The aesthetic escape hatch: carnaval, blocos afro and the mutations of baianidade under the signs of globalisation and re-Africanisation

The aesthetic escape hatch: carnaval, blocos afro and the mutations of baianidade under the signs of globalisation and re-Africanisation

Journal of Iberian and Latin American Research
Volume 5, Issue 2, 1999
pages 65-98
DOI: 10.1080/13260219.1999.10431798

Piers Armstrong
Universidade Federal da Bahia, Brazil

This article examines the notion of baianidade, the cultural cosmovision traditionally associated with the state of Bahia and more specifically with the region of the Baía de Todos os Santos. A series of connotations for the term are examined, including cordiality, racial democracy and miscegenation. Through the cultural practice of baianidade, a social compromise is effected whereby material space and symbolic prestige are conceded to the black community in exchange for a relative political passivity. This exchange is not construed here as a conscious manoeuvre by the established powers, but rather in terms of the internal logic of an economy of symbolic capital. To exemplify both the fluidity and the semantic essentialism characteristic of baianidade, the article proceeds to the cultural semantics of the related term, baiana, a nominalized adjective which etymologically denotes a female native of the region, but by extension also denotes one among the various local religions and an associated culinary tradition. Against this essentializing consolidation, the article then considers contemporary uses of the term within a more individualistic consumer society. Finally, baianidade is compared synchronically to other major ideo-esthetic discourses of the Black diaspora.

Introduction: Bahian carnaval

The carnaval of Salvador, capital of Bahia State in Brazil, has grown immensely in popularity in recent years, so that it now rivals the more famous Rio carnaval in terms of numbers of visitors. Carnaval culture—music, dance, consumption and consequent entrepreneurial opportunities—has spread to the whole calendar of annual and weekly festivities, religious and secular, and has transformed Bahian society both in terms of its internal recreation patterns and in terms of its relations with external society. While the prominent traditional agricultural industries (cocoa, cattle, and vegetables) have encountered difficulties and contracted, tourism, largely based around carnaval or carnavalesque attractions, has increased spectacularly and become the centre of growth strategies. The old centre of Salvador has been transformed from extreme poverty and physical decay into the central tourist destination. Bahian pop music has penetrated the national and international markets. Bahian practices such as capoeira (martial arts dance) have spread around the world. An ever-growing number of international visitors (about 400,000 a year in a city of 2.5 million) arrive by plane, in search of cultural vitality and authenticity. The sheer volume of international visitors and the prominence of tourism as a source of new employment has also transformed local experience through personal exposure to foreigners with different ideas. A significant number of persons from previously completely marginalised classes have visited or lived in Western European countries as a result of this contact. While world globalisation (access and interaction between different locations) has been the pre-condition of the cultural marketing of Salvador to the world, the city itself has undergone globalisation in terms of qualitative culture as well as economic modernisation…

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