Historian reveals origin of people enslaved in gold and diamond mining in Brazil

  • Leandro Machado
  • From BBC News Brazil in Sao Paulo

Ceremony image of the people of the Kingdom of Ajuda in Benin

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Ceremony image of the people of the Kingdom of Ajuda in Benin

A Brazilian historian unveiled the historical origin of the courás, one of the most unique and enigmatic peoples of slavery. Also known as couranos, they were trafficked from Africa to the Americas — and, in Brazil, they inhabited several regions, mainly cities in Minas Gerais.

Until then, the history of this group of abducted Africans and forcibly brought to Brazil was uncertain, according to historian Moacir Rodrigo de Castro Maia. “This was a mystery in the studies on slavery. Although they were very present in Minas, not much was known about the origin of the courás”, he says.

Thousands of couranos were trafficked to the Americas — from the United States and the Caribbean to South America — and a significant part landed in the Portuguese colony to work in the first decades of gold and diamond production in cities such as Diamantina, Ouro Preto and Mariana — there are also records of them in the south of Bahia, in Goiás, Pernambuco and Rio de Janeiro.

When they arrived, they were baptized by other courás who were already here (when entering Brazil, the enslaved were forced to change their name). They became Francisca or João Mina, for example — and Mina was a reference to the so-called Costa da Mina, an African region that was home to a Portuguese fort and where today the countries of Ghana, Togo, Nigeria and Benin are located.

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