BOOK: Mattoso on Slavery in Brazil


African Diaspora, Ph.D. is revisiting scholarship that has shaped the study of people of African descent across time and place.

Kátia M. de Queirós Mattoso. To Be a Slave in Brazil, 1550-1888. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1986.

In a 1987, Maricela Medina wrote:

Although the bibliography on Brazilian slavery is extensive, publishedworks have generally focused on the economic aspects of the institution, its effects on the larger community, and particularlythe eventual resolution of the question of slavery. Few works have attempted an examination of slavery from the viewpoint of the slaves. Appearing first in French and then in Portuguese, Mattoso’s valuable work is finally available to the English reading public. The contribution of the work lies in the author’s attemptto reveal the feeling, ideas, and concerns of Brazilian slaves.

One of the strengths of the work is the portrayal of slaves as actors, people consciously making choices in the process of adaptation to the strange and hostile environment of Brazil. Nothing comparable to Mattoso’s work exists in the literature on Brazilian slavery. Works like those by Russell-Wood and Malheiro make contributions in their own right but lack the slave’s perspective which this work clearly presents…



Medina, Maricela. “Review of To Be a Slave in Brazil, 1550-1888 by Katia M. de Queirós Mattoso; Arthur Goldhammer.” The Americas 44, no. 1 (July 1, 1987): 118–120.

Featured Image Credit: Amédée Frézier, Relation du voyage de la mer du Sud aux cotes du Chili, du Pérou, et du Brézil, fait pendant les années 1712, 1713, & 1714 . . . (Amsterdam, 1717), vol. 2, plate 35 (facing p. 526). (Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library) as shown on, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. [Click here]

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