André Luís Bezerra Ferreira


Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies
Niebuhrstr. 5
D-53113 Bonn

André Luís Bezerra Ferreira.jpg
© Barbara Frommann

Academic Profile

The memories of the “sertões”: captivity, slavery and freedoms of indigenous and mestizo people in the Amazon (18th century)

The research analyzes the practices of captivity, slavery and freedom of the indigenous and their mestizo descendants in the Portuguese Amazon between the years 1680-1777. The analyzes do not stop at the polarization and dichotomy between freedom and slavery, but seek to reveal the complexity and diversity of historical, political and social processes around the actions of indigenous and mestizo freedoms in the spheres of justice. Therefore, I seek to elucidate the multiple issues that involved disputes over slave possessions, highlighting the laws and categories of socio-juridical distinctions that systematized slavery in Amazonian society; the sociabilities and relationships of asymmetrical dependencies tangential to the dynamics of mestizagem between masters, indigenous, Africans and mestizos in domestic and urban areas that resulted in the formation of social identities marked by miscegenation; the articulations of masters and slaves in the spheres of justice.

At first, the problematization of sources so that I can understand the intertwining of legal practices and asymmetric dependency relationships in the Amazon is the crucial point that justifies my integration into the BCDSS. For a long time, historiography adopted a binomial view according to which the oppressors and the oppressed are clearly separated, with any type of contact between them being suspected of cooptation, manipulation, betrayal and/or self-interest. In this view, the exploitation inflicted by some and the resistance triggered by others have large dimensions, as the focus is on general structures, and less on particular experiences. In recent years, however, a growing interest in the latter has emerged. Thus, there is greater attention to gaps within the oppressive system, whether they are in the informal field of human relationships and interactions or in the formal field of laws and rules valid in that society. Immersion in the sources makes it clear that the Indians and mestizos, although subjected to a logic that aimed to explore them, were also perceptive agents, knowing how to take advantage of both the ambiguities and the specificities of certain clauses.

The processes of freedom that I analyze were driven by subjects from indigenous groups who originally inhabited the sertões and floodplains of the Amazon River and who, for at least two or three generations, were inserted in colonial society. Thus, the fact that many of these Indians and mestizos were born in their masters' homes or in other urban spaces, intensified their insertion in the dynamics of mestizajes, cultural and biological, established between the various colonial agents. However, the slaves did not fail to (re)know their origins. In fact, when claiming their freedoms in the spheres of administration and colonial justice, these subjects routinely mentioned their grandparents and great-grandparents, denouncing the illegalities in which they were rescued, imprisoned or descended from the sertões of the Amazon River to the towns of Maranhão. In this sense, I argue that, in a context marked by the intensification of the mestizaje dynamics, it is identified that the slaves in court made use of family memories in order to (re)affirm their indigenous origins. This strategy, in addition to an ethno-social qualification, had a legal and political dimension, since native origins could guarantee their freedoms.

P.h.D in Social History of the Amazon, Federal University of Pará, UFPA, Brazil. 

M. A. in Social History of the Amazon, Federal University of Pará, UFPA, Brazil.

B. A in Human Sciences - History. Federal University of Maranhão, UFMA, Brazil.

Researcher at the Mauritshuis Museum, The Hague, Netherlands.

International Research Internship at the University of Sevilla, Spain.

National Doctoral Internship at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil.


  • Injustos Cativeiros: os índios no Tribunal da Junta das Missões do Maranhão. Belo Horizonte: Caravana Grupo Editorial, 2021.

Articles published in academic journals

  • Modos de viver: a administração portuguesa e a legislação indigenista na Amazônia (1680–1757). Habitus, v. 17, p. 414–429, 2019.
  • FMães das Liberdades: os processos de mulheres indígenas no tribunal da Junta das Missões na Capitania do Maranhão (1720–1757). Fronteiras: Revista Catarinense de História, v. 31, p. 69-85, 2018.

Book Chapters

  • 2019. "Não sou escravo de nenhum senhor": os processos de liberdades indígenas na Amazônia colonial (primeira metade do século XVIII). In Caio Reis Veiga; Elias Abner Coelho Ferreira; Irana Bruna Calixto Lisboa; Jessica Maria de Queiroz Costa; Sara Concepción Chena Centurión. (Org.). História Indígena e do Indigenismo na Amazônia II. 1ed.São Carlos: Pedro e João Editores,  v. 1, p. 9–17.
  • 2018. A Junta das Missões na Capitania do Maranhão (1720–1757). In Sara da Silva Suliman; Sara Concepción Chena Centurión. (Org.). História indígena e do indigenismo na Amazônia. 1ed.São Carlos: Pedro & João Edit ores, v. 1, p. 39–59.


Articles published in conference proceedings

  • 2018. Livres por natureza: os índios e a justiça na Capitania do Maranhão (1720–1757). In VII Encontro de Pesquisa em História da UFMG, 2018, Belo Horizonte. Anais Eletrônico do VII EPHIS - Encontro de Pesquisa em História da UFMG: Diálogos Necessários. Belo Horizonte: Departamento de História, Faculdade de Filosofia e Ciências Humanas FAFICH/UFMG, v. 1. p. 152–160.
  • 2015. 'Remetidos à injusto cativeiro': a liberdade indígena e a atuação da Junta das Missões na capitania do Maranhão. (1738–1754). In II Simpósio de História em Estudos Amazônicos, , Belém. Anais do II Simpósio de História em Estudos Amazônicos. Belém: Editora Açaí, v. 2. p. 31–40.
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