Bahia’s African heritage on parade
Sign: “Black People in Power”
Few places better represent the influence of Africa on Brazilian culture than the streets of Salvador in the state of Bahia
And throughout the month of November, when the community celebrates Black Consciousness, both the spirit of Africa and the traditional exuberance of Brazil have been on display. The vast majority of people in Bahia are Brazilians of African descent, the legacy of a time when more than 40% of slaves brought to the New World were taken to Brazil.
Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, the last country in the Americas to do so.
The African influence is everywhere – in music, the dance, food and religion – sometimes preserved in a way that is no longer even true in Africa. It includes Capoeira, a martial art passed down directly from slaves, and Candomble, an African-inspired religion.
That cultural heritage is now drawing African-American visitors from the US to Brazil.
‘Familiar but different’
Among those watching the parade for Black Consciousness day in Salvador was Ky Adderley from Philadelphia. “I have been very impressed thus far, just being here for 24 hours, just seeing how close everyone feels to their African heritage,” he said.
These US tourists say they found Brazil fascinating
His girlfriend Natasha Jane agreed: “Just in the place we are staying there is African art all over, and just travelling from place to place you see the culture everywhere, in the art, in the people, in the sound, in the food,” she said.
Groups working in Brazil to promote understanding say Brazil offers African-Americans a unique opportunity. Paul Johnson, executive director of Partners of America, says such cultural issues are discussed more openly in Brazil than in the US.
“I think all Brazilians whether they are black or not black acknowledge the contribution that African-Brazilians have made to the general culture. I think that is done to a lesser extent in the United States. There is more talk about samba and where it has come from, about Capoeira and where it has come from, about the food, the songs, about how much the national popular culture has adopted African-Brazilian culture.”
“The black American population have a lot to teach us”
– Domingos Leonelli, Brazilian tourism official
Simone Manigo-Truell Dos Santos of Levantamos, which promotes Afro-Brazilian-American co-operation, says Brazil blends the idea of being an American whose origins are from Africa.
“People are still able to hold on to their African heritage, their African ties, unlike what we experience in the United States. So when you get here and get off the plane and hear the music, the drums, the food is from Africa, a lot of the religion is from Africa, it really all of a sudden makes you feel at home in a way you thought wasn’t possible outside of Africa.”
Tourist officials in Bahia are now targeting the African-American market, and they hope it will help Brazil as well as the visitors.
“The black north American population, and American society have developed much more financially than our black population here,” Bahia Tourism Secretary Domingos Leonelli said. “In this way they have a lot to teach us. A black middle class has developed in the United States, a black business class, and a black political power, and that is still a long way off in Brazil.”
Brazil was once held up by academics as a “racial democracy” but in recent years there has been a more heated debate in the country about the issue of race, equality and discrimination. The use of quotas as a means to address lack of access by black students to universities has proved particularly controversial.
Most economic indicators show that black Brazilians are the poorest section of society, and the sprawling favelas or shanty towns that are found all around Salvador are just one indication of this. As well as having the poorest jobs and housing, they also fare badly in terms of health and access to education, while black faces are rarely seen in the corridors of power in either business or politics.
A recent study showed that black residents of the state of São Paulo earn 44% less than their white counterparts, and that unemployment among backs is 18.1% compared with 13.2% for whites. However the current government does at least have some black ministers, and a ministry to promote racial integration.
Brazilians of African descent have a cultural heritage that has much to offer to visitors from around the world, but as a community they still face many challenges in the years ahead, if they are to improve their position within their own society.
Source: BBC News