A way to say thanks

Story by Maria. Native language Portuguese. 

Sao Paulo art

Photo courtesy Gloria Powell


ONCE long ago in Brazil we had slavery. It was a sad, unfortunate time. People were taken from West Africa (savagely [violently] taken, I must say) leaving behind their world, their families, values, identity and traditions. The slave traders took them from their homes like animals. In fact, they were hunted. Suddenly they were in the bottom of ships, barely having clothes—all belongings left behind. Worse than that, they were taken away with no way to say goodbye to any family member and without any understanding of what was happening.  The ship hulls [bottoms] were dirty and dark and the slaves had little food. I can imagine the family members, their feelings, their concern!

    Slavery was actually a “business”.  It lasted about 3 centuries. Ships crossed the Atlantic Ocean and brought people and sold them like a product. Once in Brazil, they were forced to work growing crops or caring for horses and cattle. The women worked inside the big, rich farmhouses cooking, washing, cleaning, ironing and, most importantly, breast feeding the babies of the wife of their owner. 

     Slaves were considered inferior [lower]—not even humans—and so they suffered humiliation [shame], morally and physically. They had bad houses and poor conditions in general. In the 19th century, Brazil was pressed to set them free. Finally on May 13, 1888 Princess Izabel, the Emperor’s daughter, signed the Lei Aurea, or the Law of Gold. The slaves were finally free. But a hard time was coming for them. It was not easy to be free again, because they had nothing. They had only a name given to them by their owners! Still, they were able to control their own lives.

     Today the descendants [later relatives] of those first slaves are citizens—working, owning houses, going to school and living a normal life. They are totally integrated—or a part of the community.  We are a mixed people now. There were many marriages among white people, black people, native people and even Asian people. Many people have some African inside them, like myself. Now on November 20th, there is a holiday. It is called Day of Black Awareness. It is a way to say thank you for all those people brought to us in the past. It is also a way to ask forgiveness.

     Despite all the pain, on this holiday you don’t see sorrow. You don’t hear people remembering the past and saying they are sad because their ancestors suffered a lot. They left all that pain behind and forgave the insensibility [lack of feeling] of the ones who were just interested in making money with the hard work of others. African influence here is strong in terms of music, food and faith. If you look closely at the map of west Africa and east Brazil you see that they go together. It makes you wonder if, long ago, we belonged to Africa. It makes you wonder if Africans came here just take possession of a part of them that the earth painfully separated when the lands split apart—and then painfully reunited again when there was slavery.

 ©InterestEng. July 2013 - July 2021 §  The stories in the magazine portion of the site are written by English language learners. Stories are corrected by a native English speaker.  § Photos are staff photos or used with permission.  §  To contact us:  go.gently.on@gmail.com