Note from BW of Brazil: Hair care, texture, styles and acceptance are all frequent topics here on the blog. And for good reason. In Brazil, as in many other countries, persons of African descent are often judged, discriminated against or even reject themselves based on their hair texture. Hair texture and style throughout Brazil can be very influential in how attractive a woman is perceived to be, mate selection and even employment opportunities (see here and here). In reality, although Brazil is known for its large African descendant population, the country is very Eurocentric in nearly every realm of society and Afro-Brazilians learn from very early on what physical characteristics are deemed beautiful and which are not. This often times leads to a rejection of natural afro textured hair. But for a little more than a decade now, one can note in the streets and even on the soccer field a new pride in more natural afro textured hairstyles. And in one section of downtown Rio de Janeiro, some women directly from the Motherland have found their niche in “Africanizing” the appearance of Rio’s black women and men.
Hair, hairdresser, big hair
In a shopping center in downtown Rio, one can find a wonderful world of afro hair styles
By Karla Monteiro
The stronghold is the Saara, a tangle of narrow streets in the city’s downtown, where Rio de Janeiro dresses itself as a Persian market center. In the zigzag between street vendors and shops selling everything lies the wonderful world of afro hair styles. In it reigns Congolese and Angolan women who brought it there from the cradle, Mother Africa, the art of taming hair. A hairstyle can take up to 6 hours – and goes from braids forming geometrical designs on the scalp to free, light and loose black power (afro).
“In a day it’s good to do a maximum of four heads,” says Nathalie, a 28-year old Congolese woman, tall, abundant curves, great smile, and a lot of hair. She serves clients in Shopping do Cabelo, a gallery of two large floors where each stall is a mane experience with hairpieces and wigs for all races. Nathalie was born in Brazzaville, the capital of the Congo. Six years ago, she decided to trade her country for France because of the ease of speaking the language, but visas are getting increasingly difficult. “I didn’t get it,” she says.
As she had friends who had migrated to Brazil, she opted for Rio. Following came the struggle for a Brazilian visa and the battle come up with the R$5,000 for the trip. But Nathalie guarantees: it’s worth it. “In Congo, all women know how to do African hairstyles. It’s not a profession. A 10 year old child does nagô braids,” she says. “Here I realized it was a business. I live well doing what I do. I have my house, my son studies in a good school. I don’t want to go back, no.” According to her, just there in Shopping do Cabelo works another four African women. And there are customers for everybody. “The negros cariocas (Rio’s black people) love big hair. Have you been to the baile Charme Madureira (“charme dance in Madureira”)? Go there…Everyone has hair that even impresses me.”
In the Centro Cultural do Congo (Congo Cultural Center), some alleys after Shopping do Cabelo, works the Congolese woman Cátia and the Angolan Charlote. The building is almost in ruins. And the little salon occupies a stuffy room. Charlote is shy, quiet, and when she speaks, she uses a crioulo (creole) dialect that only Cátia understands. Even Cátia, a lively and beautiful negona (true black woman), a motor-mouth (1). She’s been in Brazil for six years. Before that, she lived between Luanda and São Paulo. “I was a sacoleira (2). I bought (things) at 25 de Março (street) (3) to sell in Luanda. I was born in the Congo, but I’ve lived 17 years in Angola,” she says. She continues: “Clothes in Africa are very expensive. You fill the suitcase here and sell for a fortune there. Vendors from 25 de Março treat us with cafezinho (little cups of coffee) and natural juice.”
When she became pregnant, Cátia decided to stop. And that she would live in Brazil. She came with her husband and son in her belly and since then, has lived off of the craft she learned from her mother: “My grandmother taught my mother, who taught me. As such, it’s a family tradition.” To explain why she chose Rio, Cátia reveals the strangest arguments: “It was because of the public health. Here you have hospitals for those who can’t pay. The Brazilians complain, but in Africa, whoever doesn’t pay, dies.” She ends the conversation on the topic of fashion: “I love the city, but it’s not working out. Rio is too expensive.”
At least at first glance, the business seems to be going well. There’s no lack of customers. Denise Rocha, a 26-year old carioca (Rio native) works as a salesperson in Shopping do Cabelo, changes her look monthly.
Her look of the moment is that of the Rastafarian braids that are interspersed with beige-toned wool. She spent seven hours in Chantal’s chair. “She’s Angolan, has been in Brazil for six years. She’s the best. The difference is in strategy of combing the hair. Black hair is difficult,” says Denise.
It is precisely the charme dance of Madureira, an institution of Rio culture, held for over 20 years under the Negrão de Lima overpass, that’s the reason for the production. Denise hit point every Saturday. “A charmeiro (4) likes different, big hair. Everyone wants to be more daring than the other. It’s hair of every type.”
1. The term used here in Portuguese is “falar pelo cotovelos”, meaning literally, “speaking by the elbows.” This term describes the type of person who talks a lot, often about things that aren’t always interesting. To maintain another person’s attention, this type of speaker always touches the other person’s elbow to keep their attention.
2. A person who always buys products at a cheap price in specific areas and then takes them to other locations to sell for profit. Often times the products can be bootleg.
3. 25 de Março is a street/area in downtown São Paulo near the São Bento subway station that is famous for its cheap prices. The area is known to attract up to 400,000 people per day to its 350 legalized stores and more than one million per day during the Christmas shopping season.
4. A person who likes to attend the “charme” dances in the Madureira region of Rio de Janeiro.
Source: TPM, Hoje São Paulo
Interesting article. Braiding Black hair sounds like a winning business anywhere in the world as I even read an article about an African woman with such a business in China.
I am coming to RIO and would like a weave style, can you recommend any places or send me any email contacts?
Hello! I’m also looking to get a very good weave. Where should i go in Rio?