Salvador, Bahia: Brazil’s “Little Africa”

Written by Leaynet Sahilu, (Howard University) Student Correspondent CET Brazil, Spring 2018

The state of Bahia, or as I would like to call it, Brazil’s “Little Africa” has the largest African population outside of the African continent, particularly in its capital of Salvador. Located on the Bahian coast, Salvador was the first capital of Brazil, serving as the center of the slave trade in Brazil. As a result, this city has a blend of mainly African and Portuguese as well as some Amerindian influence, which can be seen through its food, language, music, dance, religion and architecture, especially the cobblestone roads and antique buildings located in the Pelourinho neighborhood.

Prior to setting foot on Brazilian soil, I tried to acquaint myself with Brazilian culture, more specifically to Bahian culture, through various ways such as educational videos on YouTube that focused on Brazilian culture, various activities/events held at Howard University and outside, different sporting events on TV. Nevertheless, I only knew Salvador by name, as it was one of the host cities during the 2014 FIFA World Cup held in Brazil.

I actually learned about Bahia and its unique culture a year ago after watching a short video on YouTube of a traveler by the name of Kelley Ferro. I learned about two of Salvador’s tourist attractions, Pelourinho and the church of Senhor do Bonfim–and getting to see those two places in person was such a great experience. I also took part in a Candomblé ceremony. The ceremony was very fascinating and beautiful. I was astonished by what I saw. Seeing the women and men in their traditional attires, dancing and singing along and hearing the drumbeats and the sound of the bugle, I felt like I was actually in Africa. My overall experience with the Candomblé ceremony was extraordinary. I also had the opportunity to attend an Afro-Brazilian Catholic mass at Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos Church. The service was not like an ordinary Catholic Church service like I have been attending. One thing that makes this mass special from an ordinary Catholic mass is the fact that there were percussions involved in the Afro-Brazilian Catholic mass. The whole ceremony kind of reminded me of the Kwanzaa celebrations that I took part in a few times at the Union Temple Baptist Church in Washington, DC.

Another part of my trip to Bahia that I really enjoyed was the Afro-Brazilian cuisine workshop, where I, along with other CET students learned how to make Bahian Moqueca, which has tons of ingredients, compared to the moqueca I had when I was at my friend’s place in the State of Espirito Santo, which is known as Moqueca Capixaba (pronounced capi-shaba). One thing that I personally liked about this workshop was the fact that we all were able to make the moqueca as a team. Some groups of students took turns to cut the tomatoes, some cut the onions, and much more, while observing the demonstrations on how to make a Moqueca. I must say that it was actually an amazing experience.

Sisters from the Brazilian state of Paraná who I met on the day of our boat trip to Ilha dos Frade

Another favorite part of my trip to Bahia was our boat trip to Ilha dos Frades on April 13. Aside from the amazing boat ride and the breathtaking scenery, I had the chance to meet and interact with people outside of the CET program. I had a great conversation with local Bahians, as well as other Brazilians from the states of São Paulo and Paraná. I was able to communicate with them in Portuguese, telling about my experience in Brazil as a study abroad student and how I really admire and love almost everything about their country, while trying to strengthen my Portuguese in the process. Overall, my time in Bahia was one of the best and I would love to return to Bahia and re-visit all the places in the state.