African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World

Posted in Africa, Anthologies, Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery on 2015-09-13 20:34Z by Steven

African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World

Cambria Press
428 pages
6 x 9 in or 229 x 152 mm Case Laminate
ISBN: 9781604978926

Edited by:

Ana Lucia Araujo, Professor of History
Howard University, Washington, D.C.

This book explores the history of African tangible and intangible heritages and its links with the public memory of slavery in Brazil and Angola. The two countries are deeply connected, given how most enslaved Africans, forcibly brought to Brazil during the era of the Atlantic slave trade, were from West Central Africa. Brazil imported the largest number of enslaved Africans during the Atlantic slave trade and was the last country in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery in 1888. Today, other than Nigeria, the largest population of African descent is in Brazil. Yet it was only in the last twenty years that Brazil’s African heritage and its slave past have gained greater visibility. Prior to this, Brazil’s African heritage and its slave past were completely neglected.

Even after the abolition of slavery in Brazil, African culture continued to be marginalized. Carnival, religious festivals, as well as Candomblé ceremonies, and capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art) created important spaces of black assertion and insurgency. These cultural traditions were contested by white elites and public authorities, but starting in the 1930s, capoeira became a national symbol and Candomblé temples were gradually officially added to Brazil’s list of heritage sites.

In spite of these developments, the Atlantic slave past has remained absent from the public landscape of Brazilian and Angolan former slave ports, suggesting how difficult it is for these countries to address the painful legacies of slavery. African art and material culture also continued to be excluded from museums and other official institutions. In the rare instances that African artifacts were shown, they would be confined to only certain places dedicated to popular culture and associated with the religious sphere.

Even though public attention on slavery was growing internationally through national and international initiatives (e.g., The Slave Route Project by UNESCO), Brazil and Angola developed very few initiatives for the memorialization of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade. This has started to change slowly in the last decade as Brazil has begun engaging in more initiatives to memorialize slavery and underscore the importance of its African heritage.

Brazil’s slave past and African heritage are emerging gradually in urban and rural areas through different kinds of initiatives led not only by activists but also by scholars in association with black communities. Although in their early stages, most of these projects are permanent programs supported by official agencies. This new configuration suggests that––unlike the case in Angola––in Brazil, slavery and the Atlantic the slave trade are becoming recognized as foundational chapters of the country’s history.

This is the first book in English to focus on African heritage and public memory of slavery in Brazil and Angola. This interdisciplinary study examines visual images, dance, music, oral accounts, museum exhibitions, artifacts, monuments, festivals, and others forms of commemoration to illuminate the social and cultural dynamics that over the last twenty years have propelled––or prevented––the visibility of African heritage (and its Atlantic slave trade legacy) in the South Atlantic region.

The book makes a very important contribution to the understanding of the place of African heritage and slavery in the official history and public memory of Brazil and Angola, topics that remain understudied. The study’s focus on the South Atlantic world, a zone which is sparsely covered in the scholarly corpus on Atlantic history, will further research on other post-slave societies.

African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World is an important book for African studies and Latin American studies. It is especially valuable for African Diaspora studies, African history, Atlantic history, history of Brazil, history of slavery, and Caribbean history.

Table of Contents

  • List of Figures
  • Introduction: Wounded Pasts: Memory of Slavery and African Heritage in Brazil (Ana Lucia Araujo)
  • Chapter 1: Collectionism and Colonialism: The Africana Collection at Brazil’s National Museum (Rio de Janeiro) (Mariza de Carvalho Soares)
  • Chapter 2: Race and Visual Representation: Louis Agassiz and Hermann Burmeister (Maria Helena Machado)
  • Chapter 3: Counter-Witnessing the Visual Culture of Brazilian Slavery (Matthew Francis Rarey)
  • Chapter 4: Angola in Brazil: The Formation of Angoleiro identity in Bahia (Matthias Röhrig Assunção)
  • Chapter 5: Memories of Captivity and Freedom in São José da Serra Jongo Festivals: Cultural Heritage and Black Identity (1888–2011) (Martha Abreu and Hebe Mattos)
  • Chapter 6: From Public Amnesia to Public Memory: Re-Discovering Slavery Heritage in Rio de Janeiro (André Cicalo)
  • Chapter 7: Uncomfortable Pasts: Talking About Slavery in Angola (Marcia C. Schenck and Mariana P. Candido)
  • Chapter 8: “Bahia is a Closer Africa”: Brazilian Slavery and Heritage in African American Roots Tourism (Patricia de Santana Pinho)
  • Chapter 9: Preserving African Art, History, and Memory: The AfroBrazil Museum (Kimberly Cleveland)
  • Chapter 10: The Legacy of Slavery in Contemporary Brazil (Myrian Sepúlveda dos Santos)
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • About the Contributors
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Black Orpheus and the Merging of two Brazilian Nations

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Science on 2012-03-31 18:06Z by Steven

Black Orpheus and the Merging of two Brazilian Nations

European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Number 71, October 2001
pages 107-115

Myrian Sepúlveda dos Santos, Associate Professor of Sociology
State University of Rio de Janeiro

The second cinematic remake of the play ‘Orfeu da Conceição’ has sparked a new debate among filmmakers and social scientists, bringing out opposing views on major aspects of Brazilian nationhood, such as race relations, bodily practices and the meaning of Carnival. The Brazilian poet Vinícius de Moraes wrote the original play, which was presented for the first time in Rio de Janeiro in 1956. This play is about a tragic love affair between two black characters, Orpheus and Eurydice, posed against the background of carnival in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Orpheus is a gifted musician who meets Eurydice during carnival. It so happens that after falling in love with Orpheus, Eurydice is killed by a man who represents the devil. The desperate Orpheus descends into Hell to rescue her. When he comes back home with the corpse of Eurydice, Mira, who was his former lover, kills him. Central to the play is the defence of the eternity of art set against the tragic reality of life.

Two films were produced based on this same play, and both directors claim to reveal the universal meaning of art against the background of a carnival feast associated with the Brazilian black population. The films were produced in 1959 and 1998. The first, Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro) was directed by the French filmmaker Marcel Camus. It is mainly recognised for its utopian view in which love and passion, race relations and carnival are represented. The second film, entitled Orfeu, was directed by the Brazilian filmmaker Cacá Diegues, and has been praised for its commitment to the description of reality. In it, Diegues explored the commodification of bodies, racial conflicts, and the commercialisation of the carnival feast. This director previously belonged to the important movement of Brazilian filmmakers known as cinema novo, which tried to transform cinematic industrial productions into critical and artistic productions. He is also the director of acclaimed Brazilian films such as Bye Bye Brasil, Xica da Silva and Tieta. In his Orpheus film, Diegues used a set of sophisticated cinematic techniques in order to give the illusion of reality. While making the screenplay, he worked with an excellent group of intellectuals and cast many well-known celebrities of Rio’s cultural life rather than using professional actors.

As the latter production was not well received by international film critics, the Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso wrote a challenging article in the New York Times defending the recent remake. Veloso criticised the former internationally acclaimed version of the play for depicting Brazilians as exotics using outrageously fanciful colours and the general ‘voodoo for tourists’ ambience (Veloso 2000). Indeed, the film directed by Marcel Camus did win the Oscar for the Best Foreign Film and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It was considered the Best Foreign Film and the Best Film, respectively, by the New York Film Critics’ Circle and by the British Academy. In 1960 it received the Golden Globe Award. The acclaimed version of Black Orpheus attempted to produce an ageless representation of art and it fascinated foreign audiences. According to Veloso, however, the film was not well considered by Brazilians.Veloso happened not only to be the author of the soundtrack of the second film, but he also appeared in a short scene in this film, and his wife was one of the producers.

Despite his involvement with the production of the film, Veloso is absolutely right as he points out that although the first production is capable of completely engaging a foreign audience, the ambience of fun and happiness among all the characters is not attractive to most citizens of Rio. For them any possibility of self-recognition in the story diminishes from the earliest scenes. For most Brazilians, the first production seems to be one more in a long list of those commodities that were made para inglês ver, that is, produced according to a foreign idealization of Brazilian customs and dress. Therefore, the musician called attention not only to the diversity of interpretations, but also to the power associated with the different forums that appraise and legitimate the meaning of art. However, to what extent is it possible to affirm that whereas the first film is a mere fairy tale, the second fulfils the task of depicting reality? In addition, how are we to understand the influence of two different historical contexts upon these two films?

In this paper, I will investigate the two cinematic productions, considering them as part of processes that took place within different historical periods. In particular, I will be examining the issues of race relations and bodily pleasures within carnival, as they appear to be overriding in both versions of the play. I will consider that although each film can be seen as part of its respective time, they both represent two one-sided versions of the meaning of carnival practices in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Whereas the first production was produced at the end of the 1950s when the Brazilian ideal of racial democracy was widely accepted, the second was produced at the end of the 1990s when mass media, violence and the rights of ethnic minorities constituted the political agenda of our times. In the second film, from the earliest scenes the focus is on poverty, shootings and injustice. The poor neighbourhood located on the hillsides of the city is continually invaded by brutal police forces, and Eurydice is senselessly killed by the leader of the drug trafficking gang. The decomposing corpses thrown at the edge of the hillside by drug dealers represented Hell…

…From Racial Democracy to Multiculturalism

On the subject of race relations in Brazil, the two cinematic productions of the Greek legend offer two dramatically different approaches. With its all-black cast, the first film brought about a remarkable revolution in the complex racial relations of Brazil. Even so, the cinematic images portray Rio’s natural beauty, the mesmerising sound of drums, and the festive manifestations of life, romanticising the conflict present among the poor and black population that inhabits the hillsides of the city. The film was produced at a time when the myth of racial democracy in Brazil was held, and it reinforced the myth. The more recent production is also very much a product of its time. It portrays racial conflict through the medium of racially radical rap lyrics as well through the images of a white man being executed by a group of predominantly black drug traffickers.

A series of studies developed in the 1970s completely transformed the contemporary approaches to race relations in Brazil as they showed that despite widespread miscegenation, race remained an important indicator of privilege in Brazilian society. Furthermore, they showed that blacks continue to occupy the lower rungs of the socio-economic scale (Hasenbalg 1979). This is a social and political issue that confronts citizens to this day. Based on these studies, many analyses of race relations concluded that the image of Brazil as a racially democratic nation is a fantasy essentially constructed either by the dominant classes or by the Brazilian elite. Based on the assertion that the myth of racial democracy obscures discrimination, many authors maintain that black people need to build their own identities separate from white values and beliefs. According to their analyses there would be an evolving process of ‘racialisation’ whereby Brazilian race relations would become more transparent (Guimarães 2000)…

Nevertheless, if it is true to say that, regardless of the social class to which black people belong, there is prejudice against them in Brazil, it is also true to say that to this day it is almost impossible to represent the majority of the Brazilian population in terms of a strict code of race. I would risk saying that, although the North-American dual model of race is beginning to be appropriated by some groups of the black movement in Brazil, the racial code, which would easily consider those to be of black or of African descent by either European or North American standards, is far from being recognised by the majority of the Brazilian population. Discrimination in Brazil does not occur according to the same mechanisms as it does in the United States. The idea of miscegenation is still widespread in Brazil. Although it involves exclusion of dark-skinned people and represents the mechanism by which racism operates, it also entails a wider acceptance of different cultures, values and beliefs. The Brazilian population defines itself according to more than three hundred terms that relate to race and colour. Although Brazilians are people who see themselves according to multiple definitions, including the opposition between blacks and whites, they are far from being limited to them.

It is also important to point out that the idea of miscegenation has been part of the idea of the nation since the 1930s. It is widely recognised that a new national identity was formulated during Getúlio Vargas’ populist government. This new identity promoted the image of a harmonious and homogeneous whole capable of including all citizens regardless of race, ethnic origins or colour. The imagery of the nation was constituted as the composite of diverse cultural elements such as samba, carnival, and feijoada, all of which are associated with the ‘Brazilian’ population. The Brazilian construction of nationalism conflated the ideas of miscegenation and nation, and this conflation can be considered as the result of a process of negotiation that has not yet been completely concluded.

Myths are not abstract constructions. They are continually manifested through the ways in which most Brazilians define themselves and interact with one another. Gilberto Freyre was one of the authors who first described in positive terms the process of widespread criss-crossing among different social and cultural populations. However, although Freyre has been praised for having pointed out that the blending process in Brazil was highly inclusive (Freyre 1930), he has not been sufficiently criticised for failing to call attention to the fact that the process of inclusion was often cynical and ambivalent. The process of inclusion did not include black people in the same way and in the same arenas as it did for white people. The recognition and positive values attributed to Brazilian miscegenation came with a series of other mythologies, such as the belief in the goodness of progressive whitening and the association between blacks and all sorts of hedonism. One should not overlook the resulting violence and inequalities that have occurred as a result of those contexts…

Read the entire article here.

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