Academic journal article
By McElroy, Isis Costa
Afro - Hispanic Review , Vol. 29, No. 1
It is eleven o'clock on a hot morning in the city of Salvador, in the northeastern coastal state of Bahia, Brazil [. . .] A large group of men have donned long white tunics, they have decorated themselves with white terrycloth turbans, each with a large plastic sapphire-blue gem sewn on the front. They wear white leather sandals, sapphire-blue socks, and many strands of plastic beaded necklaces, worn crossing their torsos. Among this gathering of hundreds of men is an old black man carrying a staff and wrapped in a white toga-like sheet, wearing dark brown leather sandals. Behind him there is a crowd of yet more men dressed similarly, dancing and playing instruments, one man dancing while carrying a stuffed goat. The sash adorning their bodies reads Filhos de Gandhy. Sons of Gandhi. Gandhi, the slain pacifist who helped free India from British Raj, but he was not black, nor did he wear terrycloth turbans with plastic gems on them, nor did he parade on the street's playing percussion instruments during carnival time. How did a stuffed goat fit in Gandhi's program? The men start to spray the crowd with pungent Alfazema eau de cologne as a blessing often used in Candomblé, the syncretized religion of Afro-Brazil. The procession begins. What is going on here?
The figure of Mahatma Gandhi fascinated me as a pre-teen living in são Paulo.1 I remember the enthusiasm with which I watched richard attenborough's movie Gandhi in the early 80s. By then I had not yet seen, either live or on tv, images of the Bahian carnaval group Filhos de Gandhy,2 but I knew quite well Gilberto Gil's musical tribute to the group. through Gil, I first learned about this group of male performers who evoked the orishas and Gandhi as a prodigal son and protégée of oshala, the creator deity, "king of the white cloth." like other Brazilians, I must have "Brazilianized" Gandhi in my imagination, and because of it, I must have felt a sense of kinship with the historic figure portrayed in the film. I remember how when I later came across images of this semi-religious carnaval group, or afoxé, I was enchanted by what I perceived as beautiful, poetic, political, and "carnavalistically" sacred. nothing in my state of enchantment was threatened by a critical positioning or by uncomfortable perceptions of corruption, contradictions, or exotifications. years went by. I persisted in following the group's development, its portrayal by the media, and its analysis by scholars. Even if my enchantment remained unbroken, as I zoomed into the group's symbolism, certain metaphorical, incongruent enigmas increasingly intrigued me.
Gil's song "Filhos de Gandhi" was composed after he returned from his london exile.3 Gil commented that the group had been one of the "strongest emblems" of his childhood and that his post-1972 participation in the group was a stimulus to "thicken the stew" (rennó 146).4 other factors contributed to the national popularity of the Filhos de Gandhy. towards the end of the 1970s, two major government tourist agencies-BaHIatUrsa (state of Bahia) and EMtUrsa (city of salvador)-began sponsoring the Filhos de Gandhy. By the 1980s, the bloco was able to put 10,000 "sons" on the street and had become an international trademark for Bahia and salvador. nowadays, the Filhos de Gandhy is occasionally accused of having been co-opted by government bureaucracies (oliveira 303). the trajectory of the Filhos de Gandhy from the 1970s onward was inevitably conditioned by the consolidation of the cultural and telecommunications industries that took place during that time period, leading to the present transformation of carnaval into a mega-event in which each carnaval group functions as an industry within itself (and as such deals with other private and state industries, including those that promote sexual and afrocentric tourism).5
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), the pioneer of satyagraha, the principle of non-violence as a form of protest and revolution, inspired generations of activists. …