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Breaking the Silence: Archaeological Discoveries and the Making of Public Slave Heritage in Rio de Janeiro

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The Brazilian slavery experience

Following recent events, an EU team examined modern Brazilian discourses on slavery. The study concluded that the topic had been re-emerging in Brazilian politics anyway, although new initiatives preferentially benefit Caucasian people economically.


Archaeologists recently discovered docklands in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that had been used for the slave trade. Soon after, a newly developed Circuit of African Heritage through Rio further stimulated discussion of slavery topics in Brazil. The EU-funded SLAVHERIT (Breaking the silence: Archaeological discoveries and the making of public slave heritage in Rio de Janeiro) project examined the ethnography of slavery. The team showed how the memory of slavery is returning to public discussion in Brazil. The interdisciplinary study combined anthropology, history, literature and politics. SLAVHERIT's main activities included two extended researcher secondments. The first was to a Rio university for two years, involving training, bibliographic research and fieldwork. The second secondment was at Kings College London for one year, involving further training plus dissemination. The work yielded five completed peer-reviewed articles, three book chapters and a documentary film. The first of three main conclusions was that the Circuit of African Heritage was not merely an effect of the discovery of the Rio slave docks. The Circuit is part of a long-term change in Brazilian politics. The project determined that the Circuit was in several ways revolutionary. Researchers also highlighted contradictions relating to the Circuit. Firstly, the programme coincided with inner city urban renewal associated with major sporting events. Although the renewal enhanced Afro-Brazilian heritage, the work in fact displaced black residents. The Circuit favours cultural memories offering profit potential. Furthermore, the process of highlighting black heritage has involved mostly white people, for economic reasons. Finally, the team concluded that there is no real conflict between ideals of multiculturalism and racial mixture. Such ideas reinforce each other. The SLAVHERIT project's analysis of the cultural significance of creation of the Circuit of African Heritage illustrated current thinking about race in Brazil. Such work may assist policymakers.


Slavery, Brazil, Circuit of African Heritage, SLAVHERIT, slave heritage

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