Valongo Wharf, Brazil’s largest slave port buried for 173 years because of the marriage of a princess

Stephen Nartey November 01, 2022
Valongo Wharf. Image via Caio Clímaco/Wikimedia Commons

The foundations of the famous slave port, Valongo Wharf, in Brazil began to take shape following the arrival of enslaved Africans in the 1800s. Prince Dom Joao VI directed that the slave hub be built in 1811. After the Brazilian authorities passed a law to ban engaging in slave trade, Valongo Wharf became a thriving market for the trading of slaves up until 1831.

The slave raiders, heavily hit by the laws abolishing slavery, began illegally smuggling enslaved Africans to work on plantations, according to Chicago Journals. Valongo Wharf was actively involved in the trafficking of slaves and negotiations of their cheap labor for the commercial sugar, cotton and indigo farms.

Valongo is derived from the word vale longo literally translated to mean long valley because it was in between two hills. It was the largest port in Brazil’s national capital, Rio de Janeiro, that sailors transported the enslaved Africans to because of its designated cells and storehouses.

For 173 years, the Valongo Wharf was buried underneath the earth until archaeological excavations to prepare the area for the 2016 Olympics unearthed the Wharf.

The researchers with foreknowledge of the port made it a point to find the remains of Valongo Wharf which have been hidden from the public eye since the 19th century. UNESCO recognized the largest slave port in 2017 as a World Heritage List and a key reference point for Afro-Brazilians and their African ancestry.

Historians have documented how early travelers to the port city described Valongo Wharf as a deplorable place unfit for human existence. Its presence was considered a blight on humanity and the very essence of the largest port. It was virtually an entry point for slaves who were being shipped from Africa to Rio de Janeiro and attracted dozens of slave owners.

The arrival of Princess Teresa Cristina of Bourbon-Two Sicilies and her subsequent marriage to Emperor Pedro II saw the extinction of the Valongo Wharf. The slave hub was earmarked and prepared as the grounds for the landing of the princess in 1843. That was the last time Valongo Wharf was opened to the public for its dark activity. The place was covered with a landfill and the place was renamed Princess Wharf.

Historians said it was a deliberate attempt by the authorities to wipe Valongo Wharf’s dark past. The street was initially named Valongo Street but changed to Empress Road. The cries and harsh treatment which represented the wharf were eventually replaced with the European princess and her court.

It was believed that 4.8 million enslaved Africans were brought to Brazil between 1560 and 1852 making the country the hub for the slave trade in Europe. The slaves were mainly brought from central Africa as well as the West and Eastern parts of Africa. The Brazilian economy thrived on cotton, coffee and sugar cane and required more cheap labor to keep its maintenance and survival.

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