Activist and artist

The activist, the artist, and the intellectual in Abdias cannot be divorced from each other. In his work, the theoretical thoughts are based on the social struggles and the construction of an identity; politics is nurtured by heritage and culture; his art expresses demands.

Thus, core interests become visible in his poetry, in his painting, in his bills, in the material he published: the history of Africa, the bantu-Yoruba religiosity, cultural and revolutionary milestones of the black diasporic peoples.

Abdias, braço pra cima protestando
photo: Ron Wofford/Ipeafro's Collection


Frente Negra Brasileira (FNB), São Paulo,
Brazilian Black Front (FNB), Sao Paulo, 1935. A black movement founded in October 1931, the FNB struggled against racism and was recognized as a political party in 1936. It remained as such only until 1937, when the Estado Novo was established | Ipeafro's Collection


Timeline – Brazilian Black Front

1931 – In the Battalion of Quitaúna, Abdias meets commander Manoel Rabelo, member of the Tribunal de Justiça Militar [Court of Military Justice], who, in the end of this same year, would be appointed as interventor (provisional governor) in the state of Sao Paulo. The Brazilian Black Front is founded (FNB). Membership numbers about 6 thousand people in Sao Paulo plus centers in Minas Gerais, Bahia, Espírito Santo, Rio Grande do Sul, Pernambuco, and Maranhão. In view of the conflict between the Sao Paulo constitutionalists and the federalist troops, the FNB sought to remain neutral. A schism in the guild, however, decided to organize itself to form the Legião Negra [Black Legion] (LN), which deployed about two thousand men to fight alongside the Sao Paulo soldiers.

1932 – Serving as a soldier in the Revolução Constitucionalista [Constitutionalist Revolution] of 1932, Abdias remains in the Armed Forces up to 1936. At the same time, he studied at the Fundação Escola de Comércio Álvares Penteado, in Sao Paulo, and took part in public demonstrations organized by the FNB. While working in the headquarters of the Military Region Command, he met Sebastião Rodrigues Alves, with whom he went on to share a room in a boarding house together with Sebastião Prata (a.k.a. Grande Otelo).


Seção de vídeo

Militancy and politics


Exemplar do periódico O Clarim d’Alvorada. Ano III, São Paulo 13 de maio de 1926
A copy of O Clarim d'Alvorada periodical. Year III, Sao Paulo, May 13 1926, No. 21


“(...) falsification of the history of Brazil was, as still is, part of a wider process of intellectual perversion initiated in the late 18th century to justify the enslavement of Africans and the transformation of their continent in a patchwork quilt to be pillaged and plundered by the greedy European interests."

Abdias Nascimento's speech on the Senate floor on November 18, 1998.




"The attempt to sell the abolition as a product of the benevolence of a white princess is part of a bigger picture, which includes other fantasies, like the 'sweet colonization' – a soft way to refer to the massacre perpetrated by the Portuguese in Africa and the Americas – and the 'luso-tropicalism,' an expression that embodies the Portuguese contribution to build a tropical 'civilization' supposedly open and tolerant. Perhaps the same kind of those they built in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau, when humiliation and torture were widely used as ways to maintain the physical and psychological domination of Europeans over Africans."

Abdias Nascimento's speech on the Senate floor on May 13, 1998.


Timeline – Ação Integralista Brasileira [Brazilian Integralist Action]

1936 – When Abdias and Rodrigues Alves are barred from entering a nightclub, they react against that exclusion gesture. In the fight with the doorman, Dr. Egas Botelho, head of DOPS [Department of Political and Social Order], intervenes. Instead of defending the constitutional right of the young blacks, he emphasizes and legitimizes the discriminatory attitude. For fighting back that offense, Abdias and Rodrigues Alves are arrested and taken to the ominous Gabinete de Investigações [Office of Investigations], where they are brutally tortured. Removed from the Army, Abdias goes to Rio de Janeiro and settles down in Morro da Mangueira.

1937 Abdias leaves AIB and takes a stand against the Estado Novo. Settling in Duque de Caxias, he approaches the religions of African origin and starts attending Joãozinho da Gomeia’s ritual sites known as “terreiro.” In the same year, he meets poet Solano Trindade and conductor Abigail Moura, then director of the Afro-Brazilian Orchestra. He transfers his enrollment from Fundação Escola de Comércio Álvares Penteado to Universidade do Rio de Janeiro (currently Uerj) and there he takes the bachelor’s degree program in economics. As a reporter of O Povo newspaper, he charges himself with the responsibility to cover the trial of Luís Carlos Prestes. He is arrested with a group of ex-integralist students who were giving out leaflets against the presence of the U.S. ships in the Guanabara Bay.

1938 – Once set free in April, Abdias completes the program in economics at Uerj after having been expelled again from the Army. Now he settles down in Campinas (Sao Paulo state), even though for a short time.


Jornal Alvorada, editado em São Paulo, edição comemorativa do dia 28 de setembro de 1945 em homenagem ao Dia da Mãe Negra
Jornal Alvorada, published in Sao Paulo, a commemorative edition dated September 28, 1945 in honor of the Black Mother's Day | Ipeafro's Collection


Abdias Nascimento com Francisco Pabón, a Universidade do Estado de Nova York, em evento do Centro Cultural Afro-Americano de Búfalo, na cidade de Nova York, em 1978
Abdias Nascimento with Francisco Pabón, professor and founder of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at the State University of New York, in an event of the African American Cultural Center of Buffalo, in New York City, in 1978 | Ron Wofford/Ipeafro's Collection


“(...) the Brazilian racial problem is beginning to be identified and denounced at the international level, specially as a result of the work done by black organizations, increasingly alert and active, of revealing to the world the true face of a country erected under a remarkably effective model of white supremacy. "

Abdias Nascimento's speech on the Senate floor on May 28, 1998.


Abdias Nascimento na Marcha Zumbi Vive, Rio de Janeiro, 1983
Rio de Janeiro (RJ), 1983: Abdias Nascimento on the Marcha Zumbi Vive [Zombie Live March], Rio de Janeiro, 1983 | Elisa Larkin Nascimento/Ipeafro's Collection


Na Serra da Barriga, em Alagoas, Abdias Nascimento discursa em evento do Memorial Zumbi dos Palmares
In Serra da Barriga, state of Alagoas, Abdias Nascimento delivers a speech in a function of the Memorial Zumbi dos Palmares | Elisa Larkin Nascimento/Ipeafro's Collection


Quilombismo and quilombolas: the black historical and cultural experiences | By Danilo Luiz Marques *

Past and historical resistance

The concept of quilombo is used by Abdias Nascimento during the time of his activism in different contexts. In the late 1940s, the word states the notion of space of autonomy, otherness, and black authorship, like Quilombo: Vida, Problemas e Aspirações do Negro [Quilombo: Life, Problems, and Aspirations of the Blacks] newspaper, published by Abdias in the period while he was also head of the Black Experimental Theater. The periodical was first published in December 1948 and the last issue came out in June 1950.

Between 1960 and 1970, the use of the word “quilombo”, in Abdias rhetoric, shifted onto designating increasingly stronger ideas of resistance and revolt. During the time he was active internationally as a member of the Pan-Africanist movement, Abdias coined the concept of “quilombismo.” He presented it as a political and social alternative to combat racism and build a new society inspired by the historical experience of Brazilian quilombos and the African-origin cultures. Quilombismo is, therefore, a project of social emancipation of the black people based on their own history and their own culture, thus confronting the colonial narratives of denial or reduction of the African legacy to mere “exoticism.”

The history and culture of the black people in Africa and in the diaspora, emancipated from the lenses, the minds, and the punishments of the Eurocentrism and the white norms, that is, seen, thought, written, and narrated by the blacks themselves driven by the sense of liberation from the shackles of racism, inspire Quilombismo with the aim of elevating the blacks from a supporting role to a lead in the historical process of humanity.

Quilombismo, therefore, evokes Palmares, all quilombos in Brazil and their counterparts in the Americas and Africa, which confronted the slaveholding order in the past; evokes the struggle for political emancipation of the African countries that have historically been subjected to the European colonialism; evokes the anti-racism and equal-rights movements among different human groups in all parts of the world; also evokes all Quilombos that exist and resist today.

Past and historical resistance

The history of settlement of the Americas and the Caribbean is full of fugitive slaves’ communities who fought against slavery: in Venezuela they were cumbes; in Colombia, the palenques; in Antigua, Jamaica, and the southern United States, they were the maroons; in some Caribbean regions, the maronage; in Puerto Rico and Cuba, they became known as cimarronaje. Here in Brazil, these communities were first called mocambos and later quilombos. In all these regions, such experiences of freedom meant an affront to the slavery institution and Palmares was the most emblematic example both in Brazil and in the Americas and the Caribbean.

The Palmares quilombo was a different community for its long duration and its large number of inhabitants, as well as its socioeconomic organization (important for its long-lasting existence). Some historians understand that Palmares was like a federation of several clusters composed of thousands of inhabitants (called quilombolas) and eventually it became a symbol of colonial resistance against slavery. This feature would go beyond its time of “original invention” and its historical experience lived and processed (17th century) through processes of resignification of memory over the centuries after the end of the war against the colonial authorities.

After the Palmares episode, the population enslaved in Brazil failed to reproduce the same quilombo experience that would come closer to what Palmares was. Nevertheless, the establishment of quilombos went on until the years in which the institution of slavery ended in Brazil. Other quilombos that stood out in the Brazilian history, specially in the 18th and 19th centuries, were the Quariterê quilombo, in the state of Mato Grosso (known for Tereza de Benguela’s leadership), Jabaquara quilombo in Sao Paulo, Leblon quilombo in Rio de Janeiro, and the Malunguinho quilombo in the state of Pernambuco.

In these communities, political and religious practices of typically African characteristics were developed as a vital social experience for the preservation of cultural elements and ethnic identities, territories of cultural preservation/re-creation. For example, many researchers ascribe the emergence of cultural events, such as maracatu [a performance genre] and coco de roda [a musical rhythm], to Palmares.

After 1888, once slavery in Brazil was ended, many quilombos remained in the country’s interior. This allowed the appearance of the current remaining quilombola communities formed by descendants of enslaved and/or free Africans who kept the cultural, religious, and subsistence traditions over the centuries. Preserving them consisted – and consists – in an act of historical resistance. According to data from Fundação Palmares [Palmares Foundation][1]

there are now about 2,600 certified communities, with an estimated 5,000 other communities throughout the country which are still being mapped.

The regulatory process for identification, recognition, delimitation, demarcation, and ownership of the quilombo lands only took place in 2003 after issuance of the Federal Decree 4.8878, under which the competent body designated for this task was the Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária [Brazilian Institute for Rural Settlement and Agrarian Reform] (INCRA). This resulted in a historical process of struggle – still ongoing – of the quilombolas themselves and of the black movement as well for enforcement of the Afro-Brazilian people’s rights.


Danilo Luiz Marques holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the Universidade Federal do Alagoas (Ufal)
and a master’s degree in social history from
Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (PUC / SP), where he also pursues his doctor’s degree.


Gabriel dos Santos Rocha holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in
social history from Universidade de São Paulo (USP).

[1] One of the duties of Fundação Palmares [Palmares Foundation] is to formalize the existence of the remaining quilombo communities and provide them with legal advice, as well as develop projects, programs, and public policies for the acquisition of citizenship.


Abdias Nascimento discursa na Serra da Barriga, em Alagoas, no dia 20 de novembro de 1983, aniversário da morte de Zumbi dos Palmares
Abdias Nascimento delivers a speech in Serra da Barriga, state of Alagoas, on November 20, 1983, anniversary of Zumbi dos Palmares' death | Ipeafro's Collection


Dom Helder Câmara e Abdias Nascimento, em Recife, Pernambuco, no ano de 1978
Archbishop Helder Câmara and Abdias Nascimento, in Recife, Pernambuco, 1978 | Ipeafro's Collection


“Em São Paulo o Negro vai às Ruas Protestar: Chega de Mãe Preta”, revista Istoé, 1979
“In Sao Paulo the Blacks protest on the streets: No more Mãe Preta," Isto É magazine, 1979 | Ipeafro's Collection


Timeline – Santa Hermandad de la Orquídea [Holy Brotherhood of the Orchid]

1939 Back to Rio de Janeiro, Abdias now takes part in Rio’s cultural universe and meets Argentine poets Efraín Thomás Bó, Juan Raúl Young, and Godofredo Tito Iommi. Together, sharing the same room in a boarding house, the group founded the Santa Hermandad de la Orquídea [Holy Brotherhood of the Orchid].

1941/1942  The group travels to Manaus (Amazonas state) and Belém (Pará state). Then, introducing themselves as “a group of foreign journalists traveling around Latin America,” the poets set off to Leticia (Colombia), Iquitos (Peru), Quito (Ecuador), and Lima (Peru), among other cities. In the Peruvian capital, the members of the Santa Hermandad attend the La Cabaña soirees and contribute articles to La Cronica newspaper, managed by Lauro Herrera, Peruvian vice-president. They also see The Emperor Jones being staged there. Written in 1920 by Eugene O’Neill, the play addresses the racial issue and the performance put on by the Argentine group Teatro del Pueblo features a white actor painted black in the lead role. After that, Abdias stays for about a year in Buenos Aires (Argentina), where he manages to be granted a scholarship for the Faculdade de Economia and closely monitors the work of Teatro La Máscara group and especially Teatro del Pueblo, managed by Leónidas Barletta.

1942/1943 Return to Brazil. While he is away, Abdias is prosecuted for disciplinary issues brought by the Army because of the fight with the director of the Departamento de Ordem Política e Social [Department of Political and Social Order] (DOPS) in 1936. After being convicted, he serves sentence at the Casa de Detenção de São Paulo [Sao Paulo Prison] (Carandiru). There, he publishes Nosso Jornal newspaper and manages the Teatro do Sentenciado [Theater of the Convict], a theater group made up exclusively of inmates.


Tabloide Lampião da Esquina, Ano 2, nº 15, de agosto de 1979. Em entrevista, Abdias Nascimento critica a Lei Afonso Arinos
Lampião da Esquina tabloid, Year 2, No. 15, August 1979. In an interview, Abdias Nascimento criticizes the Afonso Arinos Act, sociologist Gilberto Freyre, and writer Jorge Amado, in addition to proposing the union of blacks, indigenous people, homosexuals, and women against the various forms of repression operated historically by the Brazilian State | Ipeafro's Collection


By Nelson Maca

“(...) The writing of Abdias
arrived before the fire of the iron forged the hair – mine
And the movement for union and awareness – ours
was my first time (...)”

excerpt from the poem “Estrangeirismo” [Foreignism] by Nelson Maca, featuring in "Gramática da Ira" [Grammar of Wrath]


Padê de Exu libertador [Offering of Eshu liberator]

Oh Eshu
through the flickering candles
I see you eating your own mother
shedding the black blood
that blackens
your white blood
with the red blood
it warms up
in the human veins
in the vaginal discharge
at the crossroads of
your three bloods
I deposit this offering
prepared for you


Do you offer it to me?
I do not refuse to taste your honey
smelling midnight of
strong brandy
sparkling white blood
of the slender palm trees
I drink in your silver bowl
where still fresh
the semen the saliva the sap float
on the black blood circulating
in the iron core
and explodes in blue drum


Oh Eshu-Yangi
prince of the universe and
the last to be born
receive these birds and
the legged animals that
I have brought to satisfy
your ritual voracity
smoke these cigars
coming from the African Bahia
this flute of Pixinguinha
is to make you cry
the cry for our ancestors
I hope that these offerings
please your heart and
make your taste rejoice
a happy heart is
a satisfied stomach and
in the contentment of both
rests the best predisposition
to fulfill the
laws of repayment
which ensure
cosmic harmony


By invoking these laws
I beg you Eshu
to plant in my mouth
your verbal axé
and to return to me the tongue
that was mine
and that was stolen from me
Eshu let your breath out
and into the depth of my throat
right there where sprouts
the voice bud so
that the bud opens
to come into the flower
of my old speaking
returned owing to your power
put me on the axé of the words
pregnant of your dynamic foundation
and I will ride the infinite
supernatural of orun
I will cover the distance
of our physical world made of
uncertain and dangerous land


Shut my body to the perils
carries me in the wings of
your expanding mobility
grow me like your lineage
of preventive irony
like my untamable passion
make me mature under your
brazen language
let’s scandalize the puritans
unmask the hypocrites
sons of a bitch
thus because of the catharsis of the
cultural impurities
we will exorcize the domestication
of the gesture and others
imposed on our black people

Your fist I am
when disdaining the police
you defend the defenseless
victims of the crimes of
the death squad
the treacherous dagger of the
white hand
we are assassins
because they judge us orphans
disrespect our humanity
ignore that we are
the black men
the black women
proud boys and girls children of
the Lord of Orun
Our and your father
of whom you are the winged fruit
of communication and the message

Oh Eshu
one and ubiquitous
in all of us
in your flesh shredded
spread over this world and the other
make sure the Father receives
news of our devotion
the picture of our hands hardened
empty of the just repayment
overflowing with tears
tell the Father that never
at work we rest
this ongoing doing
this forbidden leisure
has filled up the safe of the explorers
at the cost of our sweat
we have received
less human pay
in their society
our stomachs make noise of
hunger and anger in other people’s kitchens
in the prisons
in the brothels
show to our Father
our hearts
wounded of poignancy
our backs whipped
at the whipping post of slavery
at the whipping post of discrimination

you who are the Lord of the
pathways to free your people
you know those who wielded
your iron embering
against the injustice and the oppression
Zumbi Luiza Mahin Luiz Gama
Cosme Isidoro João Cândido
you know that in each black heart
there is a pounding quilombo
in each shack
another Palmares makes
the fire of Shango crackle and illuminate our fight
of the present and the past

I offer to you Eshu
the offering of my words
in this ceremony that consecrates you
not me
however mine and your
brothers and sisters under
our Father
who is
in the Orun



Buffalo, February 2, 1981

Poem pub


Yemanjá Enluarada, Abdias Nascimento, 1968
Yemanjá Enluarada [Yemanja under the Moonlight] (1968), Rio de Janeiro – gouache with plastic medium on canvas | RCS Arte Digital/Ipeafro's Collection


Santa Maria Egipcíaca, Abdias Nascimento, 1968
Santa Maria Egipcíaca [St. Mary of Egypt] (1968), Rio de Janeiro – acrylic on canvas | RCS Arte Digital/Ipeafro's Collection


Seção de vídeo

Abdias explains his painting [in Sign Language and audiodescription]


Máscara Ancestra, Abdias Nascimento, 1998
Máscara Ancestral [Ancestral Mask] (1988), Rio de Janeiro – acrylic on canvas | RCS Arte Digital/Ipeafro's Collection


Diasporic Abdias: intellectuality permeated by black worldviews | by Liliane Braga

Abdias diaspórico: intelectualidade permeada por cosmovisões negras
photo: Juvenal Pereira/Ipeafro's Collection

Black worldviews sown across the Western countries now show their fruits specially in the arts. The different artistic languages, for being connected with the intuition and the soul of the one who expresses through them, are sources of emotional development. Emotion has been the key gateway to ‘Afroseed’ Brazil. It is not a mere coincidence that our expressions of affection are marked by lexicons borrowed from bantu languages: dengo [treat], cafuné [cuddle], xodó [the apple of one’s eye]. The Brazilian arts are largely made up of cultural blackness. But in Africa, unlike what the West proposes, the arts are inseparable from everyday life, which, in turn, is imbued with the sacred. The African knowledge incorporates it all.

To go beyond the simple fact of carrying a dark skin and bear with all that it entails, ancestrally-black intellectuals develop matter (body) and non-matter (spirit) of which we are made simultaneously and communally, without having the brain (and the ego) leading the way. To this end, it is fundamental to keep the senses working permanently (touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing) and the memory (which is not only in the head, but in the whole body): what is experienced, role-played, performed is learned/understood – see the expression coined to designate the “pop culture events” as being major sources of black knowledge handed down between generations. In black worldviews, thinking and feeling are inseparable. “Where the chicken lays her eggs, there she will keep her eyes on,” says the ancestral wisdom.

But we, westernized, unlearned about integrating mind-body-soul that is typical of the worldview of the peoples deemed “undeveloped” or “stagnated.” Taking into account the 18th century enlightenment Cartesianism and the proposition of one single civilization/mankind standard to follow (the Euro-Western-Christian), we overvalue reason. And, with it, a single way of thinking prevails; what prevails, for example, is the Western allopathic medicine as opposed to the medical practices that see the human being in its entirety, such as the Chinese or the Indian medicine, and the notion of traditional health (physical, mental, spiritual) and healing originally from the Americas seen in what was hierarchically called traditional knowledge (which have not obtained the epistemological status discussed by Nilma Lino Gomes) and in afro-indigenous-Brazilian religions. The colonization of our minds and our bodies by this single way of thinking makes each of us potential breeders of racisms – in the plural, as proposed by Stuart Hall – and other fundamentalisms.

The circular reading of the universe proposed by the African worldviews sees all kingdoms (mineral, vegetable, human) as interdependent and sacred carriers (which is not separated from the visible world, like in the Euro-Christian perspective). Manipulating elements of nature is healing for the soul. Making art is to integrate the sacred human – body, mind, and soul – to the other sacred elements spanning vibration, rhythm. The arts encompass the principles of other disciplines – philosophy, geometry, physics – very compartmentalized by the West. Abdias is here taking part of this Afro-diaspora that shares the nature-cosmos-culture continuum and the circularity for its civilization value and that brings together non-compartmentalized disciplines. Like him, there are intellectual blacks from elsewhere.

The Afro-diasporic place fell to Abdias concretely and symbolically. The election as coordinator of the 3rd Congress of Black Cultures in the Americas (Sao Paulo/SP, 1982) was the result of his “Afro-diasporic” feature of an economist and poet, playwright and political activist, fine artist and academic researcher. Abdias was an anti-racist intellectual in the physical and metaphysical senses, a fighter against the social-racial-economic and ancestral ills who attacks “other” ways of being and living that were and have been given a marginalized-inferior-folklore-like-demonized status.

Afro-diasporic knowledge lead to performative pedagogy, which does not overestimate either the single thought or the single form of knowledge transmission, but rather multiple. As Abdias prized. As ancestrally-black intellectuals-artists from elsewhere prize.

With the prospect of de-silencing the past built from the Euro-Western perspective, as proposed by Haitian historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot, there is a list below with some intellectuals contemporary of Abdias. They are playwrights, poets, writers, and artists of different languages, inhabitants of Caribbean Afro-diasporas that are missing in the Euro-Westernized historiography originating from worldviews that can hold all the worlds.

Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989, Cuba)

Poet, journalist, diplomat. Regarded as a genuine representative of black poetry in Cuba. His intense participation in the political life of his country cost him exile on several occasions. In 1937, he joined the Partido Comunista [Communist Party]. With the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, he undertook greatly important diplomatic missions and visited, among other countries, Brazil, Chile, France, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. In 1961, the Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba [Union of Writers and Artists from Cuba] (Uneac) is founded and Guillén was elected its president, a position he held until his death.

His literary output was initially included in the realm of postmodernism, with the avant-garde experiences of the 1920s. Against this backdrop, he soon became the most prominent representative of black or Afro-Antillean poetry. With a “mulatto”-culture approach in his writing, his incursion into the literary universe materialized with Motivos de Son (1930), followed by Sóngoro Cosongo: Poemas Mulatos (1931) and West Indies, Ltd. (1934) – in which he denounced the exploitation suffered by the Antillean archipelago – and with poems dispersed over various books.

Henceforth, he went deeper into his political concerns and concerns for his “brothers-in-race,” pursuing paths opened with Sóngoro, Cosongo, an onomatopoeia that shows the purpose of the poet in shaping the African-Cuban roots in rhythm and voice. His work continued defying regional and international political landscapes hostile towards the black people and the working classes.

In his political endeavor, he accepted the invitation made by poet Jacques Roumain, director of the Institute of Ethnology in Haiti and traveled as a cultural envoy of the Cuban Government, a delegate of the Frente Nacional Antifascista [Anti-fascist National Front], and journalist of Hoy, in 1942. Two years later, he founded Gaceta del Caribe cultural magazine alongside José Antonio Portuondo, Mirta Aguirre, and Ángel Augier. In 1945, Guillén set off on a trip around South America, during which he exchanged ideas with artists and intellectuals. This expanded and deepened his view of the American continent.

At the age of 80, he was awarded the doctor honoris causa degree by the University of Bordeaux, in France, and the Order of José Martí, the highest distinction bestowed by Cuba.


Marie Vieux Chauvet (1916, Haiti – 1973, United States)

Playwright and novelist. The first celebrated woman of Haitian literature whose work is marked by equality principles and, in the field of philosophy, by existentialism. Known for her strong political stance, Marie Chauvet acted against abuse of all kinds which victimize women and the disadvantaged in general.

Published by the best publishers in France, object of study by the largest universities in the United States, Chauvet chose voodoo, slavery, colonialism (internal and external), and eroticism as the main subjects of her work. She was a prominent figure in Haitian literature in the early 1960s and the only woman in a group of writers that included Davertige, Serge Legagneur, and René Philoctète. On Sundays, she would open her home to literary gatherings.

Facing her husband, who separated from her for disagreeing with her political views, and the dictatorship of François Duvalier (1907-1971), she tried to publish Amour, Colère et Folie, whose manuscript read by Simone de Beauvoir earned her an invitation to have her work published by Éditions Gallimard (a publishing house founded in 1911 and owned by one of the most influential publishing groups in France to this day). Shortly after the publication of this book in 1968, its spread was banned under threat to her and her family by the Duvalier regime. Soon after the ban, Chauvet went into exile in New York, where she wrote her last novel, Les Rapaces.

Jan Carew (1920-2012, Guyana)

Writer, historian, intellectual, professor, actor. Most of his fiction is set in the Caribbean, describing the fight of colonized Caribbeans for having defined their own identity whether being at home or in exile. His nonfiction literature focuses on related topics, including studies on the presence of indigenous and African peoples in the Americas.

Carew lived between the Caribbean, the United States, and Europe, where he joined Laurence Olivier’s theater company. He taught at universities such as Princeton (Third World literature and creative writing) and Northwestern (African-American and Third-World studies). The highlights among the awards he won are the Hansib Publication (1990); Paul Robeson in honor to “live a life of art and politics” (1998); and the Caribbean-Canadian Lifetime Creative (2003).

Sylvia Wynter (1928, Cuba)

Novelist and playwright. Born in Cuba to Jamaican father and mother, Sylvia Wynter is one of the most important contemporary writers in the Caribbean. Her work is based on the local languages of the region (such as Jamaican patois). Her many writings blend theories of history, literature, science, and black studies and explore topics such as race, colonialism, and human representations.

After a period of time in London writing radio plays, Sylvia Wynter became a lecturer at the University of the West Indies and later was a professor at the universities of Michigan and California. In 1977, she became a professor of African and African-American studies at Stanford University.

Her most widely read novel, The Hills of Hebron (1962), speaks about the crisis provoked by tensions between the spread of Christianity and the persistence of the traditional African spirituality in a Caribbean community. Most of her plays are still unpublished, including Shh … It’s a Wedding (1965); 1865, Ballad of a Rebellion (1965); and Maskarade (1979).

Edouard Glissant (1928-2011, Martinique)

Anthropologist, philosopher, poet, novelist, theorist, and essayist. Member of a generation of intellectuals from the colonies who was educated in the metropolis (France). His critical thinking on the anti-colonial struggles, colonialism, and the identity of the Afro-diasporic peoples is evidenced in his work and, with it, the development of the concepts of antilleanity and creolization. During his studies in Paris, he was an active member in the group of African and Antillean students among whom was another great exponent, fellow Martinican Frantz Fanon (1925-1961).

He took part in Marxist literary circles alongside poets and also in the International Circle of Revolutionary Intellectuals, whose purpose included a critical analysis of Marxism and a study of colonialism-related issues. For Glissant, it was up to the arts and literature to boost the identity project of different communities, with particular attention to those marked by the slave trade.

A French literature professor at the City University of New York (Cuny) for more than a decade, Glissant divided his time between the United States, Martinique, and France, where he founded the Institut du Tout-Monde in 2006. In the same year, then-President Jacques Chirac gave him the mission to foreshadow and chair the Centre National pour la Mémoire des Esclavages et de leurs Abolitions [National Center of Memory of Slavery and Abolition], an institution that is still operational.

Frankétienne (1936, Haiti) 

Writer, poet, playwright, musician, activist, performer, intellectual, fine artist, and professor. Frankétienne is a key name when speaking about the language, aesthetic, political, and social dimensions of creoleness.

He authored the first novel in Haitian Creole (Dézafi, 1975, an allegory of the political oppression in the country under the dictatorship of Papa Doc, as François Duvalier became known).  While also publishing in French, it was with the appreciation of Creole that his work went to the general public and changed the paradigm in literature previously dominated by the language of the old colonizers.

He has published over 30 titles to date and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2009, and named UNESCO Artist for Peace in 2010.


Maryse Condé (1937, Guadaloupe)

Writer, novelist professor. After graduating from the Sorbonne in Paris, Maryse Condé married Guinean actor Mamadou Condé in 1960 and went on to teach in Guinea. She continued teaching in countries like Ghana and Senegal even after her divorce. Only in 1973 she returned to France with her four children. There she married Richard Philcox and began to teach at several universities while also taking up a novelist’s career.

After the publication of Ségou, her fourth novel, Maryse Condé returned to Guadaloupe, where she stayed for a short time, and eventually settled down in the United States, where she became professor emerita of French at Columbia University.

Her fictional work addresses issues about sex, races, and cultures in different places and historical periods. Since 2004, she has chaired the Comitê pela Memória da Escravidão [Committee for the Memory of Slavery), created under the Taubira Law, enacted in the same year, recognizing the slave trade as a crime against humanity.

Some of her most acclaimed novels include Heremakhonon (1976), Ségou (2 volumes, 1984-85), Desirada (1997), and Célanire Cou-Coupé (2000). Among her major essays include Pourquoi la Négritude? Négritude ou Révolution (1973) and Négritude Césairienne, Négritude Senghorienne (1974). Maryse Condé was selected for Le Grand Prix Litteraire de la Femme (1986) and Le Prix de L ‘Académie Française (1988) by her lifetime achievement.



Liliane Braga is a doctoral student in social history at PUC/SP, where she is a member of the Centro de Estudos Culturais Africanos e da Diáspora [Center for African Culture and Diaspora Studies] (Cecafro). Her doctoral thesis deals with the Western episteme counternarratives based on Black cinema in Brazil and the Caribbean.


Padê de Exu, Abdias Nascimento, 1998
Padê de Exu [Offering of Eshu] (1998), Rio de Janeiro – acrylic on canvas | RCS Arte Digital/Ipeafro's Collection


Abdias Nascimento abraça Gilberto Gil em Recife, 1980.
Recife (PE), 1980: Abdias Nascimento hugs Gilbert Gil | Ipeafro's Collection


"The contradictions of racism are even worse in peripheral and underdeveloped countries, such as Brazil. Here, there is an ongoing and explicit practice of violation of human rights founded on the white ethnocentrism against the Afro-Brazilian people."

Abdias Nascimento's speech on the Senate floor, April 3, 1997


Abdias Nascimento, Mãe Hilda, do Terreiro Ilê Axé Ogum, e Marcos Terena, presidente da União de Nações Indígenas, em evento do Memorial Zumbi dos Palmares, em 20 de novembro de 1981
Abdias Nascimento, Mother Hilda, from Terreiro Ilê Axé Ogun, and Marcos Terena, president of the União de Nações Indígenas [Union of Indigenous Nations], in a function at Memorial Zumbi dos Palmares on November 20, 1981 | Ipeafro's Collection


1984: Bernard Dadié, poet from Côte d'Ivoire, member of the Négritude movement, and Abdias Nascimento | Elisa Larkin Nascimento/Ipeafro's Collection