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LATIN AMERICA | 07-02-2024 11:25

Rio carnival group pays tribute to wronged hero of black history

Paraíso do Tuiuti's carnival song is a tribute to João Candido, a sailor in the Brazilian navy who led a revolt against slave-like conditions on ships.

Decked out in sequin-studded splendour or simple shorts and flip-flops, the Brazilian revellers are all smiles as they samba in the summer night, the alcohol flowing, music thumping and glitter sparkling.

But, as is often the case at Rio de Janeiro's famed carnival, the story contained in their song is sobering, traumatic and heavy with the weight of history.

This is one of the final rehearsals of Paraíso do Tuiuti, one of 12 samba schools that will compete in Rio's legendary carnival parade contest Sunday and Monday nights.

Each sumptuous, flesh-flaunting parade tells a story. This year, Tuiuti's is a tribute to João Candido, a sailor in the Brazilian navy who led a revolt in 1910 against the slave-like conditions Black people endured serving aboard their nation's ships.

The "Whip Revolt" ('Revolta da Chibata,' also known as 'The Revolt of the Lash') is an often-overlooked episode in Brazilian history. But the racism and injustice Candido fought still linger in today's Brazil, say Tuiuti paraders.

"We still suffer discrimination... It's a very slow process," says Simone Soares do Nascimento, a 47-year-old cook and nutrition student.

"But we're here living life, being happy," she adds with a smile framed by shiny sequins.

 

'The Black Admiral'

Born to former slaves in 1880, Candido joined the navy at 14.

Brazil had only abolished slavery in 1888, and black servicemen, often conscripted by force, were poorly fed, poorly paid and brutally punished.

Overcoming prejudice, Candido distinguished himself as a helmsman.

In 1909, he was sent to Britain for training on operating two new battleships bought by Brazil.

The 20,000-tonne "dreadnoughts" were cutting-edge military technology.

But modernising the navy only fuelled black sailors' frustration at their retrograde treatment.

After a sailor on Candido's ship was punished with 250 lashes in November 1910 – making his back look like "a gutted fish," in one white officer's words – more than 2,000 blacks mutinied, choosing Candido as their leader.

Earning the nickname "The Black Admiral," Candido seized four ships and pointed their cannons at Rio.

"We will no longer tolerate slavery in the Brazilian navy," the rebels wrote then-president Hermes da Fonseca.

 

'My dad suffered'

After four tense days, the government agreed to abolish whipping, and promised the mutineers an amnesty.

But after they relinquished the ships, the navy reneged, detaining or executing them.

Candido and 30 others were thrown in a small cell. Conditions were so bad only he and one other prisoner survived.

He spent the rest of his life in poverty.

Since Candido's death in 1969, Brazil has reevaluated his legacy.

In 2008, the government granted him a posthumous amnesty and erected a statue in his honour in Rio.

But the military has fought efforts to make amends for his treatment.

In November, federal prosecutors brought a case demanding the navy pay damages to Candido's family.

"My dad suffered a lot in his life. I just want him to get the recognition he deserves for his place in Brazilian history," Candido's son Adalberto, 85, told AFP.

 

The past isn't dead... 

Adalberto, the last survivor of Candido's 11 children, will parade with Tuiuti Monday night.

Hinting at the relevance of the "Whip Revolt" more than a century later, the role of Candido will be played by a black delivery driver named Max Angelo dos Santos, who made headlines last year when a white woman in an upscale neighbourhood was filmed whipping him with a dog leash.

Slavery's scars remain visible in Brazil, where 56 percent of the population is black or mixed-race.

Blacks earn about half as much as whites on average, have lower life expectancy and face frequent discrimination in the country of 203 million people.

Beyond being a giant party for people of all colours, origins and walks of life, Rio's carnival, fueled by the Afro-Brazilian beats of samba music, is also an art form uniquely suited to explore such problems.

Julio Araujo, the lead prosecutor on the case seeking reparations for Candido's family, says carnival doubles as a forum for national soul-searching.

"I and lots of other people have learned so much about Brazil's history – and its unofficial history – from watching the samba school parades," he told AFP.

"It fuels a conversation that transcends those 70 minutes." 

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by Joshua Howat Berger, AFP

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