The Story of Rufino: Slavery, Freedom, and Islam in the Black Atlantic

ISBN : 9780190224363

Joao Jose Reis; Flavio dos Santos Gomes; Marcus J. M. Carvalho
352 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Dec 2018
Send mail

A finalist for the Brazilian Book award and winner of the Casa de las America Prize for Brazilian Literature, The Story of Rufino: Slavery, Freedom, and Islam in the Black Atlantic was written by three experts in the history of slavery in Brazil and reconstructs the lively biography of Rufino Jose Maria, set against the historical context of Brazil and Africa in the nineteenth century. This book narrates the life of a Yoruba Muslim named Rufino Jose Maria, born in the kingdom of Oyo, in present-day Nigeria. Enslaved as an adolescent by a rival ethnic group, he was acquired by Brazilian slave traffickers and taken across the Atlantic. He spent eight years as a slave in the city of Salvador, in the northeast of Brazil, where he arrived in 1823. Rufino was later sold to the southernmost province of Rio Grande do Sul, where he became the slave of the local chief of police. Five years later, in 1835, he bought his freedom with money he saved as a hired-out slave in the streets of Salvador, in Bahia, and Porto Alegre, in Rio Grande do Sul. He may also have earned part of the money from making Islamic amulets, as he was a literate Muslim. A few years later Rufino moved to Rio de Janeiro, where he embarked as a cook on a slave ship bound for Luanda. The trans-Atlantic slave trade had been abolished in Brazil since 1831, but it continued unabated due to official tolerance, but it came under fierce repression by British cruisers especially after 1839, when England issued the Equipment Act, which allowed the capture of slavers equipped for the traffic. Rufino made a few voyages between Luanda and the northeastern province of Pernambuco before his ship was captured by the British and taken to Sierra Leone in 1841. Here the ship would face trial by the Anglo-Brazilian Mixed Commission Against the Slave Trade. While waiting for the court's decision-about three months' time-Rufino lived among Yoruba Muslims, his people, and attended Quranic and Arabic classes in the outskirts of Freetown. In a rare outcome for cases such as this one, his ship was considered a "bad prize" and returned to Pernambuco with Rufino on board, again as a cook. After a few months in Recife, Pernambuco's capital, Rufino returned to Sierra Leone as a witness in a court case started by his employers against the English government. He attended classes with Muslim masters for close to two years. When he went back to Recife via Rio de Janeiro and Bahia in 1844, he established himself as a diviner-serving whites and blacks, free and slaves, Brazilians and Africans, Muslim and non-Muslims-as well as a spiritual leader, an Alufa, in the local Afro-Muslim community. He also himself became a petty slave trader. In 1853 Rufino was arrested in Recife due to rumors of an imminent African slave revolt. The police used as evidence for his arrest the large number of manuscript books and other writings in his possession, all in Arabic, the same kind of material the Bahian police had found with Muslim rebels in Bahia thirty years earlier. During his interrogation, Rufino told his life story, which is used to reconstruct the world in which he lived under slavery in Brazil, on African shores, on board slave ships, and in Recife, where he settled. A truly Atlantic history dug out of the archives, Rufino's life is used to shed light on slavery and the slave trade, manumission, the complexities of slavery and freedom in Brazil, African freed persons, and the resilience of ethnic and religious identities. Methodologically, it combines social and cultural history with microhistory, with key academic themes of identity, creolization, African diaspora, and Atlantic history. The book is written in a lively, almost cinematic style.


1. Rufino's Africa
2. Enslaved in Bahia
3. Enslaved in Porto Alegre
4. Farroupilha and Freedom
5. Freedman in Rio de Janeiro
6. Rio de Janeiro, A City in Fear
7. Rufino Joins the Slave Trade
8. Luanda, Slave-trading Capital of Angola
9. Readying the Ermelinda
10. Rufino's Employers
11. Passengers, Shippers, and Cargo
12. The Ermelinda Goes to Sea
13. The Equipment Act
14. Sierra Leone
15. Among Akus and African Muslims
16. The trial of the Ermelinda
17. Dirty Tricks
18. Back to Sea
19. Counting the Costs
20. Rufino's Recife
21. A Man of Faith and Sorcery
22. Tense Times in Rufino's Recife
23. A Free Man
24. The Muslims of Recife and a Doctrinal Dispute
Sources and Works Cited

About the author: 

Joao Jose Reis is Professor of History at the Universidade Federal da Bahia and a honorary foreign member of the American Historical Association. He is author of Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia, Death Is a Festival: Funeral Rites and Rebellion in Nineteenth-Century Brazil, winner of the AHA Clarence Haring Prize, and Domingos Sodre, an African Priest in Brazil. Flavio dos Santos Gomes is Professor of History at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. Marcus J. M. Carvalho is Professor of History at the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco.

The price listed on this page is the recommended retail price for Japan. When a discount is applied, the discounted price is indicated as “Discount price”. Prices are subject to change without notice.