NORMATIVE HORIZONS: READING ENSLAVED AFRICANS’ AUTONOMY THROUGH PRIMARY SOURCES IN COLONIAL BRAZIL
This essay is an exploration of historical knowledge: how it is authored and, more importantly, how we can access it. Through in-depth inspection and careful combination of primary source documents from 1690 to 1806, the text is a result of my attempts to reconstruct Brazilian slave autonomy as a kind of historical knowledge. Disassembling the language that framed colonial encounters, I argue that historical knowledge from primary texts must first be framed within the everyday ‘encounters’ of others in 18th century Brazil social life. Utilising a socially situated textual analysis, the essay accesses the often overwritten autonomy of slaves through historical documents: (1) the text of a friar writing on slaves’ fantastic religious accomplishments, (2) two colonial mandates prohibiting slaves’ promiscuous and suggestive fashions, (3) a history of slave rebellion against colonial powers and (4) a list of demands composed by slaves offered as a peace treaty to their owner. Through exploring the ‘normative horizons’ of the authorial point-of-view of each text, what follows is not merely an ethnohistorical experiment in accessing historical knowledge, but an ethnographic exposition in imagining the lives and futures of slaves in the past.
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