Note from BW of Brazil: The world of literature is yet another area in which Afro-Brazilians are nearly invisible or extremely stereotyped as characters and under-represented as authors. As recently demonstrated in the recent Frankfurt Book Fair in which only one of 70 participating Brazilian writers was black, libraries and bookstores throughout Brazil emphasize the background or non-existent role that African descendants continue to be placed into in the country’s cultural and historical landscape. One must ask how this consistent invisibility is interpreted by foreigners who visit the country as well as in the minds of Brazilians themselves.
“Blacks have little expression as authors and characters in literature”
by Alexandre Sanches
With a commitment of leading the reader to unraveling the question of black literature in the Portuguese language, Ancestralidade Bantu na Literatura Afro-brasileira – reflexões sobre o romance ‘Ponciá Vicêncio’, de Conceição Evaristo (Bantu ancestry in Afro-Brazilian Literature – reflections on the novel ‘Poncia Vicencio, of Conceição Evaristo), a book written by Londrina professor and writer Dejair Dionísio will soon arrive in bookstores. Published by Editora Nandyala of Belo Horizonte, the 96 page work is the result of Dionísio’s dissertation at the Universidade Estadual de Londrina (State University of Londrina).
“Usually when blacks are portrayed in literature, they are stylized figures, stereotyped, that don’t represent his/her reality and history. Moreover, in Brazil there are few authors also who are black and address the Afro-Brazilian theme,” he commented. In Ancestralidade Bantu na Literatura Afro-brasileira, the author analyzes in the work of Conceição Evaristo, a black writer, the question of African ancestry denied by whites and of Bantu religiosity, transforming it into a cultural tour that is alive thanks to the descendants of Africans who still maintain the tradition.
In an interview with odiario.com, Dionísio speaks of issues such as the role of blacks in literature and the stereotyped formula that writers of the Portuguese language usually use when addressing the afro-descendentes (African descendants). Completing his doctorate in literature, he presents another black character: Castor Abduim, of the work Tocaia Grande, by Jorge Amado, that he considers one of the few black men portrayed in Brazilian literature. “Usually the black woman is portrayed, also in a stereotyped manner. And my challenge is to study this profile, determining how he is presented to the reader,” he stressed.
by Alexandre Sanches
Dejair Dionísio: blacks are not portrayed as they should be in literature
O Diário – You, in your master’s research, sought a good work with a black character?
Dejair Dionísio – When I read Conceição Evaristo’s novel, I realized the extent to which family breakdown happened to those remaining groups of enslaved groups, kidnapped from their countries and brought to Brazil and becoming freed in subsequent generations. Rereading the work, I noticed that the author worked the ancestral issue that was important, that passed through the main character, the brother, the mother and up to the grandfather that left a spiritual legacy with the arrival of the Bantus in Brazil.
Did the choice of Conceição Evaristo owe itself to her being black?
I already knew the author, because she is a person who participates in events in Londrina, through the Department of Letters of the UEL and through the Núcleo de Estudos Afro-Asiáticos (NEAA or Center for Afro-Asian Studies). But not her work. My advisor, Sérgio Paulo Adolfo suggested reading her books. She was at the time [in 2003] a new black author. I sought this, I wanted an Afro-Brazilian author. And this book brings an important contribution to work within education, according to law 10.639/2003 that determined the mandatory teaching of the history of Africa in Brazil.
You, being black, have a great connection with Afro-Brazilian culture and traditions.
I don’t believe in this history that you have to distance yourself from the object of research, but that you have to be involved with what you are researching, because your work becomes into a love affair. My relationship with the Afro-Brazilian theme has everything to do with this author, because it is something that I understand subjectively and realized part of her reading Ponciá Vicêncio (1).
And how is the black portrayed in novels here in Brazil?
It’s enough just to see the writing of Brazilian novelas (soap operas). The black is not portrayed. They sell the image of Brazil abroad and end up creating confusion because we are a country with about 115 million people who claim to be negros (blacks), afro-descendentes, pardos (browns), but do not have their identities exposed. And they are also not portrayed by writers who are canons in Brazil. If you take ten authors, you will not really see the black, whether in an urban or rural environment. This is a very large debt in literary terms.
And Jorge Amado is an author who portrayed the black Bahian. How do you see his works?
Jorge Amado (2) is interesting because he is not read in Brazil, he is not in the graduate programs of in the Letters courses. He’s known due to TV, through movies, novelas and miniseries. As a novelist, he is widely read outside (of Brazil) because he has representation. But the representation of blacks in his work is somewhat folkloric. He gives visibility but it is stereotypical, with some concepts poorly finished. The black appears without family, surname, family structure, life history. They are very folklorized and end up serving as the theme for the devaluation of the Brazilian woman (3) The image was sold, not just it, but a whole literary, social and political context, which sold the woman as fiery, sexy, good in bed, ready for the oven and stove. This ends up the kind of tourism we have, mainly on the northeastern beaches.
This is your first book. But you recently coordinated a collective book in Cape Verde.
I was working with the Embassy of Brazil in Cape Verde, along with the local university, where we organized a book, the result of an international seminar marking the International Day of the Portuguese language. The result was a book, released on the 11th in Africa, where I participated via video conference. This book will soon be available online, but it’s a hit so we’re doing it with the Ministério das Relações Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Relations).
And Ancestralidade Bantu, how is the distribution going in Brazil?
The book was recently released in São Paulo, in a collective event, and in Sebo Capricho, in Londrina. Now in early January it will be released in Belo Horizonte (headquarters of publisher Nandyala), Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba and Vitoria. After the World Cup it will be released in Belém, during the Encontro Brasileiro de Pesquisadores Negros (Brazilian Meeting of Black Researchers).
Source: O Diário, Ferreira, Amanda Crispim. “Vozes-mulheres: algumas considerações sobre a escrita afro-feminina amanda crispim ferreira.” UFMG. Anais do XIV Seminário Nacional Mulher e Literatura/V Seminário Internacional Mulher e Literatura
1. Ponciá Vicêncio, the debut novel by Afro-Brazilian author Conceição Evaristo, is the story of a young Afro-Brazilian woman’s journey from the land of her enslaved ancestors to the emptiness of urban life. However, the generations of creativity, violence and family cannot be so easily left behind as Ponciá is heir to a mysterious psychic gift from her grandfather. Does this gift have the power to bring Ponciá back from the emotional vacuum and absolute solitude that has overtaken her in the city? Do the elemental forces of earth, air, fire and water mean anything in the barren urban landscape? This mystical story of family, dreams and hope by the incomparable Evaristo, illuminates aspects of urban and rural Afro-Brazilian conditions with poetic eloquence and raw urgency. Source
2. Jorge Leal Amado de Faria (10 August 1912 – 6 August 2001) was a Brazilian writer of the modernist school. He was the best-known of modern Brazilian writers, his work having been translated into some 49 languages and popularized in film, notably Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands in 1978. His work reflects the image of a mestizo Brazil and is marked by religious syncretism. He depicted a cheerful and optimistic country that was beset, at the same time, with deep social and economic differences. He occupied the 23rd chair of the Brazilian Academy of Letters from 1961 until his death in 2001. Source
3. Although Amado is one of Brazil’s most well-known writers, his work and that of various other white Brazilian authors have been consistently accused of portraying black characters, particularly black women in very stereotypical manners. On Amado, his works and characters and that of others, Amanda Crispim Ferreira writes:
“…the representation of women, or rather, of black women, through the lens of the Brazilian poet, presents a stereotypical view (docile, devoid of will and voice and as a manipulable object) and zoomorphic (wild animal, domesticated beast), never humanized. Like Gregório de Matos, other names of our Literature reinforced this image, like José de Alencar, with his ‘morenas ardentes (hot morenas)’ and ‘docile and manageable slaves’, Aluísio de Azevedo, with his Rita Bahianas and Bertolezas, Jorge Amado, with his Gabrielas, Terezas Batistas, Tietas do Agreste, and so many other sexually provocative mulata women, sex objects for white men, good slaves, black mothers, sterile black women or as Eduardo de Assis Duarte said ‘marked women’ of our literature.”