Meanings of Diamba – Review by Pedro Araújo Sampaio (FAI/FP) on the book “History of Marijuana in Brazil”, by Jean Marcel Carvalho França
Abstract: History of Marijuana in Brazil, by Jean Marcel Carvalho França, studies diambism and defends the thesis that African cannabis use shaped the negative image of marijuana projected in Brazil, contrary to what happened in other parts of the world.
Keywords: Marijuana, Cannabis sativa, Africans.
History of Marijuana in Brazil is an authorial collection written by Jean Marcel Carvalho França and republished in 2022 by Editora Jandaíra. The work seeks to understand the sociocultural formation of diamba, diambista and diambismo in Brazil, investigating the moment of arrival of marijuana in the country, the identity, its consumers and the scientific and political representations about the plant and its use, conceived during half a millennium. The book presents us with a main question: how did the image of cannabis use related to Africans and their descendants shape the treatment given to the habit, underpinning today’s racist and discriminatory conjuncture?
Jean Marcel Carvalho França is a historian, professor and writer, master in Sociology from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), doctor in Literary Studies from the same University, post-doctor from the State University of São Paulo (UNESP) and post-doctor from the Fluminense Federal University (UFF), with a teaching degree from UNESP, where he has been teaching since 1998. Of the other productions, we remember: Travelers womens in brazil (2028), Images of the Black in Brazilian Literature (1998) and Zumbi Three Times: construction of a Brazilian myth (2012). The current work is divided into five chapters, spread over 167 pages. This reissue takes place at an appropriate time, in view of the indications of institutions and Brazilian society towards a better rationalization of debates on the subject.
França builds a narrative-argumentative text, detaching itself from the chronological order of events. For each chapter, he has a theme that best characterizes the analyzed period. Already in the first chapter, the author clarified the distant relationship between human societies and hemp, through three possible stories: about the plant as a source of fibers; about its medicinal properties; and about the derivative effect of cannabis. Thus, through these three perspectives, França briefly explores themes ranging from Neolithic China, through Portuguese America, to the first Brazilian indications of prohibition, in the early 20th century. Through fictional texts, the author shows the production of hemp as a source of fibers, medicines for all kinds of illnesses, physical and psychological, in addition to the prominent numbing effect of the herb.
The second chapter problematizes the African origin of marijuana in Brazil, producing statements that articulate the rest of the work. The author attributes an unpopularity to cannabis in Greco-Roman culture, probably, in terms of derivatives, much more sympathetic and devoted to the drunkenness of wine (p. 26). França alleges that, in Europe, the habit was considered exotic, typical of eccentric people or people from distant places. This same observation, however, for the historian, was not verified in relation to Brazil. Marijuana quickly acclimatized, soon becoming part of the local scene as a low-prestige resource and habit, because it was linked to the black and poor population. The indigenous people, according to the author, were unaware of cannabis until the 16th and 17th centuries. The lack of accurate information on the context of the introduction of marijuana in the colonial period did not break the inevitable bond created between Africans and marijuana, nor did it overcome the responsibility of the black population for all the harm attributed to the plant.
In the third chapter, the book deals with marijuana as a social scourge, showing the construction of the image that has been consolidated since the 20th century, promoted by an intellectual and political elite composed of doctors, psychiatrists and eugenic jurists. In this part, the author comments on the articles produced in the first half of the 20th century and published under the title: Marijuana: collection of Brazilian works (1953). Printed by the National Narcotics Inspection Commission and prefaced by physicians Roberval Cordeiro de Farias and Irabassu Rocha, the collection boasted that diambismo was a dangerous practice, generating laziness, unproductivity, madness, violence, insurrections and criminality. The columnists, including the doctor from Sergipe Rodrigues Dória, noted the spread of the “green poison” throughout the country and encouraged the creation of prohibitionist legislation that was definitively succeeded in 1932 with the inclusion of Cannabis Sativa in the list of substances banned by the National Health Surveillance Agency.
Also in this chapter, França explores Brazil’s participation in the International Opium Conference, provided by the League of Nations, in 1925, in Geneva, whose period corresponds to the North American role in the diffusion of an international drug policy. The prohibitionist crusade culminated in the typification of various behaviors related to narcotics in the Penal Code of 1940, without providing for punishment for possession for consumption, which only occurred in 1968, when trafficking and consumption were equated, including with similar penalties (and, more substantively, in Law 6,638/1976).
The closing of the chapter, however, brings a new element that is the counterculture movement between the 1960s and 1970s, formed by university students, artists and intellectuals. This event contrasted the established view on cannabis, contradicting the stigma of marijuana as an inelegant habit, restricted to blacks and the poor, and denying the prophecy raised years ago that youth would be a late victim of this scourge.
This theme gained space in the fourth chapter, where the author advances on the process of re-signification of marijuana in the second half of the 20th century, for the very reason that the herb became fashionable among middle-class and educated young people. The role of the media, in this construction of identity, emerges with analyzes of reports and, also, new moral and scientific undertakings that called for more restrictions and for a pedagogy that would protect consumers, now victimized by an originally African disease. In any case, França shows that the counterculture movement, in addition to being central to the deconstruction of the stigma produced in relation to marijuana, was linked to communism, exemplified by the recommendation given by J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, in 1968, to his subordinates: “as the use of marijuana and other narcotics is widespread among members of the new left, you should be alert to the opportunity to have them arrested by local authorities on charges of drug use” (p. 99).
Still in the fourth chapter, the author portrays the incarceration of Gilberto Gil and Rita Lee and many other exponents. These arrests, says França, fostered criticism from artists and intellectuals like Caetano Veloso, stimulating challenges to the ideas that marijuana had harmful potential. It is also said that the overwhelming emergence of cocaine in the narcotics market has contributed to reducing the mysticism surrounding marijuana. In this sense, the re-democratization of the country made it possible to break the connection between consumption and political and moral subversion, opening horizons contrary to the obscurantism current at the time.
The final and fifth chapter records the decline of international drug policy, at the end of the 20th century, in its declared pretensions, despite the enormous financial and social cost of its operationalization in the “war on drugs”. On the other hand, stresses the author, the misinformation that reigned until then gave way to a new image about cannabis, more aware of the irrelevant drug addiction of marijuana compared to other legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. In addition, most of the danger alerts related to marijuana have been replaced by evidence of its profound uses in medicine. They resulted from reports by the World Health Organization (WHO) that sometimes extolled the therapeutic properties of Cannabis, sometimes mitigated its negative impacts on the psyche and physique of cannabis users (p. 138 – 139). This turning point presented by França is intensified with the final conclusion of the book regarding the economic potential of the plant, increasingly evident in the countries that legalized it.
Even admittedly unpretentious as the work is, we feel some superficiality of the work in certain passages. An example of this occurs in the first chapter where no evidence was provided about the precise moment of arrival of Cannabis Sativa in Brazil. Likewise, in the fourth chapter, gaps are observed because the author has lightened the recent history of the Brazilian criminal drug policy, abdicating a theme that is the true outlet of the racial image formulated about cannabis in the country with the current drug legislation in force (Law 11.343/2006). In the last chapter (Cannabis, an economically viable habit), it is observed that the stated theme was relegated to the last page of the book, in a synthetic way, in which the clear economic interests in changing the legal perspectives on marijuana weigh.
We do not skimp on stating, meanwhile, that França was very successful in leading the reader to the perception of racism as a structuring element of the image formulated about marijuana, its consumers and everything that involves its consumption. The author makes it clear, right at the beginning of the book, that the greater relationship between Africans and their descendants with the “fumo de Angola” conditioned the collective image of the plant, carrying this racial tone throughout the historical course, until the moment when he proves, in the fourth chapter, that the persecution of the plant is much more related to the assumption of its African origin than to any evil imputed to it. The wealth of transcriptions of scientific articles and journalistic reports provides the reader with the dimension of the backwardness in which the Brazilian population was/finds itself, illustrating very well the gravity of the common sense established around marijuana.
By tracing a racial overview of cannabis use in Brazil, Jean Marcel Carvalho França presents an enormous contribution to the struggle for the decriminalization of marijuana and its representatives in the country, showing that the symbolic level of the theme has defined disastrous paths for this plant. For this reason, the work fulfills its objective by elucidating that African cannabis use shaped the image of marijuana, projected in Brazil on stupidities, superstitions and a lot of discrimination. The book should be read by high school and university students in the areas of Social Sciences and Humanities (especially History, Sociology and Law), enabling this audience to deconstruct untruths created about marijuana, whether for research purposes, or for consumption purposes or mere alienation.
Summary of História da maconha no Brasil
- As histórias de uma planta
- O vício dos pretos
- Diambismo: um flagelo social
- O canabismo dos hippies e dos excluídos
- Canabismo, um hábito economicamente viável
To broaden your literature review
- Consult book reviews on
- Preconceito Racial
- Racismo | Racismo Cotidiano | Racismo Estrutural | Racismo nas Américas | Racismos
- Consult dossiers of articles on
- Racismo | Racismo Estrutural | Racismos
About the reviewer
Pedro Araújo Sampaio is a specialist in Criminal Law and Criminal Procedural Law from Universidade Cândido Mendes (UCAM-RJ) and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Law from the Universidade Católica de Salvador (UCSAL). He works as a lawyer and professor of Criminal Sciences and Theory of Law at Faculdade Irecê (FAI) and Faculdade Pitágoras (FP). Social media: @pedrosampaio.adv. ID LATTES: http://lattes.cnpq.br/7319048230563456; ORCID: https://orcid.org/0009-0004-0474-9323; E-mail: [email protected].
To cite this review
FRANÇA, Jean Marcel Carvalho. Historia da Maconha no Brasil. São Paulo: Editora Jandaíra, 2022, 167p. Review of: SAMPAIO, Pedro Araújo. Meanings of Diamba. Crítica Historiográfica. Natal, v.3, n.11, May/June, 2023. Available in <https://www.criticahistoriografica.com.br/significados-da-diamba-resenha-de-pedro-araujo-sampaio-fai-fp-sobre-o-livro-historia-da-maconha-no-brasil-de-jean-marcel-carvalho-franca/>.
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