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‘Pretos’ and ‘Pardos’ between the Cross and the Sword: Racial Categories in Seventeenth Century Brazil


Hebe Mattos

University Federal Fluminense, BR
About Hebe
Hebe Mattos is Professor of History at University Federal Fluminense in Brazil.  She is the author or co-author of numerous books and articles on Brazilian slavery,  memory of slavery and racial relations in Brazil, including Das Cores do Silêncio.  Significados da Liberdade no Brasil Escravista, séc. XIX, (Nova Fronteira, 1998)  for which she received the Brazil National Archive Research Award (1995) and  The Abolition of Slavery and the Aftermath of Abolition in Brazil (with Rebecca Scott, Seymour Dresher, George Reid Andrews and Robert Levine, Duke University Press, 1988). Her most recent book is Memórias do Cativeiro. Família, Trabalho e Cidadania no Pós-abolição with Ana Lugão Rios, (Civilização Brasileira,  2005). Presently she is developing research on slavery, manumission and building  of racial categories within the Atlantic Portuguese empire in the modern age.
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Mixing between Europeans and Africans in the  Portuguese empire produced hierarchical categories for racial gradations during the seventeenth  century. During this period the categories ‘mulato’ and ‘pardo’ were included in the regulations  for Purity of Blood (Estatutos de Pureza de Sangue), which determined who could have access to  the same honours and privileges that the old  Christian Portuguese received. From the seventeenth century onwards, those regulations stipulated that ‘no one of the race of Jew, Moor or  Mulato’ (Raça alguma de Judeu, Mouro ou Mulato) were eligible to receive certain honours and  privileges from the crown. This paper discusses  the meanings of ‘race’ on the basis of two historical case studies. The twin processes of miscegenation, in the biological sense, and cultural intermixing have engendered intermediate strata that have  long stimulated the imagination of historians.  Instead of emphasizing the idea of new strata of  mixed blood, the two cases presented here suggest  a more central role for the early demographic  impact of access to manumission in colonial society to explain the emergence of these intermediate  categories in Portuguese America.  

Resumen: ‘Pretos’ y ‘Pardos’ Entre la Cruz y la Espada: Categorías Raciales en el Brasil del Siglo Diecisiete

Durante el siglo diecisiete, las mezclas entre europeos y africanos en el imperio portugués produjeron categorías jerárquicas de gradaciones raciales. Durante este período las categorías de ‘mulato’ y ‘pardo’ fueron incluidas en los estatutos para  la Pureza de la Sangre (Estatutos de Pureza de  Sangue), que determinaban quiénes tenían acceso  a los mismos honores y privilegios de que gozaban los viejos cristianos portugueses. Desde el  siglo diecisiete en adelante, esos estatutos estipulaban que “nadie de la raza judía, moro o mulato”  (Raça alguma de Judeu, Mouro ou Mulato) podí- an recibir ciertos honores y privilegios de la Corona. En este artículo discutimos el significado del  concepto de ‘raza’ sobre la base de dos estudios  de caso historiográficos. Los procesos gemelos de  mezcla racial, en el sentido biológico, y de mestizaje cultural engendraron estratos intermedios que  han estimulado la imaginación de los historiadores durante largo tiempo. En lugar de enfatizar la  idea de los nuevos estratos de sangre mixta, los  dos casos presentados aquí sugieren, a la hora de  explicar la emergencia de estas categorías intermedias en la América lusitana, un papel más  central para el primer impacto demográfico del  acceso a la manumisión en la sociedad colonial. 

How to Cite: Mattos, H. (2006). ‘Pretos’ and ‘Pardos’ between the Cross and the Sword: Racial Categories in Seventeenth Century Brazil. European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, (80), 43–55. DOI:
Published on 15 Apr 2006.
Peer Reviewed


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