How African body markings were used to construct the idea of race in colonial Brazil

In the 1700s, the gold rush in southeast Brazil created a high demand for mining labor. The Minas Gerais region became one of the main destinations for African slaves. For the first half of the century, demand was met by a trade circuit connecting the ports of the Bight of Benin to Salvador in Bahia.

People from those ports acquired a reputation among the Portuguese as the best hands for mining gold.

With time, they created a commercial system of slave classification. Many Africans were grouped with the understanding that they are naturally suited for certain jobs. Slaves were sorted by anatomy and the purported ability to function better in certain climates, resistance to diseases, and life expectancy. Based on this classification, they were either assigned to the fields or less rigorous housework.

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