African-Brazilian Culture and Regional Identity in Bahia, Brazil

African-Brazilian Culture and Regional Identity in Bahia, Brazil

African-Brazilian Culture and Regional Identity in Bahia, Brazil

African-Brazilian Culture and Regional Identity in Bahia, Brazil


"A sophisticated and thoughtful analysis of mid-twentieth-century cultural politics, recognizing both the fundamental changes that took place as Afro-Bahian cultural politics became incorporated into representations of Bahia and the limited material gains for Afro-Bahians during this period."--Hendrik Kraay, editor of Negotiating Identities in Modern Latin America

Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia, is often referred to as "Brazil's Black Rome." Culturally complex, vibrant, and rich with history, its African-descended population is one of the largest in Latin America. Yet despite representing a majority of the population, African-Bahians remain a marginalized racial group within the state as a whole.

In African-Brazilian Culture and Regional Identity in Bahia, Brazil, Scott Ickes examines how in the middle of the twentieth century, African-Bahian cultural practices such as capoeira, samba, and Candomblé during carnival and other popular religious festivals came to be accepted as essential components of Bahian regional identity. Previously, public performances of traditionally African-Bahian practices were repressed in favor of more European traditions and a more "modern" vision.

Newfound acceptance of these customs was a democratic move forward, but it also perpetuated the political and economic marginalization of the black majority. Ickes argues that cultural-political alliances between African-Bahian cultural practitioners and their dominant-class allies nevertheless helped to create a meaningful framework through which African-Bahian inclusion could be negotiated--a framework that is also important in the larger discussions of race and regional and national identity throughout Brazil.


Brazil’s northeastern city of Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, stands out as one of the most prominent points of reference within the African diaspora. The city, also often referred to as “Bahia,” is known for hosting a vibrant, complex, and historically rich African-Bahian culture. Salvador’s carnival draws more than two million people into the streets and showcases Afrocentric carnival clubs such as the blocos afros and afoxés, including the four-thousand-strong, all-male afoxé the Sons of Gandhi (Filhos de Gandhy), comprised almost exclusively of men of African descent. Salvador has nearly as much claim as Rio de Janeiro to samba, the music and dance quintessentially associated with both Brazil and African Brazilians. The heavily percussive fusion known as samba-reggae, a racially politicized offshoot of samba, has captured the imagination and diasporic sensibilities of Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, and Quincy Jones, all of whom traveled to Salvador in the 1990s. The most well known ensemble of samba-reggae, the street performing group Olodum, consists largely of African-Bahian teenagers. Capoeira, an African-Brazilian martial art, the practice of which is both competitive and playful, also evolved in Bahia.

The cultural-spiritual foundation of African-Bahian culture, including samba-reggae, capoeira, and many aspects of Salvador’s distinctive carnival, is Candomblé, an African-Brazilian religion akin to Voodoo or Santería. Candomblé’s cosmology, iconography, and ritual draw heavily on West and west-central African traditions. The temples of Candomblé worship (terreiros or casas in Portuguese) have since the early nineteenth century provided institutional support to African slaves, free blacks, and generations of African Bahians, allowing them to reshape their cultural heritage and identity around cultural references to Africa. Links between Candomblé and other expressions commonly understood as cultura negra (black . . .

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