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Clube do Cupim

Society that was not an emancipation society but rather a secret abolitionist one called Relâmpago (Lightning), which later changed its name to Clube do Cupim.

Clube do Cupim

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Last update: 04/09/2013

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

In the history of abolitionist movements in Pernambuco, the Clube do Cupim stands out, despite having little written about it.

From 1880, the number of societies against slavery, whose basic objective was to raise funds to buy letters of manumission for slaves, multiplied in Brazil. In Pernambuco there were over thirty of these societies which formed the genesis of Clube do Cupim, as many of its founding members had already actively participated in some of them.

On 24 March 1884, Ceará decreed the liberation of all the slaves of the Province. The campaign against slavery intensified throughout the country.

João Ramos, who was born in Maranhão and moved to Recife at the age of 14, was the creator and founder of Clube do Cupim and dreamt that what the people of Ceará had done could also be done in Pernambuco. He began to protect slaves referred to him, becoming sought after by black people who turned to him to help purchase their letters of manumission, promising to pay him with their work.

In 1883, with the help of friends, João Ramos had established a safe route for escaped slaves, ferrying them to Mossoró, in Rio Grande do Norte, from where they were transferred to Aracati and Fortaleza, in Ceará.

On 8 October 1884, João Ramos meet with eleven other friends in the house of one of them, the dental surgeon Numa Pompílio, at 54 Rua Barão da Vitória (today Rua Nova), to found a society that was not an emancipation society but rather a secret abolitionist one called Relâmpago (Lightning), which later changed its name to Clube do Cupim.

The society had no statute and its only motto was the liberation of slaves by any means. As it was a secret society, its members each adopted a “war name”, using the names of the Brazilian provinces at the time (nowadays states). The founding members were: João Ramos, president (“Ceará”); Guilherme Ferreira Pinto, treasurer (“Goiás”); Alfredo Pinto Vieira de Melo, secretary (“Minas Gerais”); Fernando de Paes Barreto, the spokesperson for the Club (“Maranhão”); Numa Pompílio (“Mato Grosso”), João José da Cunha Lajes (“Amazonas”); Barros Sobrinho (“São Paulo”), Antônio Faria (“Rio Grande do Sul”); Gaspar da Costa (“Rio de Janeiro”); Nuno Alves da Fonseca (“Alagoas”); Alfredo Ferreira Pinto (“Bahia”); Manoel Joaquim Pessoa (“Rio Grande do Norte”) and Luís Gonzaga do Amaral e Silva (“Pernambuco”).

The Clube do Cupim eventually grew to have twenty effective members. Each member had under their command a captain, who had a sub-captain who in turn commanded twenty auxiliaries. Everyone had to adopt a “war name” using the names of Brazilian localities. In this way, always with twenty effective members, the Clube do Cupim reached over three hundred auxiliaries.

As well as its founders, the Club took on the following effective members: Venceslau Guimarães (“Paraná”); Salles Barbosa (“Paraíba”); José Manoel da Veiga Seixas (“Sergipe”); Mendes Guimarães (“Pará”), who for fear of compromising himself requested to leave the club and was replaced by Joaquim de Oliveira Borges; Pedro da Costa Rego (“Santa Catarina”), who also was substituted by Antônio Ferreira Baltar Sobrinho. Lastly, still in 1885, José Mariano (“Espírito Santo”), the most notable member of the club, and Argemiro Falcão (“Piauí”) joined.

In June 1885, Recife prepared itself for the visit of Joaquim Nabuco. The Clube do Cupim, despite its discretion, placed an announcement in the Jornal do Recife (on the 14th and 16th):

Clube do Cupim: ‘‘The directory of this patriotic club invites its numerous members and all men of colour who wish to accompany Dr. Joaquim Nabuco on the day of his arrival, to meet at Largo do Arsenal da Marinha, at six thirty in the morning”.

In total, 21 sessions were held at the Club’s headquarters until that of 1 November 1885, when it was resolved to disband it due to persecution. There was no longer a fixed location for its meetings, however the termites, as the abolitionists were known, continued to act clandestinely.

To avoid gathering, the executive commission meet in various locations: under the trees of Rua do Imperador, in the middle of bridges, in the backs of warehouses or wholesalers, at Praça da República and even on Rua da Aurora, in front of the Police headquarters. They argued, deliberated and gave their orders to the captains who gathered nearby, and they passed them on to their companions, who carried them out with brevity, loyalty and in full.

All the work was facilitated because they had adepts and sympathisers everywhere. There was a large number of “panelas” (pans), as the hideaways of the slaves that society helped to liberate were called.

Its activities grew more and more intense. Slaves fled the plantations in groups, leaving some almost abandoned.
The term “termite” (cupim) began being used even by the abolitionists in Rio de Janeiro who intended “to liberate the central populations and gnaw the termite in the interior”.

Here in Recife, the shipments and transfers of clandestine slaves to other places became more numerous and frequent. Slaves were also sent to Camocim, Natal, Macau, Macaíba, Belém, Manaus, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul and even Montevideo, in Uruguay.

Clube do Cupim’s final blow was the shipment of 119 slaves on 23 April 1888. They came down the river in a grass canoe at night from the house of José Mariano in Poço da Panela to Capunga, then were ferried by two boats that anchored in front of the casa de banhos to the ship Flor de Liz and, the following morning, to a tugboat that took them to freedom. On 13 May, Princess Isabel signed the Lei Áurea (Emancipation Act).

Recife, 26 April 2004.
(Updated on 25 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011


sources consulted

SALES, Maria Letícia Xavier. O Clube do Cupim e a memória pernambucana. Revista do Arquivo Público, Recife, v. 40, n. 43, p. 101-115, out. 1990.

VILELA, Carneiro. O Club do Cupim. In: SILVA, Leonardo Dantas (Org.). A abolição em Pernambuco. Recife: Fundaj, Ed. Massangana, 1988. p. 25-35. (Abolição, 10).


how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Clube do Cupim. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.