Gilberto Freyre – The Masters & The Slaves

Gilberto Freyre (March 15, 1900 – July 18, 1987) was a Brazilian sociologist, cultural anthropologist, historian, journalist and congressman. His best-known work is a sociological treatise named Casa-Grande & Senzala (variously translated, but roughly The Masters and the Slaves, as on a traditional plantation).

He was born in Recife, Pernambuco state, from a distinguished Pernambucan plantation’s owner family. He attended a Baptist school, then he moved to Texas in the United States, where he received a B.A. from Baylor University in 1920. Later he went to Columbia University, where studying under Franz Boas he earned his Master’s degree in Political and Social Sciences with the dissertation “Social Life in Brazil in the Middle of the 19th Century”. He returned to Brazil in 1922 and began working in the Diário de Pernambuco. In 1927 he was named Cabinet Officer of the Governor Estácio de Albuquerque. But his political involvement led to his leaving the country for Portugal first, and then to United States in 1930. In Portugal he worked as translator and conceived the book that would became Casa-Grande & Senzala. In the same year he was invited to teach as Visiting Professor at Stanford University.

Returning to Brazil, he wrote and published Casa-Grande & Senzala, which shows the development of Brazilian society from the influences of the Portuguese, Indians, and African slaves. The work is credited with exposing the Brazilian cultural heritage and providing a source of national pride.

In the 1930’s, Freyre introduced the controversial idea of a “Brazilian racial democracy”, in which he argued that the racial mixing that was looked down upon in Brazil was enriching the culture. In particular, he believed that the Iberian-Catholic tradition would play a prominent role within the hybrid culture, but the miscegenation among all the races would produce a unified and robust race and enable everyone to attain opportunities within the society. Within this paradigm, he coined the term Lusotropicalism that refers to the proclivity of Portugal to have been able to adapt and live in an environment that is able to harmoniously mix the various cultures and races in Brazil.

Heavily influenced by the teachings of Franz Boas, Freyre was compelled to document the achievements of the African. Through the lens of Brazilian history, he traced back the lack of white women to the need of colonizers to fraternize with the natives and later the African slaves. In this view, this original act was in itself civic devotion. He argued that it was not race that was creating social inequality, but that it was poverty that was degenerating men. He believed that the social classes in Brazil were based on economic disparities, and not racial differences.

I’ve been wanting to read Casa Grande e Senzala for a long time now but my current reading list doesn’t allow for it. Last time I saw it, it was in a Brazilian bookstore and it was quite expensive.


Why Books Are Expensive in Brazil

I accidentally came across an interesting read on another blog as to reasons why books are so expensive in Brazil and I thought it would be important to share the link here as well as my response. In order to fully understand my response, its necessary to read other user’s comments (this may take a while) on the link above but in any event, I’ll repost it here.

My Response

Where to start? I’ll try by commenting on the most relevant points. Cost is definitely a major player although Brazil not being much of a reader’s paradise trumps the cost point, as has been pointed out by a few people here.

“You can go to a mid-class house and won’t see a bookshelf but will see a fancy US$2000 LCD TV.”

Books therefore aren’t part of everyday life and normal purchases. Make the choice, food vs. books and its easy. Refine the choice, material ‘necessities’ vs. books and its even easier. Brazilians are resourceful people so if they need a certain book, they’ll find a cheaper way to obtain it (‘camêlo’ which is a street vendor or ‘sebo‘ which is a 2nd-hand bookstore and also Portuguese for pork grease)

Slave culture as well as a social culture may very well play a part in the debate too, as was also pointed out. I do see Brazil being the kind of country the user Jimbino referred to in that post-schooling, education isn’t seen as any type of the highest priority.

Let’s expand on these ideas a little. From what I’ve seen, reading isn’t stressed as an important leisure activity in Brazil although when considering the class load (which I find superior to that of US students), one would think that Brazilians were ahead of Americans in a way (especially when considering the subjects included in the vestibular, or SAT).

The (tele)novela (soap-opera) culture doesn’t help either as we both know that when the novela das 8 comes on, a lot of Brazil stops what they are doing to watch. The conversation in the street turns not to what great book you just read but rather to why did Bia drive off the cliff and “die” in the novela Belissima (ok, that’s old news but it was the last novela I watched). From another view, walk into any LAN house (cyber cafe) and all you find are tons of teenagers yelling and playing video games. Insert the beach/sports club culture and you find more involving things to do than to just read a book.

Speaking of sports, what are they good for and how is that knowledge of use, except when discussing facts with other aficionados?

Ex. A person learns Portuguese and now he or she has a skill that opens them up to an entire world of subjects and experiences, therefore its of exceptional use and benefit to that person. On the other side, he or she spends two hours watching a soccer game with friends and aside from socializing, they now know the score. I repeat, how is this information useful? This however is a whole other can of worms.

As for BR Portuguese vs. PT Portuguese, I agree. Popular writers are easy to understand and don’t put a strain on your brain, but research papers and I’m sure other more academically-minded subjects are a bit stressing. Lets not even get into the difficult type of Portuguese used in the title ‘Os Sertões‘ (The Backlands) by Euclides da Cunha!

On the subject of there being a lot more information in English-language versions of books, that point is moot as a large enough readership of English-language books would have to exist in Brazil in order for this argument of more vs. less to make sense.

I used to be one of the two-hour commuters on the bus from the Zona Oeste to the Zona Sul in Rio and I spent my time between listening to Italian Pimsleur mp3’s on my iPod (I already knew Portuguese) and listening to music. I’m a big believer in taking things in and smelling the flowers when I travel so you wouldn’t catch me reading anything as my face was always glued to the fantastic views of Rio. There’s always something new to notice if one pays enough attention.

My ‘dois centavos’ based on almost 10 years of studying Brazilian culture. If turning the subject on the US, I’d have equally critical views of why we are (not an illiterate country but rather) an aliterate country.