting that as more African slaves worked for the colony many locals were let free and conflict between the colonial master and the locals reduced drastically.

The Portuguese who lived in the Northeast devised a way of getting more land by allowing the male masters to marry female servants. More land made and an individual to have more number of sharecroppers and tenants living under their control. These tenants solely depended on their master. The masters had complete control over their lives in general. The tenants would help their masters protect property from Indian attack. They would also provide extra labor on plantation whenever they were needed to. The children born from these marriages were given inheritance. This encouraged the marriage relations between the masters and slave women. Marriage issues were either forced or voluntary. This is because some slave women like Honorata reported to the police that her master forced her into prostitution apart from mistreating her.

The illicit sexual relations between the masters and the slave women sparked rage from the church and society. However, this did not stop those who wanted to participate in immorality. These marriages involved slave girls like Maria Juana who married a lawyer. Some of the people born out of these relations include Aleijadidho who later became a famous architect[2].  Another way the sugar cane white farmers got land was by using the different family members. Different names were entitled to land and the government did not follow up individuals to verify that it was within its policy in giving the pieces of land. Some natives were forced to be squatters to give way to the demands of mill owners. Particularly, the sugar cane farmers owned sugar mills.

The upper class women on the other hand enjoyed limited freedom. They were married to upper class Portuguese who controlled Brazil. These women had not much to do as the slave women performed domestic chores. Their work was to manage domestic economy and bear children. The upper class women also participated in church activities and family events. They would hardly be seen in public places unaccompanied. The upper class women lived in big towns like Sao Paolo, and Rio de Janeiro at the coastal regions of Brazil. The husbands of these women allowed them into theater and ball games. They also frequented other public places to refresh and relax themselves.

At one time, when the English traveler, Maria Graham visited Brazil, at the independence time, she noted that women in Brazil occupied themselves with very different activities in life compared to those in Europe. These women in Brazil did not have adequate education and similarly the girls. There was the issue of segregation. The lower class women had more freedom than the upper class. They enjoyed more independence unlike the upper class. Some upper class women received sovereignty from the tradition of dowry and inheritance systems. As a result, many women became the heads of plantations when their husbands died.

From the sixteenth century through to the nineteenth century, it is evident that women were treated badly in the society. Additionally, most of them were not exposed to the right of freedom from sexual molestation and harassment. It was believed that the master had total control over their slaves, and in this case, the slaves were women in the society[3]. For instance, in 1871, Honorata went to the police station to report about her misery of being used as a prostitute since the tender age of 12. All through the years, the person who owned her did not provide her basic requirements subjecting her to pain and torture yet demanding sexual relations with her. She even becomes sick but goes unattended due to the master-slavery attitude that her master possesses and this ruins her life. Despite her winning the case, her owner appeals and gets her back to him as a prostitute slave. Gender in this case determined the power of men over women as well as the power of mastery over slavery. Evidently, women had no right to speak or defend themselves in the courts. Their worth as slaves was slowly diminishing. Their position remained at the feet and mercy of the men who were their masters.

Year1835 turns out to be a dramatic year for Caetana. Preparations for her wedding at the plantation in Rio Claro take place where she is expected to marry one of the slave men. On one of the spring days in October 1935, she walks down the aisle to tie knots with Custodio, who appears to be a little bit elderly than her. At about seventeen years of age, Caetana walks down the aisle and gets joined with her husband in the presence of two witnesses and in a Catholic set up[4]. The two married slaves remain to be the human property of their master Luis Mariano de Tolosa. However, the beautiful appearance of this marriage slowly fades away with the insight into the life of Caetana, the bride. They, but their master had not planned the marriage between these two young people. Since their master owned the bride and groom, they had no control of their lives. The master forced Caetana into marriage without any warning and she agreed to marry Custodio despite of her lack of love for the groom.

Later on, she refuses to consummate her relationship with her husband. However, her determination draws the attention of other men who appear to have authority over her life. These include her uncle, and her godfather who go on to threaten to beat her. She later runs away from her matrimonial home to her master and persuades him to break their marriage. Tolosa separates the couple and launches a petition in a court of law. In 1938, the judge announces that he cannot nullify the marriage. From Caetana’s case, it is evident that masters had the ability to manipulate the status of their slaves including forcing them into marriage with the people they choose for them[5]. Apparently, masters also have the ability to negotiate the status of their slaves. For instance, Tolosa was able to go to the court of law to negotiate Caetana’s status pleading for the nullification of her marriage.

            The life of Chica da Silva is also a clear reflection of the role of gender in the ancient Brazilian slavery. Her story reveals the hidden purchase of freedom by slaves from their masters. During her time, the people who possessed a different color from the whites were considered to be of a lower class. They were ill treated due to their color or any kind of ‘defect’. Most of them were not able to hold any positions of high esteem in the society. However, they took the initiative to follow up on their lineage to identify why they were different from other people. Chica da Silva, whose father was a Portuguese had a slave mother. She was also sold to slavery at a tender age to a wealthy diamond contractor. Later on, she is considered a free mulatta, and her master becomes the father of her children.

            Chica da Silva’s life does not end with her being the companion of one of the strongest men on the land. Joao who made their relationship legal during Christmas in 1753 later on purchases her. She gave birth to thirteen children with Joao. Her experience reflects the extent by which gender influenced the relationship between masters and slaves. Women slaves had no control over their lives especially after they are purchased[6]. They lack the sense of freedom and personal choice and their lives are lived in total dependence of their male masters. Women in this time and age could also be purchased from one man to the other without hesitating. A price agreement was all that was required to for women to exchange hands[7].

            In conclusion, gender played a crucial role in shaping the lives and experiences of masters in slaves between the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries. It had a huge impact on the relationships between the masters and slaves. Male masters had the power to negotiate the status of slave men and women including dictating their marriages.  


Unknown, Scene from a Coffee Plantation in Rio de Janeiro. 1870

Jean-Baptiste Debret, O Jantar no Brasil. 19th century

Jean-Baptiste Debret, Uma senhoraemsua casa. 19th century

Unknown, Scene from a River Stream in Minas Gerais.1880

Unknown, Images of Sanctuary of BomJesus. Undated

YouTube clip: Walter Avancini, Xica da Silva (telenovela). 1996

Jean-Baptiste Debret, Untitled. 19th century

[1] Unknown, Scene from a Coffee Plantation in Rio de Janeiro. 1870

[2] Unknown, Scene from a River Stream in Minas Gerais.1880

[3] Jean-Baptiste Debret, O Jantar no Brasil. 19th century

[4] Unknown, Images of Sanctuary of BomJesus. Undated

[5] YouTube clip: Walter Avancini, Xica da Silva (telenovela). 1996

[6] Jean-Baptiste Debret, Uma senhoraemsua casa. 19th century

[7]Jean-Baptiste Debret, Untitled. 19th century