It was an extraordinary pulse that had Rio de Janeiro in suspense for days in 1910. Four Brazilian military ships anchored in Guanabara Bay pointed their guns at the city, then the capital, after the sailors mutinied, crying out “Long live the freedom, down with the whip! ”. The leader of the revolt, João Candido Felisberto, telegraphed an ultimatum to President da Fonseca. The troops wanted the officers to stop treating them as if Navy ships were plantations, as if slavery continued in those ships where the command was always white and the sailors, almost all black. It was one of the largest naval mutinies, comparable to that of the Potemkin shortly before, in tsarist Russia.
Although it was 22 years since Brazil had become the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, it was legal and everyday that an undisciplined sailor was flogged on deck. Shortly before dying almost ninety-year-old, João Candido himself left his testimony in a sound recording: “We wanted to combat mistreatment, poor diet and put a definitive end to whipping,” he explained in 1969 in an interview for the Museu da Imagem e do Som.
The Whip Revolt began, this Monday, November 22, 111 years ago. Symbol of the anti-racist struggle, the episode is mentioned in the schools, but the insurrection and the sailor who led it now return to the present day because the Senate wants João Candido to be registered in the Book of the Heroes and Heroines of the Brazilian People, to the chagrin of the Navy, the most conservative of the three military weapons. But also because two of the embroideries sewn by the Black Admiral, as he baptized him at the time, which made him a celebrity, are on display at the São Paulo Biennial, dedicated in this edition to resistance in times of darkness.
Imprisoned after the revolt, he embroidered for hours. The delicate stitches with which he wrote love or drew a bleeding heart on the canvases exhibited at the Biennale collide with the brutality of the world against which he rose. But, as Silvana Jeha, a historian specialized in the Navy, emphasizes, sewing has always accompanied sailing because there were no women on board, but there were clothes and sails to mend during the voyage. And in the Navy, in addition, there was a lot of insignia to embroider and the uniform must be spotless.
The Brazilian government capitulated and whiplash was outlawed.
João Candido was enlisted in the Navy for fifteen years. As he paid poorly and treated worse, no one wanted to enroll, but the truth is that he offered something like a future to former slaves and their children, whom Brazil freed from forced labor without any net. They were left homeless with no education or land.
The Navy and his parents — not necessarily in that order — were key to making João Candido aware of the injustice. The military career led this son of slaves to navigate the Amazon and even a good part of the European ports. Knowing the world opened his eyes: “We, who came from Europe, in contact with other navies, could not admit that a man had to take off his shirt to be whipped by another man,” he told the historian who interviewed him for the museum.
In the disorderly account of an old man, he proudly added that they managed to recruit even the elite among the troops: “We had by our side the sailors who learned English and all the secrets of the new ships,” he said, about those technology ships. tip.
The São Paulo and the Minas Gerais they were a national pride. To the humiliation of the authorities, the 3,000 rebels seized the two warships bought in the United Kingdom and two other ships. The hundreds of sailors sent to Newcastle while they were being built met the workers’ demands there. Back and at work, they threatened to bomb the capital if the authorities did not accept their demands, which also included an improvement in the meager pay. They killed several officers and, in the tug of war, fired at the city. Two kids were hit by the cannon shots.
The Brazilian Navy has always resisted calling him a hero, Jeha explains. Now that the Senate wants to recognize him as a hero of the homeland, the naval high command has reiterated that the Whip Revolt cannot be considered an act of courage or humanitarianism. He admits that there were errors in all the parties involved, but argues that this does not justify “the exaltation of the actions of the rioters.”
In a story with twists and turns like any good Brazilian mess, the rebels against the whipping in the Navy were amnestied, to later be expelled without regard, honor or pay. And, over time, João Candido and another twenty were imprisoned on the island of Cobras, in the same Guanabara bay where they rebelled. He was one of the few who survived the effluvia of lime from the cell walls.
Charismatic and respected by his peers, the sailor leader was an exceptional being, according to specialist Jeha. He led a military insubordination over a labor issue in a time without strikes and with deeply rooted hierarchies, maintained with violence. And he managed to make the authorities see that corporal punishment made no sense in a new republic. “João Candido is a symbol of the labor rights movement and a memory of the post-abolition, which persists, because the descendants of slaves still pay for slavery,” emphasizes the historian.
111 years ago, when João emerged victorious from the pulse to power, he became a celebrity. The Rio press was chasing him to interview him. After being released from prison, he was ostracized. Expelled from the Navy, he made a living selling fish and thanks to the solidarity of other sailors. His first recognition came in the form of samba. Power took its time, until Lula da Silva and the Workers’ Party came to the government, highlights the historian.
Since then, João Candido has had a statue in the XV Square of Rio de Janeiro, a pier that was a slave market and that also houses the palace where Princess Isabel signed, in 1888, the law that abolished slavery. If the current proposal is also approved by the Chamber of Deputies, João Candido will enter the pantheon of heroes. She would join personalities such as the writer Machado de Assis or Anita Garibaldi, the revolutionary who fought with her husband, Giuseppe, for the republic in Brazil and for unification in Italy.
João Candido would be, like so many, an imperfect hero. In that 1969 interview, the former soldier enthusiastically defends the dictatorship then in force in Brazil.
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