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Wednesday’s Wise Woman … Maria dos Reis Firmina

October 24, 2012

Maria dos Reis Firmina (1825-1917)

‘They put me myself and another three hundred companions in misfortune and captivity in the narrow and filthy hold of a ship. Thirty days of cruel torments, and absolute lack of all that is most necessary to life in this grave until we approached the beaches of Brazil. To fit the human merchandise in the basement they were tied standing and there was no fear of revolt, chained like wild animals of our forests, which lead to the recreation potentates of Europe. ” (Ursula by Maria dos Reis Firmina).

Maria  dos Reis Firmina (1825 -1917) was born in Sao Luis do Maranhao to Leonor and Joao Pedro Esteves Fellipe do Reis. She is described in other sources as a bastard Mulatto girl living in extreme racial and social segregation. From my understanding from a translation she went to live with a maternal aunt  and was given a good education. So , against all odds she was able to attend school and at 22 years old she trained to become a teacher.
Maria went on to become the Chair of Primary Education; where she was in the position to found the first free and co-educational school.  She spent the rest of her life teaching and maintaining a career as a writer; of articles for local press and scholarly journals, poetry , fiction and even riddles.
She became very important in the national culture scene as a folklorist and composer; she wrote the anthem of the Abolition of Slavery.
As a novelist she wrote Gupeva (Indianist) published in 1861 and Ursula published earlier in 1859. This was the first abolitionist romance in Brazilian literature.I understand it was about slavery from the slaves’ point of view; condemning the injustices bound in a patriarchal society in Brazil in the 19th century.
For her own protection she used the pseudonym A Maranhense; the repercussions had she become known could not have been imagined for a black woman from the northeast Brazil.  Her true identity was not discovered until 1975.  Maria was born ahead of time as a stalwart of female emancipation, she broke barriers of prejudice and racism.  She brought to the fore the literature of the Maranhao.

It is noted in the prologue of Ursula, the Maria says that “this novel is worth little, because written by a woman, Brazilian woman, timid and without education and the conversation of learned men.”

Maria proved that without the fine education and other languages afforded by the rich, white males in Europe, she was able to fulfil her quest for knowledge with no physical barriers. Maria Firmina bravely raises her voice through what she calls “a petty and humble book.”

Maria dos Reis Fermina died aged 92 not seeing her worked recognised by leading intellectuals.

Without trusted sources and poor translations this this post cannot be considered a scholarly account. I would value constructive feedback and further information if it becomes available.

Meanwhile I hope that you will this interesting at least.  

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