André Pinto Rebouças

Engineer, journalist, abolitionist


André Rebouças (hay-BOW-sass) was born in Bahia, but left as much an impact in Rio de Janeiro as in much of the rest of Brazil. A highly educated military engineer, he was world travelled, world cultured, and a member of the social elite. He is known for his service in the Paraguayan War and also for modernizing the ports throughout Brazil.

In Rio de Janeiro, he is known for not only modernizing the port, but for introducing modern sanitation to the city. In addition to being an accomplished military and civil engineer, was an author of books and professional articles, a journalist and above all, a tireless abolitionist.

André, inseparable from his equally accomplished brother Antonio, had already:

  • Recovered from smallpox
  • Completed his engineering studies
  • Held a rank of First Lieutenant
  • Gone to Europe on a scholarship and returned to Brazil as the first trained Civil Engineer

... by the age of 22. He would yet design, oversee and/or improve ports in Rio de Janeiro, Paraíba, Maranhão, Recife and Salvador. Additionally, the sight of enslaved Africans carrying water through the streets of Rio de Janeiro so deeply offended him that he modernized the city's water sanitation. He would go on to found the Brazilian Anti-Slavery Society and live to see emancipation day.

André Rebouças
 Photo of André Rebouças at age 22.

A close confidante of Dom Pedro II, he left with the royal family when they went into exile upon the establishment of the Republic of Brazil in 1889. He lived in Portugal, France and Angola, finally retiring to Madeira Island, where he died in 1898.

Links in Portuguese:

What struck me most when learning about this towering Afro-Brazilian figure, was his death — apparently a suicide. His body was found at the foot of a cliff near the hotel where he was living in Funchal, the capitol of Madeira island. The record shows us the life of a man constantly searching for employment, repeatedly dismissed from positions after completing massive public works, and accounts of blatant racism including his inability to secure hotel accommodations during a trip to London. There is no question that Rebouças and his peers, like Machado de Assis, faced outright racial hostility throughout their lifetimes.

For me, these men demand that we question the picture of freedom, the model, the goal that we pursue to this day. Proud Black Men like this one, and his peers, represent the picture of equality that we demand. They were middle class, well educated professionals, world traveled and members of the social elite who were able to realize their full talents. Yet, we see suicides, depression and early deaths from stress-related illnesses among them. Is equality the same thing as freedom? Let’s listen thoughtfully to what these men's lives and their deaths have to tell us about that.