Roots of the Diaspora: Documentary ‘Enraizadas’ | Story of Nagô Braids
Note from BW of Brazil: Looking at the preview of this documentary reminds of the period from the mid to late ’90s when I would get my hair braided regularly once a week. Living in Detroit, one of the black hair capitals in the United States, black women with talented hands and creative styles were in abundance, and with rappers and Neo-Soul singers of the era influencing the look in Black America, hair salons were in hot demand.
After a few trips to northeastern Brazil became annual visits, I already knew that it wouldn’t be a problem getting my ‘fro braided whenever it was necessary. After all, when you’re visiting a country that received the most enslaved Africans in the Americas, you know that many of the same cultural practices you’re accustomed to finding as a descendant of Africans in your home country, you will find those same practices in Brazil.
The preview of the documentary featured in the video below took me back to either 2001 or 2002 (not sure of which year). Hanging out in the historic Pelourinho area of the Salvador, Bahia, I wanted to get my hair washed and freshly braided. I saw plenty of sistas in the streets offering their services but I wanted to be able to sit down and relax in a salon. That’s when someone told me about a brotha named Oliver who well-known in the community. When I finally met the guy, the first thing that struck me, as I’m sure it was the same with other people meeting him, were the bright, multi-colored beads he wore in his hair. Looking at that collection of beads, I thought, “Dude, that’s GOT to be heavy!”
After we kicked it for 15 minutes or so, Oliver and his girlfriend loosened up my cornrows, washed and conditioned my hair and then commenced to re-doing the braids. The other thing I remember about getting my hair braided that day was the Lauryn Hill CD that they played while they were working on my hair. A few years prior, her first CD as a solo artist, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, had been a huge hit, selling more than eight million copies and earning her five Grammy awards.
With such success, fans anticipated her next release, but her MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 CD was nothing that fans expected, featuring a set of songs in which Lauryn sang while strumming an acoustic guitar. I, like many who loved her debut CD, didn’t really know what the make of her transition from a singer/rapper of neo-Soul, conscious Hip Hop to folk singer. I didn’t buy the CD and the hour or so I spent in Oliver’s salon was the first time I had even heard most of the music on the two-disc set. It was years later before I read the lyrics to the song “I Get Out” from that CD and thought that Lauryn was going through something tramatic. Years later, Lauryn Hill still has a huge following in Brazil as her last show in São Paulo in 2019 proved. The price of the tickets were BRL$350 but the show sold out with the quickness.
Anyway, after a few hours, Oliver and his girlfriend had done a great job hooking me up with some freshly done cornrows. In later years, I would see many photos of Oliver online doing the hair of numerous white tourists who had passed through the Pelourinho district. As I hadn’t visited Salvador for a number of years, I didn’t really know what the famous Oliver Pereira had been up to. As it turns out, the hairstylist had removed the signature beads from his hair and had been teaching hair techniques in the prisons of Bahia, both to male and female inmates.
As a child, Oliver had been told by an aunt that he would grow up to be a thief and his sister a prostitute. Imagine hearing something like this from your own family. But Pereira’s skills with a razor and clippers as well as his artistic cuts, hair coloring, braiding and escova (Keratin blowout technique) earned him a following and his classes would lead to at least seven of his students opening their own salons. Besides the prison program, he had also given numerous lectures and workshops and, in 2017, Oliver was nominated for the Prêmio Innovare award that recognizes those who work for the improvement of the Brazilian judicial system.
One of these days, I need to return to Salvador. It’s been years and that city always provokes good memories, a certain mysticism and an ancestral connection that many African-Americans feel after having spent some time there. From my experience with Oliver in Salvador to the documentary featured in today’s post, braiding techniques are yet another way that we as African descendants remain connected to our roots.
Documentary ‘Enraizadas’ (rooted) tells the story of Nagô braids as a symbol of tradition and resistance in Brazil’s black community
By Kauê Vieira
Much more than a hairstyle or a hair technique for aesthetic purposes, nagô braids are true cultural, affective, affirmative and identity channels for black culture – and this is the premise turned history in the documentary Enraizadas. The act of braiding kinky/curly hair tends to be present and marks, from a very early age, the childhood of a black child.
In recent years, different hairstyle models have emerged, but little is known about the act of resistance they represented during the period of slavery in Brazil. From this story, the documentary Enraizadas was born, directed by Gabriele Roza and Juliana Nascimento, and premiered online this Thursday (25th), at the Curta Diaspora Festival.
The film comes from interviews and recreations of archival images to investigate the “weave of hair threads in nagô braids as a process not restricted to aesthetic beauty but also to the renewal of affections, of resistance and reaffirmation of identity and tradition.” It is a dive into African roots and their poetic and ethical marks with hair as a starting point.
Conceived and directed by two black women and made by a team almost entirely composed of black people, the film brings several researchers to guide and deepen the plunge into the history, strength and meaning of nagô braids. According to the synopsis available on Instagram for the documentary, Enraizadas is “a film that goes beyond and refreshes the look of braids to exalt poetics, history, Africanity, mathematical knowledge and the possibilities of invention through hair.”
The documentary shows that kinky/curly hair has always communicated the history. “Braiding has been going on in our lives since childhood, this is part of the daily lives of many black girls. Since the beginning of the film, we wanted to bring our memories that are related to hair care and also share a little of this process, which was to discover that braids are much more than a hairstyle. Before starting to write the script, we searched for files and research on braids in Brazil and we were faced with a lack of images of a story that is so beautiful and representative. That was what awakened our desire to film,” explains Gabriele.
The filmmaker also says that braids rescue stories of black culture that need to be known in order to strengthen the collective and individual identity of the population. “Stories of struggle, resistance, strategy that were made invisible. The hair braiders, in addition to working on our self-esteem, preserve our memory and culture. We believe that it’s important to talk about braids to remember that it’s not only aesthetics. The act of braiding transmits cultural values between generations. Kinky/curly hair has always communicated and materialized our history,” says Gabriele.
Research to carry out the project began last year, and showed that everywhere black people were taken in their diaspora, it was also their connection with the braids, as ancestral memories, as true roots preserved through this braiding. Other meanings that are not well known for braids are also in the film. Researcher Luane Bento dos Santos presents the hairstyle as a mathematical knowledge.
“Braiding, for us, is more than a statement, it is an expression of affection, a symbol of self-care that has been passed down from generation to generation”, reads post about the film. Since June the film has been shown at online festivals, and so it’s worth following its Instagram – in order to keep up with it at festivals and also to know a little more about this incredible ancestral history.
The film will be shown today at 6 pm at the Curta Diaspora Festival, organized by the producer Of Color, on YouTube by Cerveja Praya. The display link will be available on the project’s Instagram and the production company’s Instagram. On Sunday (28), the film will be shown at 4 pm during the hair braider contest at the 16th Tejiendo Esperanzas, a meeting in Colombia that brings together hair braiders from all over the world.
“We are participating in the selection processes of other festivals that will take place starting next month. But the idea is that the film is not restricted to festivals, we want to participate in meetings too,” says Gabriele.
12 national and international films will be shown. According to curator Caio Rosa, the selected films address different perspectives of black people in the diaspora. “The festival comes with productions of young people in the diaspora who have made films from an urban perspective. Curta Diaspora features art, video art, documentary and fictional films. The idea is to show people that black audiovisual and artistic production doesn’t have only one point of view, it has several points of view, several languages,” he says.