Nascimento, Abdias do (1914–)

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Nascimento, Abdias do (1914–)

Abdias do Nascimento is a Brazilian playwright, educator, and political activist. Nascimento was born on March 14, 1914, in Franca, São Paulo, and received a degree in economics from the University of Rio de Janeiro in 1938.

Among his first political actions was his participation in the Frente Negra Brasileira, which he joined in the late 1930s. In 1944 Nascimento founded the Teatro Experimental do Negro (TEN), initiating a twenty-four-year career as a theater director and playwright. TEN won critical acclaim with its productions of such works as Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones and Nascimento's own play, O sortilégio. TEN also served as a vehicle for Nascimento's political activism. As a complement to TEN, Nascimento formed the Comité Democrático Afro-Brasileiro in 1945, to lobby the Brazilian Congress for the enactment of antidiscrimination legislation. Nascimento's efforts in this regard presaged the passage of the Afonso Arinos Law of 1951, Brazil's first law against racial discrimination. Nascimento also displayed leadership in the Brazilian arts by establishing the Museu de Arte Negra in 1968.

In 1969 Nascimento established residence in the United States, where he held several academic posts. He was visiting professor at Yale and Wesleyan universities, and subsequently was named professor in the department of Puerto Rican Studies at the State University of New York, Buffalo. During the 1970s Nascimento traveled widely in the United States and Africa, speaking on behalf of blacks in Brazil and the Pan-African movement. He was instrumental in organizing several conferences of Afro-Latin American intellectuals under the banner of the Congress of Black Cultures in the Americas. Nascimento was elected President of the Third Congress of Black Cultures, which was held in São Paulo in 1982.

After returning to Brazil in 1979, Nascimento was named professor of black studies at the Pontifical Catholic University in São Paulo. While there, he created the research institute known as IPEAFRO (Afro-Brazilian Studies and Research Institute). In 1982 he was elected to Congress as a candidate of the Partido Democrático Trabalhista (PDT), led by Leonel Brizola, with whom Nascimento had been closely associated.

In 1983 Nascimiento was elected to the federal chamber of deputies. In that post he supported legislation to address racial problems. He then served in the senate, from 1994 to 1999. In 2004 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace and was awarded UNESCO's Toussaint Louverture Prize, for contributions to the struggle against racism.

Nascimento has written or edited some fourteen books, plays, and collections of essays on Afro-Brazilian culture and politics. His wife, Elisa Larkin Nascimento, has collaborated with him in several of these enterprises.

See alsoAfrican-Latin American Relations; Theater.


Abdias Do Nascimento, Teatro Experimental do Negro: Testemunhos (1966); O negro revoltado (1968); Racial Democracy in Brazil: Myth or Reality? (1977); Brazil: Mixture or Massacre?: Essays in the Genocide of a Black People, 2nd rev. ed., translated by Elisa Larkin Nascimento (1989); Quilombismo (1980).

Abdias Do Nascimento and Elisa Larkin Nascimento, Africans in Brazil: A Pan-African Perspective (1992). See also Elisa Larkin Nascimento, ed., Dois negros libertários: Luiz Gama e Abdias do Nascimento (1985).

Additional Bibliography

Nascimento, Abdias Do. Orixás: Os deuses vivos da Africa (Orishas: The Living Gods of Africa in Brazil). Rio de Janeiro: IPEAFRO/Afrodiaspora; Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997.

                                      Michael Mitchell