chapter  5
27 Pages

Afro-Brazilians, Land Reform, and the Question of Social Mobility in Southern Bahia, 1880—1920

In 1905, cacao planter Leocadio B. Rodrigues wrote a letter to the editor of the Gazeta de Ilheos furiously protesting that Nicolau Siuffo, another local planter, had called him a moleque. Rodrigues insisted that he had never been a moleque: his parents had been married and he had enjoyed the respect of society since he had arrived in Ilheus to begin growing cacao. “If,” he went on, “because I am pardo or mulatto, Mr. Nicolau calls me moleque, let me remind him that in his own political group there are people much above him whose color is darker than mine, and a great number of moleques, whom he embraces.”1 Rodrigues was so upset because Siuffo, a white planter from Italy, had called him “boy,” to use the equivalent term from the American South. Moleque was a term for little black boys, and young male slaves in particular, the meaning of which also implied irre­ sponsibility and untrustworthiness. As an adult and a planter, Rodrigues had reason to be enraged. In using this racial slur, Siuffo had suggested that he was a second-class citizen.2 The exchange between Rodrigues and Siuffo, as brief as it was, tells us a

great deal about cacao society at the beginning of the twentieth century. It indicates that some of Bahia’s cacao planters were Afro-Brazilians, and it reveals that cacao society was neither color-blind nor devoid of racial ten­

Reprinted from Luso-Brazilian Review 34, no. 2 (Winter 1997): 59-79. Copyright 1997 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Reprinted by permission of the author and the University of Wisconsin Press. Revised by the author.