Manuel Raimundo Querino: The Conscience of Brazil

Updated: Jan 12, 2020

"Here it was the work of blacks that sustained the nobility and prosperity of Brazil for centuries, without fail; it was as a result of their work that we have scientific institutions, letters, arts, commerce, industry, etc. Therefore, they have played an outstanding role as a factor in Brazilian civilization.”

- Manuel R. Querino

My decision to research Manuel Raimundo Querino stems from a curiosity in the African roots of South America, and you can not begin to understand Africa’s influence on Brazil without running into the name of one Manuel Raimundo Querino. According to Professor Wlamyra Albuquerque from the Federal University of Bahia, Querino (1851-1923) lived during a time when the “intellectuals” of Brazil had designs on “whitening” the country by bringing in 4 million European immigrants (this process was known in Brazil as “branqueamento”). They thought that was the only means to civilize Brazil following the abolition of slavery in 1888. From Querino’s point of view, Africans had already civilized Brazil, so he felt there was no need for mass immigration. Querino’s major contribution, in terms of legacy, according to E. Bradford Burns was “his efforts to assess the role Africans played in the formation of Brazil. He reflected in part a greater self-awareness on the part of the black community as well as an effort of the nationalists to come to grips with Brazil's racial diversity and its implications. He was the first black to write Brazilian history, a task to which he brought a much-needed perspective. No one could hope to understand Brazil, he reasoned in 1916, without knowing the contributions of the African race to that nation.” Burns is justified in his adoration of Querino’s efforts, but it seems the real greatness of Querino was the fact that he took advantage of his educational opportunities to advance the causes of Brazil’s oppressed, Black population.

"Whoever reads history will see how the nation has gloried through the Africans it has imported".

- Manuel R. Querino

Querino was born on July 28, 1851, in the town of Santo Amaro, Bahia, into what was euphemistically termed "honorable poverty."1 The Querinos, unlike three million Blacks in Brazil, were fortunate to be free, but that freedom did not protect them from a severe epidemic of cholera morbus that killed between 25,000-30,000 people. As an orphan, Querino was sent to Salvador, where a powerful and prestigious guardian, Manuel Correia Garcia looked after him. Garcia, a retired teacher, politician, journalist, and lawyer, had a love for learning and instilled that love into Querino, who received an education few Bahians, white or black, could afford. The illiteracy rate during the “imperial” period never dropped below 85 percent among the free population (Burns). There seems to be a theme throughout the African diaspora and history. Whether we are talking about Cheikh Anta Diop, Toussaint L’ouverture, Martin Luther King Jr. or Manuel Raimundo Querino, it seems that Blacks (being members of an oppressed demographic) who have access to the educational system of the oppressor, and choose to use that education for the liberation of their people, are uniquely qualified to become beacons of light for the masses of humanity. Whereas these men could have chosen to assimilate and excel within the oppressors’ systems for their own personal gains, they instead chose to identify with the enslaved, demoralized, Blacks; and to stand up for morality and justice. Those sacrifices (or “duties served” depending on your inclination), whether understood by the legions of oppressed consciously or subconsciously, created bonds between leader and followers that allowed for ideas to manifest and produce fruit. Many of today’s Black “intellectuals” could learn from the humble strength and courage displayed by Querino. As the saying goes, “people do not care what you know until they know how much you care”. Querino was an intellectual who cared.

"Brazil has two great glories: the bounty of its soil and the talent of the mestizo."

- Manuel R. Querino

1 Gongalo de Athayde Pereira, Professor Manuel Querino. Sua Vida e suas Obras (Salvador: Imprensa Oficial do Estado, 1932)

In 1868, at the age of 17, Querino enlisted in the army, where he reached the rank of Corporal, and after years of service, he returned to Salvador. It was his travels as a soldier that sparked Querino’s interest in the customs and traditions of people from distinct cultures, but even before dwelling on the idea of the Africans’ great contributions to Brazil, Querino was a labor leader, journalist, and militant abolitionist. (Gledhill). He did not receive the credit that leaders of the abolition movement received, but Querino wrote articles published in Gazeta da Tarde, trying to raise public awareness about the injustices of slavery. In his book “From Slavery to Freedom in Brazil: Bahia 1835-1900”, Dale Torston Graden talks about the work of the Gazeta da Tarde:

“The preeminent activist of his era, Eduardo Carige, joined with Bahian colleagues in founding the Gazeta da Tarde (The Afternoon Gazette) in Salvador in 1880. He recruited medical doctors, lawyers, professors, and schoolteachers to write articles and provide financial contributions to support the paper. Gazeta da Tarde helped spread abolitionist ideas to Bahians of diverse backgrounds. Gazeta da Tarde took on controversial topics. In one instance, the newspaper published an account of a group of slaves who burned to death in a fire. The slaves had been hidden by traffickers on the top floor of a building in the lower city waiting to be embarked illegally to the coffee regions of the Center-South as part of the interprovincial slave trade. In response to the coverage of the tragic episode, an anti-slavery group known as the Sailors Club forced their way into several private homes and commercial buildings located next to the port to rescue slaves held in similar circumstances.”

Graden went on to talk about the important role newspapers played in abolishing Brazilian slavery. Besides writing for the Gazeta da Tarde, Querino published many books and created two newspapers of his own to defend the causes of abolition and workers, respectively: A Província (The province/1887-1888) and O Trabalho (The work/1892). Among Querino’s published book titles: Artistas Baianos (Bahia Artists-1909); As artes na Bahia (The arts in Bahia-1909); Bailes Pastoris (1914); “A Raça Africana e os seus Costumes na Bahia”, In Anais do V Congresso Brasileiro de Geografia ("The African race and customs in Bahia", In Proceedings of the Brazilian Congress of Geography-1916); A Bahia de Outrora (The erstwhile Bahia-1916); and O Colono Preto como Factor da Civilização Brasileira (The Black Settler as the Brazilian Civilization-1918). Querino also produced two textbooks: Desenho Linear das Classes Elementares (Linear Drawing of Elementary Classes) and Elementos de Desenho Geométrico (Geometric Design Elements) (Gledhill).

Querino poured all of his time into work and studies. In 1885, licensed as a drawing teacher, he began to teach Geometric Design at the Liceu de Artes e Oficios (School of Arts and Offices), a course he also gave at the Colegio dos Orfaos de Saio Joaquim (College of St. Joachim and Orphans of the Lyceum) as well as a subject he tutored (Burns). Querino’s low teaching salary forced him to supplement his income decorating and painting, which gave him the opportunity to create jobs for other Black laborers. From 1888 to 1895 the Provincial Directory of Public Works hired him as a designer.2 In 1896, he entered the state Secretary of Agriculture as a "Third Official," a position he held until his retirement in 1916 (Burns).

In an atmosphere where media images were used to demean and stereotype the Africans of Brazil (much like in America today) Querino brilliantly used black pictures to illustrate positive images of Africans. Sabrina Gledhill wrote:

“After leaving politics, disillusioned, Manuel Querino focused on work for which he is best remembered: a collection of research that is of fundamental importance for the history of the arts in Brazil, the Brazilian historiography in general and the formation of black identity in this country. Querino was the only intellectual of his time to value the African contribution to Brazilian civilization. He played a key role in the rescue and documentation of the contributions of Africans and their descendants to the development of Brazil and preserved a considerable amount of information on the arts, artists and artisans of Bahia. Moreover, he provided abundant data about the customs, culture and religion of Africans and their descendants.”

"Nothing overshadows the value of art; Nobody is more noble than the photographer"

- Manuel R. Querino

2 A favorable commentary on an architectural plan drawn by Querino for a public school appeared in the Jornal de Noflcias, May 29, 1883.

Querino, who earned the admiration of Booker T. Washington, was a soldier, an entrepreneur, a photographer, a professor of industrial design, an abolitionist, a journalist, labor leader, politician, educator, and most importantly...a passionate advocate for the rights of Black Brazilians! One can only imagine the glory that could be had by the Africans of 2014 if the wealthy and intellectual were so passionate. One can only imagine what Manuel Raimundo Querino would have accomplished if he had the money of today’s entertainers. What would Querino have accomplished with a talk show, a network, or the internet? His media of the day was pictures, and he was brilliant in that regard. There is a gross imbalance between the importance of Querino’s work and what is known about him outside of Bahia and Brazil. Manuel Raimundo Querino should be known, talked about and praised throughout the African diaspora. His words and methods should be studied intensely...he is the conscience of Brazil!


Albuquerque, Wlamyra (2011) -PBS Black in Latin America E02, Brazil: A Racial Paradise

Burns, E. Bradford (1974) - Manuel Querino's Interpretation of the African Contribution to Brazil

Gledhill, Sabrina (2006) - Manuel Raimundo Querino (1851/1923) Biography

Graden, Dale Torsten (2006) - From Slavery to Freedom in Brazil: Bahia, 1835-1900

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