The Malê Uprising

The Malê Uprising was a slave revolt in Salvador, Bahia, organized by Muslims—known as Malês—during the last ten days of Ramadan in January of 1835. Captured rebels wore Muslim dress, including head coverings and long white tunics, and carried prayer beans as well as Qur’anic amulets on their bodies for protection. The revolt was organized primarily by Hausa and Nagô (Yoruba) Muslims, but non-Muslim Africans from various backgrounds also participated, numbering roughly 600. The uprising targeted whites, but also mulattos and native-born black Brazilians—namely, those who did not belong to the African-born slave and free population and who were seen as part of slaveholding society. Having come from African slave-holding societies, Malês expressed a desire to upend the Brazilian status quo and enslave mulattos, though their ultimate goals against the well-armed Brazilian security forces were unclear.

The 1835 uprising took place during a chaotic period of frequent revolt (including slave revolt), economic downturn, rising poverty, military and federalist rebellion, and strong anti-colonial sentiment. It was also a time when the population of Bahia was mostly of African origin, whether free or enslaved, which made up the lowest rung of society. Numerous other uprisings had taken place over the prior three decades but the 1835 event was by far the largest and most significant. It was also a period of Islamic conversion among the enslaved and free Africans of Bahia, who were receptive to Qur’anic messages that sympathized with marginalized peoples and who largely respected and admired the Malês. As a result of the 1835 revolt, security forces in Bahia and elsewhere seized any items associated with Islam, including all documents written in Arabic.

The social pressures and fears associated with slave revolts, of which the Malê Uprising was the largest in the Americas, were a contributing factor to the legal cessation of the importation of slaves from Africa in 1850 and, eventually, to the 1888 abolition of slavery in Brazil.

Sources:

Dale T. Graden, “An Act ‘Even of Public Security’: Slave Resistance, Social Tensions, and the End of the International Slave Trade to Brazil, 1835-1856,” The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 76, No. 2 (1996), pp. 249-282.

João José Reis, Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1993)

See also: Brazil, Islam