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Africans in Brazil and Afro-Brazilian Religion and Culture  

Luis Nicolau Parés

Of the estimated 4.9 million African captives disembarked in Brazil, 70 % were shipped from Central Africa, 24 % from West Africa, and the remaining 6 % from the East Coast of the continent. Despite their diverse political and cultural backgrounds, Africans were classified by slavers with a discrete number of generic categories often referred to as “nations.” The enslaved appropriation of such external labels, like Mina and Angola—distinguishing Western and Central Africans respectively—resulted in the formation of new collective identities. The novel ways of colonial belonging and behavior shaped and expressed themselves as distinct forms of Afro-Brazilian culture when organized around social institutions such as Catholic lay brotherhoods or other African-inspired associative dynamics. Religious practice, including music, language, bodily performance, cooking and dress, became a privileged domain for African cultural production, subsequently irradiating into other secular manifestations. The colonial calundu, concerned with healing and oracular functionalities, greatly influenced by the Bantu-speaking people, coexisted and intermingled with the more ecclesiastical West-African traditions of initiatory ritual dedicated to the worship of multiple deities. Despite common elements of celebration, healing and mediumship, Afro-Brazilian religious pluralism was historically marked by an extraordinary eclecticism. Different local interactions with the hegemonic Iberian Catholicism, Amerindian healing practices and French Spiritism, together with the circulation of people and ideas between Africa and Brazil after the end of the Atlantic slave trade, led to a wide range of regional variation. This heterogeneous Afro-Brazilian religious field, prone to continuous discrimination and selective tolerance by the authorities, is stressed by a discursive contrast between the alleged traditional pure African forms and the mixed syncretic Brazilian ones, all claiming their share of legitimacy and ritual efficiency.

Article

Race and Cultural Politics in Bahia  

Osmundo Pinho

The state of Bahia and its capital, Salvador, are the original loci of European colonization in the territory that later became Brazil. Together with other cities in the Northeast and along the Brazilian coast, they witnessed the imposition of mercantile capitalism and slave labor as forms of production of a new state and society. In the 21st century, Bahia is a state marked by racial inequality, the poverty of a large part of the population, and state violence, paradoxically associated with the strong presence of traditions of African origin and a rich and dense popular cultural life, as in other parts of the African diaspora. This combination implies certain contradictions experienced in different fields, in the present social structure and in the cultural and political history of the region. This can be seen in the trajectory of carnival, the most important popular festival in the city, and in its successive moments of identity reinvention as well as in the constitution of the city’s landscape, marked by black and African presence in symbolic and material ways. It can also be seen in the historical formation of candomblé, the cult of Yoruban gods in Bahia, developed amid persecutions and disputes. All these dimensions are structured in the expressive cultural forms of a black culture, which has been made and remade by generations of Afro-descendants in this environment marked by inequality, but also by creativity, joy, and aesthetic power.