Francisca da Silva de Oliveira, known as Chica, lived under Portuguese rule in Colonial Brazil. Through this fictionalised history, we learn some of the turbulent and richly contrasting past of diamond mining and a former slave. THE BLACK QUEEN OF DIAMONDS is the latest offering from historical novelist, Kazuko Nishimura, in his fascinating series, The Goddesses of The World.
Chica starts out working with her mother Maria, a domestic slave, in the home of one of Brazil’s many wealthy Portuguese noblemen. The area of Minas Gerais is home to fabulous diamond mines, the extraction done by free men and slaves. When a new overseer is sent out to discover why so much wealth is disappearing, the handsome young judge João Fernandes loses no time in stopping corruption and theft. He also permits workers, including slaves, to take home a percentage, giving them every incentive to declare their rough diamond finds. While every eligible young woman sets her cap at the judge and entertains him at parties, João Fernandes sets eyes on Chica and knows she is the woman of his heart.
Life is far from easy for the couple. Chica tells us about the scorn to her face and derision behind her back. People who have no business poking their noses in, just have to poke anyway. The laws are invoked, preventing a marriage. The church is closed to anyone not white, and João Fernandes won a cheer from me with his solution. Perseverance is wonderful, and with a growing family, and grand plans for a home, the couple decide to build as lavish a palace as found in Europe. Chica is handed the task of decorating.
I’ve read a few stories about the conquests and colonies in South America, most of which highlighted racial injustices, religious shams, a vast gulf of wealth, and the many problems of slavery and indentured servitude. The story of Francisca da Silva de Oliveira has to be one of the most positive and cheerful tales in this setting. Not only did true love win the day for her, but she rose, with her children, to high status and freedom. While she would never be accepted fully by European Brazilians, her sons walked the corridors of power and learning in Europe. Truly, Chica became a goddess among women, due to the diamonds and their fascination for the wealthy. Historian Kazuko Nishimura has also included a great earthquake, a revolution or two, and lengthy sea voyages to keep life in perspective. THE BLACK QUEEN OF DIAMONDS is well worth reading as an unusual historical romance, with many lessons on human nature.