Black roots finally allowed to show

13th October 2000 at 01:00

SCHOOLS are introducing lessons on African history and the Atlantic slave trade to raise pupils'awareness and pride in the country's black roots.

More than 140 primaries and secondaries and many community schools have joined a United Nations campaign which supplies books to schools, and demonstrates African influences in music, art and cooking.

The Atlantic slave trade brought millions of Africans to Brazil and more than half of today's 160 million population has some black roots, although many do not acknowledge it.

Schools here traditionally focus on European colonisation and sideline Afro-Brazilian history.

"Black people feature in our school history books as an insignificant, inferior, passive, enslaved race, without culture. And in many schools Afro-Brazilian history was totally left out," said Joel Rufino, the co-ordinator of the project organised by the United Nations' educational organisation.

"We want teachers and young people to change a traditionally prejudiced approach and are encouraging lessons that raise pride among pupils with black ancestry, and show up what a strong influence African culture has had on Brazil," he added.

The project provides books and historical documents on African societies before slavery, the transatlantic slave trade and the struggles against colonial njustices.

"We have mounted a kind of moving library which sends books on African history to all the schools that have joined the project," said Briane Bicca, a UNESCO co-ordinator.

"The documentation allows pupils to run their own research and we then encourage them to share their findings with other pupils from other schools and even with children in other countries that were also on the slave route."

Pupils at the Colegio do Carmo in the port city of Santos, one of the schools to join the campaign, discovered that black people from Santos were instrumental in the fight to get slavery abolished in Brazil in 1888.

The project highlights how African culture influenced Brazilian arts. "Shanty town communities organise children to perform the Congo dance and learn to play instruments which Brazil inherited from Africa," said Briane Bicca.

It also tackles the racism that is not much talked about or recognised in Brazil's so-called "melting-pot" society, where there is sometimes a huge socio-economic difference between black and white Brazilians.

"Black has always been synonymous with the poor underclass. This has to change in a modern Brazil," said Senhor Rufino.

"There is no better way to start than by getting pupils to delve into history and discover a sense of pride in their ancestry."

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