A Bárbora e o Jau: a escravatura em Camões

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1166 Downloads (Pure)


In the first half of the 16th century, the population of Lisbon increased significantly due to the importation of a larger quantity of African slaves, human “merchandise” that so much blood and sweat has shed to make the Portuguese Empire stronger. In 1553, the Renaissance poet Luís de Camões was granted a royal pardon releasing him from prison on the condition of leaving his homeland. Compelled into exile in Asia, he went on living in lands with similar hierarchies and social order divided into masters and slaves.
In a troubled repatriation journey from Goa, Camões disembarked for a short stay on the Island of Mozambique. Most likely, this is the place in the East African coast where the Portuguese icon wrote a poem about an enchanting captive woman called Bárbora, whom he fell in love with in India, and purchased a Javanese slave called Jau, or Antonio since his Christian baptism, who served him faithfully for about a decade. Camões expressed lyrically profound emotions of adoration and excitement that he felt by contemplating Bárbora and her exotic beauty but there is a total absence of information about any signs of empathy towards Jau, with whom he established a longer and closer relationship.
His early biographers provided little information about his slave, basically saying that he begged in the streets due to extreme poverty and disregarding all kinds of emotions or compassion for him. Through the powerful vehicle of imagination, which played a central role in the history of emotions, 19th century Portuguese culture changed drastically this state of indifference. Many Romantic authors and artists, carried on the wings of the imagination and inspired by the myth of the Noble Savage, depicted this relationship and attached additional evidence for the importance of a slave in the life of Camões. In many books and paintings produced in a liberal context, Bárbora and Jau are two fine examples of the increasing fascination with Eastern exoticism and of respect for people of different races and ethnicities.
Guided by a thin line between truth and myth, the following reflections bring forward two contrasting types of emotions resulting from the relationship between Camões and two slaves. On the one hand, the captive woman from his inventive poem attests the golden age of the Portuguese discoveries and conveys an open mentality in the face of exotic civilizations; on the other hand, the slave he owned for about a decade without expressing any positive feelings or a word of affection for him seems to illustrate lack of empathy and a certain social conservatism.
Original languagePortuguese
Title of host publicationSenhores e Escravos nas Sociedades Ibero-Atlânticas
EditorsMaria Rosário Pericão Costa Pimentel, Maria do Rosário Monteiro
Place of PublicationLisboa
PublisherCHAM - Centro de Humanidades | Húmus
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)978-989-755-317-2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventCongresso Internacional "Senhores e Escravos nas Sociedades Ibero-atlânticas" - Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas- Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal
Duration: 9 Apr 201313 Apr 2013

Publication series

NameEstudos e Documentos


ConferenceCongresso Internacional "Senhores e Escravos nas Sociedades Ibero-atlânticas"
Internet address


  • Slavery
  • Camões
  • Bárbora
  • Jau
  • Poetry
  • Romanticism

Cite this