As órfãs d’el-Rei: Racialized Sex and the Politicization of Life in Manuel da Nóbrega’s Letters from Brazil

Olímpia Rosenthal


Between 1551 and 1608/1609, five groups of Portuguese female orphans were sent to Brazil as part the Crown’s efforts to populate the colony. The first group arrived in response to Father Manuel da Nóbrega’s initial petition and, as this practice developed into policy, his views were decisive in the conceptualization of this project. Through an analysis of Nóbrega’s letters, this essay traces the central presuppositions on which this colonial project was based, and theorizes its implications. It highlights the institutional mechanisms that made possible and helped shape this global traffic in women and argues that this specific case evinces an early and stark politicization of life.


Biopolitics; gender; colonial Brazil; reproduction; race

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Copyright (c) 2016 Olímpia Rosenthal