Manoel Joaquim Ricardo was an African-born Bahian entrepreneur and one of a small number of freed Africans who were able to achieve social and economic prominence in nineteenth-century Brazil.
Ricardo was of Hausa (from Modern Nigeria and Niger) origin and was probably enslaved during the Fulani jihad (1804–10), which saw the defeat of Hausa kingdoms and many Hausa slaves transported to Bahia.
Ricardo remained enslaved for more than three decades, until his master manumitted all of his sixteen slaves in his will. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Ricardo managed to establish himself as a merchant and even acquire slaves of his own while still enslaved in Salvador de Bahia. Like his former master, Ricardo would eventually invest in slave trading and other merchant activities on the African continent.
The prosperity Ricardo enjoyed is attested by the large house he occupied until his death, which included slave quarters. Many of Ricardo’s slaves were listed as wage-earners (escravos de ganho), urban slaves who generated good incomes for their masters by selling diverse goods on the streets of Salvador. In turn, wage-earning slaves shared a small part of the master’s profits, enabling many to save enough money to purchase their own freedom.
Ricardo’s life was disrupted by the 1835 slave and Muslim-led uprising known as the Malê Revolt. The provincial government promptly issued a law targeting African residents, leading to mass imprisonment, confiscation of property, and deportation to Africa. Not directly charged, Ricardo nevertheless had to employ ingenious maneuvers to avoid penalties. These included purchasing property in the name of his Brazilian-born children and redirecting investments to the purchase of slaves, one of the few remaining legal economic activities for freed Africans.
Likely a Muslim by origin, Ricard was a self-declared Catholic but also maintained close connections to Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian syncretic religion centered on the cult of the Yorubá Orishas (deities). He was friends with the freed African and Candomblé priest Domingos Sodré, and oral tradition suggests that he was the founding priest of the highly regarded Oxumaré temple in Salvador. It is plausible that Ricardo tried to keep his Afro-Brazilian religiosity out of the spotlight to avoid police repression.
Upon his death in 1865, Ricardo was given a full Catholic burial. The fortune he left behind included land, three houses, and twenty-seven slaves. As such, he occupied a rare position among the narrow economic elite of Bahia, consisting mostly of free born Euro-descendants.
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