Encyclopedia Negra brings audiences closer to anonymous and famous narratives

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Born in Bahia in 1755, Father Joaquim de Souza Ribeiro graduated in law in Coimbra and obtained, in audience with Pope Pius VI, permission to be a missionary in Spanish America, where he was possibly the only Brazilian to witness the Haitian revolution.

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Between comings and goings, he was arrested twice, tried to contact Napoleon Bonaparte and traveled through different parts of Europe and the Americas. This cinematic life – almost a Forrest Gump of the Age of Revolutions – is just one of more than 500 people portrayed in the Black Encyclopedia, a monumental work organized by historians Flávio dos Santos Gomes and Lilia Moritz Schwarcz and by artist Jaime Lauriano.

Following the maxim of the journalist Eliane Brum, for whom “it is more difficult to find ‘one in a million’ than to find a million”, the Encyclopedia Negra emphasizes the individual’s narrative to humanize the story. Instead of talking about the huge numbers of Africans kidnapped and enslaved in Brazil and other Afro-Atlantic routes, the book chooses to shed light on private dramas, many of which little or nothing is known, in order to show the ordinary people whose lives were marked by the gears of history with a capital H.

In an encyclopedic format, the work features individual or collective entries that narrate, in a few lines, the lives of black people, some born in Brazil, others brought here, some famous and others anonymous. Religious leaders, writers, musicians, politicians, sportsmen share space with ordinary people about whom little is known, but whose lives offer glimpses of a Brazil more diverse than the story told in school desks usually suggests.