Revolt of the Lash

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João Cândido Felisberto with reporters, officers and sailors on aboard Minas Geraes on 26 November 1910, the final day of the "Revolt of the Lash"

The Revolt of the Lash[a] (Portuguese: Revolta da Chibata) was a 1910 naval incident that occurred in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Despite the two-year organization and strategies of the movement against the common use of a lash in disciplining crewmen, the mostly black crews of four Brazilian warships, led by João Cândido Felisberto, mutinied on 22 November, shortly after a sailor Marcelino Rodrigues Menezes publicly received 250 lashes. The crews deposed their white officers and threatened to bombard Rio de Janeiro. The mutiny was resolved within a week,[1] with an amnesty that the Brazilian government did not honour. Consequently, a climate of unrest lasted for months. The navy discharged 2,000 sailors, but this was the last occasion on which the Brazilian navy used the lash.

Background[edit]

Minas Geraes '​ gun trials before the revolt

Soon after the dreadnought Minas Geraes arrived in Brazil, a severe depression hit the Brazilian economy.[2] The economic hardship, the racism prevalent in all branches of the Brazilian armed forces,[3] and the severe discipline enforced on all navy ships spawned a mutiny, known as the "Revolt of the Lash", among sailors on the major warships.[3][4]

A few of the black sailors on Minas Geraes (which had arrived in Brazil in 1910) were slaves who had been freed under the Lei Áurea of 1888, while most of the black sailors (90% of black men between 14 and 20 years old) were their sons.[5] They were forced to enter the navy, where they faced widespread discrimination. It was common for officers to direct racial abuse and physical violence at the sailors, who could not escape this abuse because they were required to serve for 15 years.[citation needed] Officers were quick to administer punishment with "leather whips tipped with metal balls" for even minor infractions.[3] Early in 1910, black sailors unhappy with their situation began planning an uprising; they chose João Cândido Felisberto — an experienced sailor later known as the "Black Admiral" — as their leader.

In mid-November,[3] a sailor received a sentence of 250 strokes of the whip,[6] in front of his fellow sailors,[3] even though the practice had been banned by law.[4] The punishment continued even after the sailor fainted.[3] The incident infuriated the nascent mutineers; they were not ready and could not revolt immediately, but they quickened their preparations.

Mutiny[edit]

The sailors on Minas Geraes rebelled on 22 November, earlier than originally planned. They murdered several officers and the captain, then forced other officers off the ship. They also kept British engineers who had sailed with the ship since its completion as hostages.

The revolt spread to São Paulo, the older coastal defense ship Deodoro, and the new cruiser Bahia. During this time, discipline remained tight on the ships undergoing mutiny; daily drills were conducted and Cândido ordered all liquor to be thrown overboard.[4]

The crews of the torpedo boats remained loyal to the government,[4] and army troops moved to the presidential palace and the coast, but neither group could stop the mutineers.[3] A major problem for the authorities was that many of the men who manned Rio de Janeiro's harbor defenses were sympathetic to the mutineers' cause.[4] The additional possibility of the capital being bombarded forced the National Congress of Brazil to accede to the rebels' demands. The government had begun modernizing Fort Copacabana but it would not be ready until 1914.

The mutineers' demands included the abolition of flogging, improved living conditions, and the granting of amnesty to all mutineers.[3][4] After the mutineers allegedly made a statement of regret, the government issued a blanket amnesty.[7]

Afro-Brazilian and mulatto sailors on Minas Geraes

Its submission resulted in the rebellion's end on 26 November, when the mutineers returned control of the four ships to the Navy. However, the government issued a decree on 28 November that allowed the Minister of the Navy to expel any sailor who was "undermining discipline"; many sailors saw this act as a repudiation of their amnesty.[8]

Inspired by the rebels' success, an unrelated rebellion of the Brazilian marines broke out on 9 December and was crushed by the army the following day. The amnestied sailors, who supported the government's repression, were arrested and falsely accused of supporting this rebellion. Many were shot or sent to die in the Amazonian jungle.[9] João Cândido, the leader of the first revolt, was held in a prison cell in which 16 of the 18 prisoners died of asphyxiation. Two years later the survivors were all acquitted in a naval court martial.[10]

Aftermath[edit]

Thirty-nine years after his death from cancer in Hospital Getúlio Vargas, Rio de Janeiro, João Cândido and others were given the amnesty that had been promised and then denied: On 24 July 2008 the Congress reaffirmed the 25 November 1910 legislative act granting amnesty.[11] The revolt was cited later by labor organizers as an "heroic example of worker struggle".[1] A statue of João Cândido Felisberto was erected overlooking the Ilha das Cobras in Rio de Janeiro.[12]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Other names for the mutiny include the "Revolt of the Whip" or the "Revolt Against the Lash".

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Andrews, Afro-Latin America, 149
  2. ^ Gardiner and Gray, Conway's, 404
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Smallman, Fear & Memory, 28
  4. ^ a b c d e f Scheina, Latin America's Wars, 74
  5. ^ University of Paris' PhD Thesis, by Capanema, Silvia
  6. ^ Andrews, Afro-Latin America, 148
  7. ^ Love 2012, p. 42.
  8. ^ Smallman, Fear & Memory, 28–29
  9. ^ Love 2012, pp. 90–95.
  10. ^ Love 2012, pp. 98–104.
  11. ^ Líder da Revolta da Chibata recebe anistia 39 anos após a morte [Leader of the Revolt of the Whip receives amnesty 39 years after death] (in Portuguese), Agência Brasil .
  12. ^ Statue (photo), Panoramio .

Bibliography[edit]

Filmography[edit]

Further reading[edit]