Black Theatre, Black Consciousness

By Vilas-Boas da Mota, Atico | UNESCO Courier, December 1986 | Go to article overview

Black Theatre, Black Consciousness


Vilas-Boas da Mota, Atico, UNESCO Courier


Black theatre, Black consciousness

BLACK theatre in Brazil is deeply rooted inthe soil of Africa, where archaeologists, historians, anthropologists and specialists in folklore have in recent decades discovered documentary evidence and other data which reveal that continent as one of humanity's most expressive "scenarios", a setting for drama equalling in some respects achievements hailed by the West as supreme. Naturally, the dynamics of African theatre do not always coincide with those of West European theatre, whose forms and aesthetic profile were inherited by Brazil. African drama, centred on the figure of the narrator, sets up an axiological chain in which speech and gesture are so closely interlocked that it is impossible to dissociate them. The audience, eager to speak out, sometimes takes on the role of a chorus echoing the action.

In Brazil and other parts of the world the progressof Black creativity was halted and degraded by the Diaspora of slavery. Enduring the greatest material and spiritual hardship, Africans were deprived of the most rudimentary means of performing the forms of spontaneous drama they had inherited from their ancestors. Under the oppressive burden of slavery, these forms of expression were directed towards music and dancing, or were transformed into substitute rituals such as the candomble, the macumba, and the tambor-de-mina.

Black theatre did not really achieve expressionin Brazil until the 1940s, when Abdias do Nascimento founded the Teatro Experimental do Negro (TEN) (Experimental Black Theatre). Nascimento, the son of manual labourers, was born in 1914, and took part in the great protest movement of the Brazilian Black Front in the 1930s. After graduating in economics from the University of Rio de Janeiro, he rebelled against the dictatorship of the Estado Novo (New State) proclaimed in November 1937, and in 1938 organized the Afro-Campineiro Congress (named after Campinas, a town in the State of Sao Paulo). Painter and poet but primarily a playwright, he wrote Rapsodia negra ("Black Rhapsody") and Sortilegio: Misterio negro ("Black Mystery") for the TEN. After being proscribed for six years by the censor, Sortilegio: Misterio negro was finally performed by the TEN in the Municipal Theatre of Rio de Janeiro in 1957.

The TEN was an authentic Black "consciousness"movement for people living in Brazilian society but unable to participate fully in it. The lofty and generous ambitions of the TEN are to help Blacks to reject their status as mere spectators or exotic characters in Brazilian drama, literature, music and the plastic arts, a form of cultural exclusion of which other ethnic minorities such as gypsies are also victims. The TEN also strives to improve the situation of Blacks in Brazilian society by making them aware of issues related to the defence of their fundamental human rights. For this purpose it organizes introductory and refresher courses in various branches of culture and the arts, and since 1945 has held many conventions, conferences and national congresses of Brazilian Blacks at which the problems of Afro-Brazilian life have been discussed. In recent decades, the TEN has stepped up its action on behalf of Black culture, working as a catalyst to release the latent energies of this large sector of the Brazilian population, and to liberate the creative capacities of Brazilian Blacks. …

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