Rocha, Manoel Ribeiro (1687–1745)

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Rocha, Manoel Ribeiro (1687–1745)

Little is known about the life of Manoel Ribeiro Rocha. He was born in Lisbon, and after completing his studies at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, he moved to the Captaincy of Bahia in Brazil, where he became a priest, jurist and prominent lawyer. In 1742 the powerful Bahian brotherhood of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia appointed him as its lawyer for civil cases.

Father Rocha wrote one of the first in-depth treatises on slavery in Brazil and on the Luso-Brazilian traffic in African slaves. It was a theological, juridical discourse titled Etíope resgatado, empenhado, sustentado, corrigido, instruído, e libertado (1758; The Ethiopian ransomed, indentured, sustained, corrected, educated, and liberated), and in it Rocha expressed his criticism of slavery. He is considered a forerunner of the nineteenth-century abolitionists because he admonished slave owners against cruel punishments and condemned as a mortal sin the trade of unjustly enslaved Africans.

Rocha's main concern, however, was to harmonize compulsory labor with Christian morals and civil justice. As an alternative to slavery and its complete abolition, Etíope resgatado suggests a third way in the form of indentured labor lasting for up to twenty years. He believed that unjust slavery—the enslavement not respectful of the code of Bellum justum—was unfair and sinful, though it was the traffiker's fault, not the buyer's. Therefore if a person buys someone unjustly enslaved, this person is in fact ransoming the slave, and for this benefice acquires a right of indemnification. Rocha suggested that indentured work for up to twenty years would be acceptable as indemnification. After that the slave, if he or she should survive, would be liberated from bondage.

Rocha stated that traffickers might continue pursuing their trade "licitly and with no burden of conscience" if with this activity they do "no more than ransom the slaves, acquiring over them only a right of pledge and retention. Such rights could be bought and sold, but not the property of anyone's freedom (although the owner of a slave would still have the right of pledge ("iure pignoris") and retention over him or her. In this way of putting it, the freedom of a man or woman is not "commodified."

Rocha's works were published posthumously in Lisbon during 1758. In addition to Etíope resgatado, he wrote Socorro dos fiéis (Believer's resource) and Nova prática dos oratórios particulares (The new practice of private oratories).

See alsoSlavery: Brazil .


Work by Rocha

Rocha, Manuel Ribeiro. Etíope resgatado, empenhado, sustentado, corrigido, instruído, e libertado. 1758. Petrópolis, Brazil: Vozes, 1992.

Other Works

Azevedo, Celia M. "Rocha's 'The Ethiopian Redeemed' and the Circulation of Anti-Slavery Ideas." Slavery & Abolition 24, no. 1 (April 2003): 101-126.

Carvalho, José Murilo de. Pontos e bordados: Escritos de história e política. Belo Horizonte, Brazil: UFMG, 1998.

                            Eliana Maria Rea Goldschmidt

                                             SÉrgio Alcides