May 6, 2005
Salvador da Bahia used to be the major hub of the slave trade in South America. Today, Afro-Brazilians make up about 80% of the city. One of the factors that make Salvador such an interesting place to visit is that the Africans that were brought to the city held onto their customs, music, food, and religion for centuries. This gives the city its exotic vibe today.
Our first stop was a Candomblé community. The major religions of Bahia are Catholicism and an African-rooted religion called Candomblé. The Candomblé religion has several deities, or orixás. The Candomblé practitioners sometimes dance themselves into a trance in order to get closer to these orixás. We did not witness any of the religious ceremonies; however, we were allowed to see some of the worship places and meet some of the people in the community. Paula, our tour guide, gave excellent narration of the complex and seemed to know everyone who lived and worshipped there.
The final stop of our tour was at the meeting place of the members of Ilê Aiyê. This small building was located in a residential neighborhood. The first thing I noticed about the building was its very bright yellow and red graffiti.
Like the US, Brazil has had to deal with racism and discrimination. I was surprised to find out that the discrimination is not only between blacks and non-blacks, but also between light-skinned blacks and dark-skinned blacks. People believe it is more desirable to be light skinned.
Fortunately, attitudes towards racism and discrimination are beginning to change in Salvador. Ilê Aiyê is one of the groups involved in promoting equality, self-esteem, and heritage pride. We met the president and founder of Ilê Aiyê, Antônio, Carlos Vovô. Paula acted as the translator as Mr. Vovô, who told us the history of Ilê Aiyê, which began in 1974.
Ilê Aiyê also participates in Carnival and has very good musicians and performers. For years, blacks were not allowed to participate in the Carnival celebration, but today, Ilê Aiyê is one of the favorites in Salvador da Bahia. We met some of the musicians of the group. I bought one of their CDs and got their autographs. The CD is very good. It has excellent Bahian drumming with chants and lots of call-and-response singing.
From journal Brazil Trip - Salvador da Bahia