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The People of the RiverNature and Identity in Black Amazonia, 1835-1945$
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Oscar de la Torre

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469643243

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469643243.001.0001

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Working Almost as Slaves?

Working Almost as Slaves?

The Post-Abolition Brazil Nut Trade, 1888–1930

(p.74) Chapter Four Working Almost as Slaves?
The People of the River

Oscar de la Torre

University of North Carolina Press

In the collective memories of the Lower Amazon maroons, the decades after emancipation are remembered as a period when “the people were oppressed” by Brazil nut merchants, who “enslaved” the blacks of the region. However, a number of individuals also relate memories of merchants who “helped the people,” who “gave goods for the saint patron’s parties,” and who acted, in the words of a Trombetas River maroon descendant, as “fathers of the people.” To reconcile these perspectives I argue in this chapter that these conflicting stories reflect two spheres in the relationships between black peasants and Brazil nut merchants. While the first one was characterized by domination, a few individuals successfully accommodated to, and even collaborated with, the newly arrived commercial houses. In both spheres, Afro-descendant forest specialists and explorers were fundamental to the merchants’ penetration into a world where the mocambeiros had hitherto ruled. In the end, the loss of autonomy and quality of life in the 1910s and 1920s shaped the maroon descendants’ social memory for the rest of the twentieth century, filling it with narratives of poverty, dispossession, and the speech figure of the “new slavery.”

Keywords:   Brazil nut trade, lower Amazon region, Trombetas river, commercial houses, mateiros, Raimundo da Costa Lima

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