Note from BBT: When I first came across this story, once again, I was taken back to my first discoveries about African descendants in Brazil. When a fascination with Brazil first struck me in that last week of 1999 and the first weeks of the year 2000, it struck me that language was another barrier that separates the people of the African Diaspora. Although my introduction to Afro-Brazilian intellectuals was via sources written in English, the deeper I dove into the subject, the more I recognized the need to not only become familiar with black writers outside of the United States, but also the necessity of translation of African and black Latin American writers.
After the first few weeks of my immersion into Afro-Brazilian history, I was lucky enough to find two books by activist/intellectual Abdias do Nascimento in English. Within those first few months, I also found a book about politician Benedita da Silva, but the further I searched, the slimmer the pickings were getting. My desire to learn about Brazil’s black population coincided with my introduction to the internet just a few years prior. Via the internet, I had access to literally tens of thousands of sources on the topic. But as I searched and searched, the reality soon set in. There are some great sources about Afro-Brazilians in English, but if I really wanted to access to more sources, I would need to learn Portuguese.
After having purchased a few books and tapes to introduce me to the Portuguese spoken in Brazil, in a matter of about 6-9 months, I had become pretty familiar with written Portuguese. Sure, I leaned on Google and Alta Vista translator and a few Portuguese-English dictionaries, but, for the most part, I was getting by. But even so, the fact was, as I would soon learn, English was the dominate global language today for numerous topics, including business.
This is one of the many ways that we, as Americans, are spoiled to a certain degree. Living in the dominant economic, cultural and military force in the world, for the most part, we didn’t have any need to learn any other language or even explore the world because, well…why? It seems that living in the US and speaking English was good enough to fulfill our needs and desires.
The thought of learning another language had never really occured to me. Sure, I took French in high school and Spanish in college, but that’s because it was required. I didn’t really feel a desire to learn another language until the “Brazil thing” hit me. Here it is two decades later and I speak and understand Portuguese pretty well, but I still understand that most people around the world aren’t going to take the time to learn 8, 9 or 10 foreign langauges. Most Americans probably won’t bother to learn a second language.
This is why I can immediately connect to a project that seeks to translate works by black folks in Latin America and Africa. Several of my friends who have experience visiting or living in Brazil have spoken of the need to translate works by black Brazilian authors. This is exactly what I told writer Afro-Brazilian writer Conceição Evaristo when I happened to meet her at the 2019 edition of Feira Preta expo in São Paulo. Evaristo is but one of numerous Afro-Brazilian writers that African-Americans and African descendants around the world should know. In the same way that Afro-Brazilians know the works of Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, bell hooks and Audre Lorde.
The experiences we have as African descendants have a certain similarity that makes us often feel as if we know each other, even being separated geographically, culturally and linguistically. But deepen this connection with each other, we need translations of African and black Latin American authors from countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Cuba, Puerto Rico, etc. It was discovering that Brazil had millions of people of African descent that reminded me of folks in the US that made me want to learn another language.
Being Americans, the necessity of learning other languages simply isn’t as necessary as it is for people from Latin America and other regions of the world to learn English. Thus, if we want to overcome a language barrier, we have to be able to present works to people in the language that they are already familiar with. Which is why the project presented below is an excellent idea. Now, how can we get a project started to translate the works of Afro-Brazilian authors? I’ve been translating for years, count me in on such a project.
Eliane Marques and the source of the black woman’s words
Poet created the ‘Orisun Oro’ project on YouTube, to translate poems by African and Latin American writers
By Roberta Requia
The writer Eliane Marques initiated a new plan during the quarantine. A translator, she created the project Orisun Oro (translated from the Yorubá language as “source of the word”), which aims to translate poems by black African and Latin American writers into Brazilian Portuguese. “Our goal is that, in the end, a student, for example, can open the map of Africa, click on Ethiopia, and see Mathem Shiferraw’s name and a poem by her. The same with Uruguay, that the name of a Uruguayan poet appears.” For Eliane, the Brazilian reader has little contact with the productions of these countries. “They all have a black movement, but they don’t come here because of racism in Brazil”.
The project has three phases. Eliane and the partner professor, Adriano Migliavaca, select the poem to be translated. Then, designer Aline Gonçalves develops a graphic piece with the author’s name and country, reinforcing the importance of visual recognition. In the third stage, the group invites young black women to interpret the text in an audiovisual production. In the debut poem, Para uma saia de seda ao sol (For a silk skirt in the sun), by African writer Ama Ata Aidoo, of Ghana, dancer and actress Danielle Costa presents her interpretation and reading. The video marked the opening of the YouTube channel By Eliane Marques and Escola de Poesia (School of Poetry).
In addition to access to poems, one of the objectives is the recognition of these writers by Brazil. “These names have been erased, sometimes even mistreated. It’s important that they are disseminated,” adds Eliane.
For her, it is vital that these works are recognized as works of art, and not just as a sociological document. “Our productions are still considered from this point of view, as if we couldn’t produce anything beyond the object of study, generally for white people of academia, although that is changing. Recognizing that we, black women, can use our hands to produce art is, indeed, a big problem for society structured under racism. That is not restricted to simply treating a black person badly, but that says where these people belong and how they move, who lives and who dies, how they live and how they die,” she adds.
Regarding racism in the arts market, Eliane considers that black women face perpetuated obstacles due to the racism descending from the slavery policy on which Brazil was founded. First, the enslaved woman worked on the plantations or in the so-called casas grandes (big houses). Then she was assigned to work as a maid in “family homes”. “I heard my mother say, my grandmother say, as if our house was not a family home, only the bosses’ house was a family-worthy home,” says the poet.
Because of these impositions, allowing yourself to carry out a movement contrary to this destination becomes a political act in itself. “My hand can be used for washing, cooking and ironing, but it can also be used for writing. Authorizing it is a very big step. For this reason, the entire act of writing by a black woman, whatever the production, is a political act.”
Eliane has a degree in Pedagogy and Law and a Master’s in Public Law. Her book E Se Alguém o Pano (Escola de Poesia, 2015) won the Azorean Literature Award the following year in the category of poems.
Regarding the anti-racist demonstrations that have taken over several countries, Eliane recalls the case of the death of five-year-old Miguel Otavio. Otavio fell from the ninth floor of a luxury building in Recife, after being left in the care of his mother’s boss, who worked as a maid at the time he fell. “For 400 years, my ancestors cared for the children of white women of these ‘bosses’, and sometimes they didn’t even care for their children. This is a job, but the point is that it is considered a lesser exercise compared to other professions.”
For the writer, episodes like this serve to demonstrate that racism has taken different paths throughout history and that they are directly linked to this pandemic, when black women are still assigned to domestic positions. “The work of caring allowed women to also leave home, so that they could be white feminists. Black women continue to care and continue to not be cared for. This racism is just changing, it is not the same.”
Whether by taking the right places, in the arts, in public places or even on the streets, the project led by the writer deals with the anti-racist struggle: “We are also doing our part. It’s not just placing a ‘be anti-racist’ or ‘Black lives matter’ card. We have to give importance to those lives. The phrase cannot be something empty.” Not only through demonstrations, the movement led by Eliane recognizes and encourages the poetic production of black people and their recognition by the public.
Source: Jornal do Comércio