World Literature

African Roots, Brazilian Rites: Cultural and National by C. Sterling

By C. Sterling

This article explores how Afro-Brazilians outline their Africanness via Candomblé and Quilombo versions, and build paradigms of blackness with impacts from US-based views, in the course of the vectors of public rituals, carnival, drama, poetry, and hip hop.

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Due to the “self-described” classifying of race and color allowed on censuses, in place until the early 1990s, over 200 such color divisions remain (Eakin 115): a remarkable testament to the psychosocial implications of the ideal of whitening, for any point of difference to what is considered a typical African phenotype confers a different racial identity. Undoubtedly, the tensions lessened between the free and the enslaved populations because of their cohabitation and strong conjugal bonds (Reis, Slave 96–124; Mattoso, Slave 106–24).

Both perspectives (pureza nagô and female transcendence) are generally disputed; however, the perception of matriarchal dominance in Candomblé prevails and has become a defining characteristic of the practice. 21 Female dominance in Candomblé, João José Reis explains, occurs because women had higher social standing in slave-society Brazil, disposing them to roles as religious leaders (“Candomblé” 131). None of these scholars, however, have pointed out that female dominance is a natural feature in most African traditional religions.

This restructuring of affiliation is also apparent in the emphasis placed on the tempestuous and turbulent natures of Iansã and Oshun (Carneiro, Candomblés 20). Both Iansã and Oshun are wives of Shango; yet each one materializes an entirely different 46 AFRICAN ROOTS, BR A ZILIAN RITES personality from the other. Iansã is the tumultuous force symbolized by the whirlwind, who simultaneously serves as the guardian of the dead; Oshun is the epitome of beauty, fertility, and the creative nurturing force that gives life.

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