Gabriela Meets Olodum: Paradoxes of Hybridity, Racial Identity, and Black Consciousness in Contemporary Brazil

Gabriela Meets Olodum: Paradoxes of Hybridity, Racial Identity, and Black Consciousness in Contemporary Brazil

Research in African Literatures
Volume 38, Number 1 (Spring 2007)
pages 181-193
E-ISSN: 1527-2044
Print ISSN: 0034-5210
DOI: 10.1353/ral.2007.0007

Russell G. Hamilton, Emeritus Professor of Portuguese, Brazilian and Lusophone African Literatures
Vanderbilt University

With respect to the first part of this article’s title, Gabriela is the formidable female protagonist of Jorge Amado’s celebrated novel Gabriela, Cravo e Canela. This novel, first published in 1958, has been translated into more than fifteen languages, and its English-language version, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, made the New York Times best-seller list for nearly a year. Moreover, the novel was adapted to the small screen as a TV series, as well as to the silver screen. In the role of Gabriela, Sônia Braga, a prototypical Brazilian morena, a term used to designate a mixed-race woman, became a sensation in the 1975 telenovela (soap opera). Braga later received international acclaim when she starred opposite Marcello Mastroianni in the 1985 film adaptation of the novel.

When Amado’s novel first appeared in print, Gabriela became the latest in a long line of enchanting female mulatto characters in Brazilian literature. To a greater or lesser degree, all of these fictional females, the mixed-race offspring of African and European or of Brazilian Indian and Caucasian parentage, are most often depicted as physically and otherwise appealing literary characters. Whether in literature and other modes of cultural expression, or in real and imagined social existence, exotic, mysterious, coquettish, and sensual women of color, most especially mulatas (mulatto women), constitute both the subjects and objects of a nativistic and, indeed, pan-Luso-Brazilian cult. This cult of the mulataencantada (enchanted mulatto woman) has been codified as a romanticized component of Brazil’s national identity and popular culture. Although less likely to occur as blatantly today, in this era of increased black consciousness, the cult of the enchanted mulatto, and mulatto enchantress, has manifested itself in the popular press…

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