Historian’s say the 1835 Male slave revolt in Bahia, Brazil was Muslim inspired, oral history says it wasn’t. In 1835 Muslims were called “male” in Bahia, from the Yoruba “imale” which designated a Yoruba Muslim. In 1835 most of the “Males” slaves were Nagos , from Yoruba land in present day Nigeria.
The poem Mahin, amanha, Mahin, Tomorrow, tells the story of the revolt from an Afro-Brazilian perspective.
The review of Miriam Alves poem “Mahin, amanhã” in an old CLA Journal grabbed me. The article is on Miriam Alves who is a poet from Sao Paulo who documents the historic experience of Afro-Brazilians in her work.
The poem Mahin, amanhã (“Mahin, Tomorrow”) captures the events leading up to perhaps the most significant slave revolt in Brazil, the Malê Revolt of 1835 in Salvador da Bahia. According the historians the revolt was organized by led by Muslims, but Alves poem reveals that Muslims were of Yoruba ethnicity, so when the time for revolt is announced, it is made in the name of the orisha.
The first line of Alves poem says the news of the conspiracy was heard in the songs. In Africa men sang songs as they worked, songs helped laborers synchronize their efforts. In the Americas songs took on a dual purpose, they allowed slaves to communicate. Alves begins by showing that the music provided an unobtrusive form of communication, allowing the slaves to plot their rebellion. Alves sets forth the circumstances of history by providing a visual interpretation of the city that functions in several ways. The poetic lines are set on the page in a way that replicates the topography of Salvador, Bahia, and that suggests the social organization of the time.
In Salvador it was customary for national groups of African slaves to remain together, thus allowing them greater freedom to maintain their respective languages and cultures. It is for this reason that when the word goes forth that the revolt will take place, it is in the language of the orisha, the Yoruba language. The poem takes these circumstances into account as it tells that Luiza Mahin has spoken the words “e amanhā” (“it’s tomorrow”) setting the stage for the revolt.
Mahin’s words tumble across the city, passed on to the different African ethnic groups that live there, the Malês pass the words to the Bantus, the Ewes, and the Nagos. The names of the ethnic groups cascade across the page, in two sections of the poem, resembling the slope of two hillsides, one above the other. This configuration is like a diagram of the city of Salvador da Bahia, which has two levels, the lower city and the upper city:
I whisper, I whisper
“It’ tomorrow, it’, tomorrow”
Mahin said its tomorrow”
The whole city prepares itself
Colorful clothes protect hopes
they await the struggle
The great white overthrow is prepared
The struggle is plotted in the language of the Orishas
“It’s tomorrow, tomorrow”
“It’s tomorrow” Luiza Mahin said.
Mahin’s tomorrow constructs a picture that is in direct opposition to the popular portrayal of the submissive, non-confrontational black Brazilian. It portrays a people in pursuit of freedom who were prepared to use strategic violence as a means of achieving it.
From a feminist perspective, it present a black female culture hero, whose word alone is enough to mobilize the city. The city secretly prepares for the overthrow of the white regime, ready to move because Lufza Mahin has cited tomorrow as the time. The authority of Luiza Mahin is totally at odds with practices of the patriarchy of the dominant cultural order, in which all women are relegated to a position of powerlessness, and black women are reduced to abject servitude. In contrast, however, Mahin’s influence is consistent with the values of West African matrilineal cultures where women exercised political, economic, and social power.
Thus, in “Mahin amanha,” Alves co-opts the space of the city of Salvador. Bahia, and tells a tale based on the history of an authoritative black woman and the collective cooperation of blacks from various ethnic groups who were prepared to use force to attain their freedom.
**Space and Time: Afro-Brazilian History in the Poetry of Miriam Alves: CLA Journal, Vol. 41,No.2 (Dec. 1997)