Chica da Silva

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This article is about the biography. For the film, see Xica da Silva.

Chica da Silva,[1] sometimes written as Xica da Silva (Francisca da Silva de Oliveira, c. 1732-1796) was a Brazilian woman who became famous for becoming rich and powerful despite having been born into slavery. Her life has been a source of inspiration for many works in television, films, theater and literature. She is popularly known as the slave who became a queen.[2]

Biography[edit]

Francisca da Silva de Oliveira was born in Vila do Príncipe, in the north of nowadays Minas Gerais state in Brazil. She lived mainly in Arraial do Tijuco (nowadays known as Diamantina) and was the daughter of a Portuguese man, Antônio Caetano de Sá and his black enslaved lover, Maria da Costa, who was probably from the Gulf of Guinea or Bahia. Francisca's first master was Sergeant Manuel Pires Sardinha, with whom she had two sons: Plácido Pires Sardinha and Simão Pires Sardinha, both of whom studied at the University of Coimbra, in Portugal. Francisca's second master was Priest Rolim (José da Silva Oliveira), who was forced to sell Chica to João Fernandes de Oliveira, a diamond mine owner and mining Governor of Arraial do Tijuco, one of the richest persons of Colonial Brazil.

Francisca and João soon started a romance and she was freed by him. Even though they were not officially married, the couple lived together for several years and had 13 children: Francisca de Paula (1755); João Fernandes (1756); Rita (1757); Joaquim (1759); Antonio Caetano (1761); Ana (1762); Helena (1763); Luiza (1764); Antônia (1765); Maria (1766); Quitéria Rita (1767); Mariana (1769); José Agostinho Fernandes (1770).

In 1770, João Fernandes had to return to Portugal and took along with him the 4 sons he had with Chica, who were granted noble titles by the Portuguese Court. Their daughters remained with Chica in Brazil and were sent to then renowned Convent of Macaúbas. Even after the departure of João to Portugal, Chica retained her prestige. She was a member of the São Francisco do Carmo Brotherhood (exclusive to whites), Mercês Brotherhood (exclusive to mulattaoes) and of Rosário Brotherhood (exclusive to Africans).

Chica da Silva died in 1796. She was buried at the Church of São Francisco de Assis, a privilege that only wealthy whites enjoyed.

The myth[edit]

Chica was a symbol of Brazil's so called "racial democracy."[citation needed] Currently, however, scholars maintain that she used miscegenation and her connections as a tool to achieve a higher social status, as did other African Brazilians at the time. Historian Júnia Ferreira Furtado sustains that concubinage and marriage between white male and black female in colonial Brazilian society was a way found by the enslaved to change their social position and to escape racism[citation needed]:

Manumission, rather than the beginning for the formation of a positive black identity, was the beginning of a process of acceptance of values of the elite, in order to insert them (former slaves) as well as their descendants in this society.[3]

Sex was decisive to the relative facilitated access to freedom and concubinage with white men offered advantages to black women because, once free, they reduced the stigma of color and of slavery for them and for their descendants.[4]

João Fernandes and Chica da Silva's relationship was a scandal in colonial Brazilian society. Chica da Silva, formerly enslaved, had become one of the most powerful women in colonial America[citation needed]. Chica was banished from the parish church, which was reserved for Caucasians only. To show the locals Chica's power, João Fernandes built a luxurious church attended just by herself. However, as Furtado discloses, Chica attended brotherhoods exclusive to whites, as a way to try to fit into the status quo and be aware of its schemes against her and her people.

Contrary to what was propagated,[citation needed] Chica also had enslaved workers and there is only one reference that shows that she granted freedom to one of them. Historians view this as the main difference between the experience of Africans in Brazil and their counterparts in the United States[citation needed]. While in the US, African American formerly enslaved individuals had a more unified movement, in Brazil they tried to integrate into white society as mixed-race people saw that "whitening" themselves was a way to escape from their enslaved past.[citation needed] Although the enslaved didn't have any choice if the master or mistress decided to use them as sex objects, some were able to use the situation, especially in regard to their offsprings who were part European. The colonial Portuguese mentality was also more tolerant than the US Anglo-Saxon one on race when it had to do with their mixed-race offsprings. Whereas Anglo-Saxon slave holders forced their own race-mixed offsprings into slavery and sold them to other masters as well, making a profit from them, Luso-Brazilians generally freed[citation needed] their own mixed-race children and often granted them nobility titles. This happened perhaps because of the lack of Portuguese women that migrated to Brazil[citation needed].

Chica, as the other freed female slaves, achieved her freedom, loved, had children and raised them up socially sought to reduce the mark that the condition[citation needed] of Parda (brown) and former slave had to herself and to her descendants.[5]

Works[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Cheney, Glenn Alan, Journey on the Estrada Real: Encounters in the Mountains of Brazil, (Xicago: Academy Xicago, 2004) ISBN 0-89733-530-9
  • Ferreira Furtado, Júnia . Chica da Silva e o contratador de diamantes: o outro lado do mito, (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2003).
  • Ferreira Furtado, Júnia. Chica da Silva: A Brazilian Slave of the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2009). (Translation of Chica da Silva e o contratador de diamantes.

External links[edit]