Written by Sinclair Blue, (Georgetown University) Student Correspondent CET Brazil, Fall 2018
“Parece que não vai fazer calor
Talvez não lhe agrade a pulseira
Do senhor do bonfim
Mas mande notícias de salvador
Manda notícia de Salvador”
– Noticias de Salvadoer, Luedji Luna,
Salvador was the first capital of Brazil, and with good reason. The Bay of All Saints (Bahia de todos os Santos) was one of the most important ports, and became a central site of trade. Among the sugar, tobacco, and cocoa that traveled through the port, there was another good: enslaved Africans. Of the estimated 5,000,000 Africans forcibly sent to Brazil, approximately 1,200,000 were sent to Salvador. Knowing this, it makes sense that every time I mentioned to a Brazilian that I was headed to Salvador, they all had a similar response “It’s like a little piece of Africa in Brazil!” Well, they were right. Partially.
While Salvador was undeniably influenced by its African population, there is a uniquely Afro-Brazilian identity, characterized by syncretism, resistance, and pride. What stood out to me is that each historic site we went to had a unique history, with strong links to specific places in Africa. For instance, Quilombo Kaonge has direct ties to the Bantu tribe while Capoeira Angola maintains its connection to Angola through instruments and stylistic elements.
We even learned about the Muslim influence on the Candomblé practice. Many candomblistas wear white on Fridays, just as Muslims performing hajj wearing white to signify that they are all the same in the eyes of God. Obatala is the father of all Orixas, and some argue his name derived from Allah, the name of God in Arabic. The strong link Bahians maintain to their African heritage stands in stark contrast to North America, where most connections to the continent were forcibly destroyed.
While it is easy to generalize Salvador as having an “African” influence, the term “African” is so general that it means little without context. I appreciate that CET offered us a more in-depth exploration of Salvador and that we were able to learn from multiple primary sources. It was truly an amazing traveling seminar. Our tour guide was an Afro-Brazilian, born and raised in Salvador; we had the chance to attend an academic lecture at UFBA; we visited a Quilombo and talked with community leaders, participated in a Capoeira workshop, and so on.
Coming back to São Paulo was difficult, especially in light of the recent elections in Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro, a racist, fascist, sexist, military-dictatorship supporting candidate was elected as president. As I lament his election, I remember Bahia. I remember how the Afro-Brazilians who had no rights, no land, and no formal education were able to survive. I remember how they subverted the Portuguese Crown and the white Brazilian elite to retain elements of their culture, preserving their physical and mental health. So yes, the political situation is frightening, disheartening, and a serious threat to the well-being of many Brazilians. Yet resistance is just as much a part of the history of Brazil as is oppression. I have hope that this regime change will be survivable as well.