Tactile Colonialism: From Multisensory Perception to the Colonizing Gaze in Gilberto Freyre’s Work

  • Francisco Quintero Pires New York University
Keywords: Africa, Lusotropicalism, miscegenation, Portugal, sensory studies


Almost 20 years after publishing Casa-grande & senzala (1933), interpreted as a springboard for the myth of racial democracy in Brazil, Gilberto Freyre visited the five remaining Portuguese colonies in Africa. Freyre’s theses on miscegenation and Portuguese exceptionalism from the 1930s would influence his racializing perspective about African peoples in Aventura e rotina (1953), a travel journal in which he introduced the concept of Lusotropicalism. When Freyre read African and Afro-diasporic bodies in his travels, he adopted an ocularcentric approach that replaced the multisensory discourse of Casa-grande & senzala. The description of sexual violence faced a paradox in his Lusotropicalist work. To depict Portuguese colonialism as soft, he gradually erased references to the tactile sense from his rendition of miscegenation. By de-emphasizing touch, Freyre offered a conceptual justification for the Portuguese to racialize African peoples and animate their search for “novos Brasis” in Africa.