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Cute Furniture.. and Slavery??

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As I don’t have a car, I rely on the internet for some things and mostly just walking around my neighborhood.  Here in São Paulo don’t just go to the “furniture area” or the shopping area, as nestled amongst houses can be the cutest boutique, chocolate shop, or furniture store.  So every day I manage to make it out of the house to somewhere other than the grocery store, I try and visit a new street.   In my neighborhood my husband ran across a cute rustic furniture store.  I would have loved to buy a bunch of cute things from the store, but the money miser pointed out that we are here for a little over a year now, and have to ship things back or leave them here.  So all I picked up was a cute office desk, which I will be shipping back.

The store is kind of a shabby chic, Brazil style store.  Deposito Mineiro The wood is all brightly colored,pink, blue, and yellow.  It is supposed to be made of wood from old houses (some of it at least). The website pretty much shows everything in the store, so you can check all of the cute furniture out, but I also took photos, and wrote down a few prices.  The desks were about R$540 to R$600.  The wrought iron rose decorations ranged from ~R$20 to R$300

I would have loved to buy one of the armoires made from old shutters, but they were around R$1950 and well, we have so much space in our house, we don’t really need it.  AND it would be HUGE to bring back to the US and heavy, but I think it is very cute, and would look great in a kid’s room.

They also had lots of various doves, kind of Spanish Catholic decor. I think they are really cute, and would rather put one of these on my wall for decor, than those 50’s style sun clocks that seem to be so popular with all of the interior designers lately.  I may just come back from the US with one of these.  This is the larger one, and they had little small ones, but I would much rather the larger one.

Finally, this is a bad photo as I took it from outside the store, but I found this HIGHLY unusual, and I know I would never see this in the US, nor would a store prominently display it in their front window.  The store calls the larger than life figurine: Mucama em Madeira Maciça or Large Wood Mucama… which I tried to tell myself was just a woman of the house (come on I was trying to give Brazil the benefit of the doubt).

So what is a Mucama?  Per Wikipedia:

Chambermaid is the name given to a slave who was once black in Brazil concubine, the slave masters but also the sexual girl who was chosen to assist in domestic service or accompany family members, usually Sinha. She was chosen specifically for these functions and ended up being taken as a slave pet. Sometimes also was the wet nurse . Example in the literature have the Maid of Lucinda Joaquim Manoel de Macedo . The maids were often subjected to torture and threats to their masters. There are few novels that put such characters as heroes and as advisors of the daughters of coffee barons and owners of farms.

From a Brazilian dictionary site:

sf slave who helped in household chores, accompanying family members of Mr. and sometimes it was the wet nurse.

So yeah, a larger than life, slave figure is considered completely acceptable to use to decorate your home.  Race in Brazil is such an interesting thing.  Stereotypes, political correctness, all of that doesn’t seem to exist here.  People do not get offended over you pointing out their race or pigeon holing them due to their race.While slavery was practiced on a much larger scale here in Brazil than it was in America, the attitude towards slavery is very much different than it is in the US.  What I mean by that is I feel like in the US there is a shame of slavery, and for African Americans there is the sense of the injustice of what occurred in America.  However, here in Brazil, I get a sense that it is accepted that it was part of history, there is no ill feeling of deserving reparation for the former bonds of slavery.   The fundamental difference is that in Brazil slaves were just considered the lowest form of labor, they were (and probably the lowest workers are still looked on in the same way) looked down upon for being unskilled or uneducated.  However, they were not looked down upon because of their race, that never entered into the equation.  Slaves were able to marry, and today and then, Brazil is a huge melting pot of various ethnicities.  So it was not just the white plantation owner who had a slave, it was simply a matter of the classes (whatever ethnicity or ethnicities you may have been). In America, we turned them into nothing more than objects and took away their humanity… which probably links to why we were so incredibly horrible to our slaves compared to the Brazilian people. So in the end, I guess a Brazilian statue of a black maid, is just that a historical bit of decor, not as it would be in the US, a constant reminder that we actually thought another human to be nothing more than an object to be bought and sold.  I do think that the huge injustice felt by African Americans, probably provided them more opportunities to be considered equals in society easier and be given more opportunities, than the black Brazilian, whose role in society is still it seems, affected and stereotyped.  I know, I know, this was supposed to just be a piece on some cute furniture I found.


About scrubgrub

I'm just another soul on the internet, posting random thoughts into the ether, because well I love stumbling on other peoples random thoughts, so I figured why not add mine to the mix too. I'm also the mom to two very funny little boys, and how can you not share that with everyone?

8 responses »

  1. The furniture is really cute. I think someone gave us a Mucama figure for our wedding. Don’t know where it is, but definitely not going to go searching for it now.

  2. When we went to Tiradentes we bought a piece a lot like you are showing (we are here for a while though). In Vila Madalena where I live tons of these furniture shops are all over the place and about the same prices as you mentioned. Outside of Tiradentes a lot of it is made so our piece was about 1/3 the cost of the ones in Sao Paulo and its the same stuff. We couldn’t believe how much cheaper it was and then it was 50R to ship it on a truck 6 hours back to SP! Another shocker! Anyways just wanted to mention for anyone interested in more pieces, thats the place to get them! Also, the chambermaid ladies are EVERYWHERE there, in every store. I had no idea the backstory wow!

    • ojeitobrasileiro

      Good tip, I’m looking for somewhere to go, that is not beach! … and get some cute stuff for the house… even if I am only here for a year.

  3. Pingback: A day off in Sao Paulo « O Jeito Brasileiro

  4. Can I come in defense of the big black doll? It’s not a mucama. These dolls are really common in Minas Gerais, where I am from, and they come in all sizes and colors as you can see here
    The dolls have nothing to do with slavery what so ever. They may have African features because, oh well, there’s a predominance of African people in the area and one of the ladies who makes them said that she shapes the dolls after herself, so her dolls look like her. Does she consider herself to be a slave? Hardly. Were her great-grand parents slaves? Probably. And the tradition probably started with them too. These people are really proud to say that the ceramic doll making goes from generation to generation. They have been around for as long as I can remember.
    I see where you’re coming from with the idea of a mucama for the dolls, but it’s not what it’s.

    • ojeitobrasileiro

      I get where you are coming from as there is a very strong Afro-Brazilian influence in the art here. Not that I know much about art in Brazil, or could find much on it. However, I do think that’s different than what this one said it was. In fact, I am quite partial to African art, myself. However, this one said it was a Mucama doll. Not a black figurine, representing the beauty of Afro-Brasil. So for me, I may think of buying some of the other dolls or art work, but this one both in the way it was posed and labeled, isn’t something I would ever feel comfortable with.

  5. TupiniquimNosEUA

    May I give my two cents? The definition given by wikipedia is not a good one, nor was its translation into English. I will try to help clarify some things to the best of my knowledge.

    A Mucama was usually the babysitter/nanny of the daughter/son of a plantation owner, i.e., fazendeiro. A mucama was usually chosen when the child was born.

    In some cases, the fazendeiro’s wife would die during labor or become very sick, or would not be able to breastfeed her child (we are talking rural Brazil in the 1800’s). In this case they would choose a mucama who was herself a mother of an infant so she could also serve as “ama de leite” which means she would breastfeed the newborn. I can’t figure out how “ama de leite” became “wet nurse”. It puzzles me. Anyway…

    The mucama would accompany the daugher everywhere. In that sense they would be very close and because life in a “fazenda” can be very lonely, they would become friends and confidants. I don’t know if pet slave would be the correct term to describe it, she was her favorite – for lack of a better word, her beloved slave, her companion. The mucama would continue to serve her even after she got married and they would grow old together.

    Now, if instead, the newborn was a boy and the nanny/mucama chosen – unwisely – to take care of him was a young beautiful slave, you can imagine what could, would and did happen.

    In short, the moral/ethics of the slave owners would define how they were treated or abused. I’m not defending slavery, I think it was/is an awful thing and no human being ever deserved to be treated like that. But it happened, and I think it is a good thing to have them honored in the arts.

    I don’t know how and when it became part of the artisans’ craft, but Brazilians like to portrait their history and their culture, perhaps like Samia said, the artisans depict themselves or members of their families… and there is sort of a romanticism around those characters of the past.

    There are chess boards made out of clay with Lampião and Maria Bonita as the King and Queen. They were the most vile criminals of their time. And still, they are a great source of income for the artisans of “nordeste”.

    I don’t think that buying a figurine like that means one is supporting slavery. If anything, it would be supporting the artisan, who like Native Americans, such as the Navajos and the Hopi support their families through their crafts, such as sculptures, rugs, baskets, etc.

    Sorry, it turned out to be too long, but I hope it helps.

  6. ojeitobrasileiro

    A wet nurse is just what you described, someone who nurses your child for you… at least in the US. Your reponse is very Brazilian, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s just that American’s and Brazilians view this part of history very differently. Just like your explanation above about how the slave became a friend and a confidant, and “sometimes” were mistreated… it’s interesting. As you note in my post…
    “So in the end, I guess a Brazilian statue of a black maid, is just that a historical bit of decor, not as it would be in the US, a constant reminder that we actually thought another human to be nothing more than an object to be bought and sold.”

    See for an American, a slave is a slave and is a mark on our history. Keeping slave parafanelia, for the most part, especially by a white girl like me, would not go over well in any circle.

    Yes some slaves were treated well and some bad, but they were still not free to do as they pleased. The Mucama, while a beloved part of a Brazilian family, in the end did not choose that life for herself. My main point is the very stark difference in historical rememberence of slavery between our two countries.


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