Interesting issues emerged in the session Quilombos and maroons of the Americas

The session Quilombos and maroons of the Americas: mirror of differences held at the XXXVIII International Americanistic Studies Congress was very good. The panelists’ contributions were diverse and complementary and shed light on different facets of the matter, with different approach and point of view.

I summarize here some of the most interesting issues emerged in the session. What follows is drawn from the panelists speeches, but it’s my personal re-interpretation and thus it doesn’t express the view or the opinion of the panelists themselves 1.

1) The Brazilian Government stance toward the quilombola issue is insufficient: the pace of the quilombo recognition is too slow, too few quilombo gained the land title from the time where this law was established (three of four paper were about Brazilian quilombo; this point refers to Brasil, while the other one also to maroons in other Latin American countries) 2.

2) The people who recognise themselves as indio, or quilombola, or one of the the different kind of “traditional peoples” (povos tradicionais), do not feel fitting “strictly” in this definition (as the law states and sometime the academic characterization wants). In fact, historically, and even today, there is a circulation between these different categories, and many people think to belong to more than one of these ones. That doesn’t means that these categories are insignificant os specious, but that could be useful, both in the research and in the policies, to take account of the very permeable boundaries, and the intertwining of these sets.

3) The dialogue between research on the contemporary and on the historical quilombo could shed new light in both the fields. This is not true in the most predictable form of cooperation: finding the historical roots of the contemporary quilombo, because in most of the cases the ancient traces of the historical quilombo were wiped out by emargination, displacement, migration. On the contrary, the relation between the two field of research could focus on comparison; indeed, many issues at stake in the ancient quilombo are also present in the contemporary ones, as, for example, the conflict and the intertwining with indigenous people.

4) The relationship between quilombola, on one part, and the black movement, on the other, is a complex one. Most quilombola doesn’t identify themselves with the black movement – or event they aren’t fully aware of it; at the same time, the black movement, although it recognises the quilombola to be part of a common root, it reproaches them the moderation and the non identification to some cultural standards.

  1. Some or all of the paper presented will be published in the proceedings of the Congress.
  2. The new government, lead by the interim president Michel Temer, will be very likely significantly worse than the previous one. For example, the quilombo matters will be in charge of the Ministry of Culture, with far less relevance than within the Instituto Nacional de Colonizaçao Agraria (the body in charge of the land matters); the Ministry of Culture, José Mendonça Bezerra Filho, belongs to the DEM party, traditionally adverse to quilombola territory recognition. Beside that, the new government abolished the Ministério das Mulheres, da Igualdade Racial e dos Direitos Humanos (Ministry of Women, Racial Equality and Human Rights).

Invite to the session “Quilombo and maroons of America” of the International Americanistic Studies Congress

The sessions of the International Americanistic Studies Congress are published: among them, one regarding quilombo I proposed. Below the session abstract. The Circolo Amerindiano has organized the Congress for 38 years. This years will take place in Perugia (Italy), as usual, in May, 3rd to 10th.

The registration to the session is open and will close January the 20th. It could be done by this form.

Quilombo and maroons of America: mirror of differences

All America is characterized by the presence of afro-descendants communities today, peculiar for their collective nature and for their relation with the surrounding society, alternately of isolation or opposition- besides never absolute and definitive. These communities are called in different ways: quilombo, palenque, mocambo, etc..

These communities differ a lot, for exogenous reasons (for example the circumstances in which the slave-labour has been introduced in the region, the peculiarities of the national societies in which they are, the characters of pre-Colombian peoples) and for endogenous reasons (the circumstances of the community formation, their organisation, etc.).

Some questions are transversal to different contexts and they represent interesting points of reflection; we indicate, in particular:
– the tension that quilombo people have experienced between, at the one hand, the spur to the inclusion in the surrounding society, and, on the other hand, the differentiation from this society;
– the relation and the connections between the quilombo of the past and the quilombo of the present;
– the articulation between quilombo’s self-affirmation, access to resources (especially the land) and reparation;
– the relation between quilombo’s immaterial culture, the surrounding society’s one and the national society’s one.

In this session some case-studies are presented. They concern quilombo of various places in which they are present, and the above mentioned questions are discussed.

Women in her backyard. Cangume village, Itaóca municipality, Vale do Ribeira, São Paulo state, Brazil (c) Luca Fanelli/ ISA
Women in her backyard. Cangume village, Itaóca municipality, Vale do Ribeira, São Paulo state, Brazil (c) Luca Fanelli/ ISA

“Quilombo e maroons of America” session programme



Friday, May the 6th, 8.30 am

Sala del Consiglio Comunale, Palazzo dei Priori, Corso Vannucci 19 – Perugia, Italy

Session “Quilombos and maroons of the Americas: mirror of differences”

Véronique Boyer (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France)
presents Os antropólogos e os quilombolas: discursos eruditos, intervenções práticas, interpretações locais

Charles Beatty-Medina (Department of History, University of Toledo, United States)
presents Africans in Native Garb, the legacy of marronage in the early Spanish Americas

Eliane Cantarino O’Dwyer (Departamento de Antropologia, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brasil)
presents Profetismos e práticas de cura: saber tradicional dos remanescentes de quilombo de Oriximiná-PA

Aderval Costa Filho (Departamento de Antropologia e Arqueologia, Faculdade de Filosofia e Ciências Humanas, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brasil)
presents Quilombos no Brasil: processos identitários, territoriais, políticas de desenvolvimento e proteção/ omissão do Estado

Mary Kenny (Eastern Connecticut State University, United States)
presents Identity, place and minor narratives: quilombolas in the sertão of northeast Brazil

Congress programme here.

Credible Rights Based Alternative VS Economic Alternative

I wrote this text as an answer to some questions Nazmul Ahsan (Senior Program Officer at ActionAid Bangladesh) asked to the colleagues. Maybe it could be useful to clarify some issue at stake in our program work.

Does Economic Alternative can create credible rights based alternative? it is complementary or supplementary?

First of all, I think is necessary to agree about the terms. In the ActionAid Human Right Based Approach manual, People’s Action In Practice (available here: only feminist economic alternatives is defined, as “innovative solutions that seek to address the gender biases in the present economic system (at both micro and macro levels) and that recognise the significance of unpaid care work”, while alternatives are defined as “ideas which stretch the scope of our existing interventions or frameworks – promising something different for the future, something positive, something that changes systems”.

Whithin this framework, we must consider as economic alternative only a structural change, as, for instance, a more fair fiscal system? Maybe not: further in the handbook the scope of economic alternative is narrowed a little bit; we read “A lot of our work in promoting economic alternatives for women will focus on young women, reducing the multiple responsibilities of care work they juggle and helping them find new forms of sustainable income“.

Holding that true, we can say that economic and right based alternative are intertwined and complementary.

Intertwined because, for instance, a fairer tax system is both a right based and an economic alternative; the same is for a minimum income scheme.

Complementary, because, for example, strengthening small business held by people in poverty, is an economic alternative (to overcome poverty), that, along with other economic alternatives (as strengthening occupability), is necessary, but not sufficient to overcome poverty. For example, not all people could run a small business or find a decent work, because of illness, age, or discrimination.

In the same way, right based alternatives are necessaries, but not sufficient too. A minimum income it’s right to create a safety net for people in poverty, but it isn’t an answer for a young or adult women or man who would like to have a job. To put another example: a universal health system is a fundamental right based alternative, very useful to prevent people to fall in poverty, but it’s not sufficient to overcome poverty in itself.

Where the economic alternative hit to change the structural cause?

Somehow I’ve answered this question above, showing how right based and economic alternatives are intertwined.

It’s clear that the micro economic alternatives doesn’t change the system, but insert some people into the system; they are alternative because they change – or may change – the power relations.

I can add that, from an historical and empirical point of view, the two side have a circular feedback: people who are improving their economic position, will probably fight for their rights (not only economic), while universal civil, political and social rights give all opportunities to have economic alternatives.

What are the key aspects we need to ensure in our work on creating economic alternative?

I think this question deals with many many issues, but I try to answer with three points:

1) Economic alternatives (in the broad and narrow meaning) have to be effective. If a family starts a small business, it has to be sustainable in the long term, and give the family the very opportunity to escape poverty.

2) Economic alternatives has to be also environmental and social sound. This goal, of course, many times clashes with the first point, but an unjust economic activity is, by definition, not an alternative.

3) Said that, the “problem” of the economic alternatives (and, I think of most of the economic realm) is that many changes – not all, but many – are beneficial to someone and detrimental to others, at least in a comparative way. This point has to be kept in mind, notwithstanding it’s quite impossible to deal with it and, at the same time, do something in this field.

Tarubá production process

We wrote in another post about tarubá, a fermented beverage made with cassava.

How it’s done? The process isn’t easy and it’s worth a documentation. We present here how Maria do Socorro Oliveira produces it. Maria is from the Escrivão village, along the great Tapajós river, within the Aveiro municipality, in the Brazilian Amazon.

Maria explained us (me and my daughter Karen) the production process in detail and she consented to record it by pictures. These are taken by Adamor Cardoso.

As long as I know, this is the first comprehensive recording of the tarubá production process.

We tried to understand better also the issue of puçanga, a powder strewed on the cassava paste. This powder is made toasting and crumbling the leaves of a specific plant. The same plant is used to cover the paste, while it rests. This plant popular name is curumim; there aren’t reliable sources that identify it, but we deem that is Trema micrantha (L.) Blum.

Tarubá production process diagram

Tarubá production process diagram

Photographic record of the whole tarubá production process

Cassava in Roero

Tucupi, cassava flour and tarubá. On the background, the farmsted in Pocapaglia, Cuneo, Piemonte, Italy. October 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli
Tucupi, cassava flour and tarubá. On the background, the farmsted in Pocapaglia, Cuneo, Piemonte, Italy. October 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli

The cassava (Manihot esculenta) doesn’t grow up in the Roero region (Italy), but for one night was the star in Pocapaglia. Here, a group of student of the University of Gastronomic Sciences, hosted by Konstantin and Karen, could taste the true Amazonian cassava flour, the hot tucupi sauce and the tarubá.

All the three products are so important in the Amazon gastronomy, and so unknown outside this region – in particular, the tucupi and the tarubá.

The tasting. Pocapaglia, Cuneo, Piemonte, Italy. October 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli
The tasting. Pocapaglia, Cuneo, Piemonte, Italy. October 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli

New car, a good deal for the environment?

The current scandal involving Volkswagen, among other things, add a new chapter on the long lasting dispute between who say that it’s more environmentally friendly to buy a new low emission car, and the ones who say it’s better to keep the old one.

The points are:
– in the whole life of a car, which part of emissions come from the manufacture of the car (and its disposal);
– how many hour/ km will you drive your car during its whole life;
– how much the new car is more efficient than the previous one.

The first point it’s a matter of debate. One of the better articles on the issue (2006), by Leo Hickman, cited two studies, one saying that manufacturing represents the 10% of the whole-life emissions, the other the 45% (see Another research, cited here, says it’s 12%. The point, here, it’s that the manufacturing process is too complex to be assessed, too many variable are involved, and so, for us, lacks the first pillar for a wise decision.

The second point is a matter of mathematics: as the manufacturing and disposal emissions are fixed, their percentage is lower as much as I use my car. If manufacturing emissions represents the 10% of the whole-life emissions if I drive for 140.000 km, they represents 19% if I drive 70.000 km (using the first research cited by Hickman).

The third point seemed to be rock-solid: emissions are steadily and significantly reducing from one generation of the car to another. But — and then we come back to the VW story, that uncovered a broader problem — the improvements are likely to happen only in the laboratory, as Greg Archer, of Transport and environment points out clearly in an interview on the BBC Business Daily: “over the last 3 years there hasn’t been any improvement in the efficiency of cars on the road”.

Even more important: which pace the improvements must have to justify buying a new car more often? I’ve tried, in a very simple way, to compare two people that, over 35 years, buy 4 or 7 cars, using the already mentioned researches data: the difference in emissions between the two is irrelevant!

See the spreadsheet.[:pt]The current scandal involving VolksWagen, among other things, add a new chapter on the long lasting dipute between who say that it’s more envirnomentally friendly to buy a new low emission car, and the ones who say it’s better to keep the old one.

A visit in Prainha to know the “state of the art” of the piracui production

Fisherman with acari. Prainha 2015. Picture by Tamara Saré
Fisherman with acari. Prainha 2015. Picture by Tamara Saré

Since 2008 I have struggled to find ways to support the piracui producers of Prainha, Pará, Brasil. I spent the past August in the Amazon region. So, I decided to visit them. I was absent from the region since 2010 and I wanted to update my information. Beside that, my idea was to record some interviews, in order to tell with the fishermen’s own words their harsh and delicate work.

To organise the visit I counted on my friend Ivonete, who, together with me, is responsible for the piracui in the Slow Food’s Ark of taste. We created a little team, with Revelino e Flodivaldo, da Colônia de Pescadores, Tamara, photographer and friend, Karen, who’s studying at the University of Gastronomic Sciences and, by the way, is my daughter.

We gathered many and high-quality information, and some great testimonies, I’ll try to put in this blog or elsewhere.

I already was, but I’m now more convinced that for the piracui producers is urgent to produce less with the same income. This means that who now produces an hight-quality piracui would continue to do that; who doesn’t, has to increase the quality. And the quality must be appreciated. Only organisation among the fishermen and the right incentives from the local buyers could do that.

This change is not only important for the fishermen livelihood, but also for the environment, since the over-production of piracui is threatening the very base of it, the fish called acari1.

The proble isn’t demand: piracui has a strong, and maybe growing, regional market (Santarém, Manaus, Belém, maybe Fortaleza): nearly 10 tons of piracui leave Prainha every year; as everyone who already prepared some dish with piracui, this is a huge amount!

But in this market there aren’t incentives to promote quality. The producer who makes a good piracui generally receives some extra money from the local buyer, but his piracui is sold to the consumer mixed with low-quality piracui. And the local consumer couldn’t choose between a “good” or “bad” piracui, or even doesn’t know at all there is a “good” and “bad” piracui.

Beside that, though there are some very clear point about “what process makes a good piracui” , many uncertainties remain, above all regarding preservation. And it’s very important that the issue of food safety comes “from below” and not “top-down”. Today, no sanitary control exists; but, sooner or later, something would come. And if that it is put in place in a way that doesn’t take in account the local specificities, many producers will be hit — and maybe some of the best producers. There is in Brazil a very interesting debate about adapting the sanitary rules to small-producers (see a news about that, in Portuguese), but we still have a long way 2.

You’ll find a more detailed account of the outcome of the visit here (text in Portuguese).

I really hope that some actors could become interested in the matter and engage themselves in supporting local people in the way for a more sustainable production of piracui, that could also help to rise the living standards in the region.

The whole team. From left to right: Revelino, Ivonete, Flodivaldo, Luca, Karen e Tamara. Rio Vira Sebo. Prainha, PA, Brasil. 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli
The whole team. From left to right: Revelino, Ivonete, Flodivaldo, Luca, Karen e Tamara. Rio Vira Sebo. Prainha, PA, Brasil. 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli
  1. There are other causes for the decline, but the over-catch is one of the more this is probably very relevant.
  2. Also the 2006 FAO/ WHO document Guidance to governments on the application of HACCP in smalland/or less-developed food businesses points in this direction.

Photography as a source for history now online

Luca FANELLI, La fotografia come fonte storica, «I viaggi di Erodoto», v. 40, 1999.

Questo articolo si pone a chiusura di una serie di testi che affrontarono, non direttamente, ma con una grande ricchezza di spunti, la questione della fotografia come fonte storica, e in un certo modo anticipa un’altro gruppo di scritti, più maturi, che hanno tematizzato, discusso ed approfondito il tema.

Scarica l’articolo (.pdf/it/6,85Mb).

Testi citati nell’articolo.

Testi sul tema (alcuni testi citati nell’articolo, più altre opere, più recenti).


Luca FANELLI, La fotografia come fonte storica [Photography as a source for history], «I viaggi di Erodoto», v. 40, 1999.

This article closes a sequence of works that deal – not directly, but gathering a lot of clues – with the question of the photography as a source for history; as the same time, in some way it anticipates another later group of works, more mature, that debated and deepened the understanding of this issue.

Download the article (.pdf/it/6,85Mb).

Works cited in the article.

Works related to the issue (some works cited in the article, with some other newer works).

Luca FANELLI, La fotografia come fonte storica [A fotografia como fonte para a história], «I viaggi di Erodoto», v. 40, 1999.

Este artigo fecha uma fase, onde várias obras relacionaram-se à questão da fotografia como fonte para a história, não fazendo isso de forma direta, mas sim proporcionando um grande volume de idéias e sugestões; de alguma forma, ele antecede um outro grupo de trabalhos, mais maduros, que se confrontam com o assunto mais amplamente e mais profundamente.

Baixar o artigo (.pdf/it/6,85Mb).

Obras citadas no artigo.

Obras relacionadas ao tema (uma parte das obras citadas no artigo, com outros textos mais recentes).