Salvador-the Afro heart of Brazil 

This morning, Mar. 9th, we flew to the northern coastal town of Salvador, in the state of Bahia. Salvador was the original Portuguese colonial capital of Brazil, and began as the sugar cane growing center. Accordingly, over 80% of its descendants first came to Brazil as slaves to work the sugar trade.  The key to understanding this vibrant and fun part of Brazil is understanding the process of “syncretism” whereby the African and Portuguese cultures and religions were blended.  In particular, the overlay of the Catholic religion over the African religion of Candomblé.

After traveling most ofimage the day, we

had a brief introductory walk in the public square next to our hotel, and then drove down to the coastal area, where we watched the sunset from the old fort of Barra.  We then drove our bus into one of the favelas, to have dimage

inneimager with a loca

l family.  Our ho

stess, Patrizia,  had cooked dinner for us, highlighting some of the traditional local foods, and we taled with her about life in the favela. Interestingly, Patrizia is married to a policemen, whose official duties include stopping people from squatting on land in the city and creating favelas!

Our next morning started with a tour of the old colonial heart of Salvador which is called the Pelourinho area.  We met one of the “Baianas” (a local practitioner of Candomblé) who dresses in period attire recalling the slave traditions. Next, we viewed the incredibly ornate Church of San Francisco (built in the 17th and 18th centuries), which has jaw-dropping interior word carvings, covered in gold- leaf, along with a courtyard tiled extensively with original colonial era tiles in the classic Lisbon style, depicting scenes from the stories of St. Francis.

After a great lunch in the Pelourinho area at a restaurant called Coco, we went to the Church of St. Bonfim, which was one of the most interesting churches we’ve ever visited! Although owned by the Catholic Church and with Catholic services still conducted there daily, St. Bonfim is the spiritual heart of the Candomblé religion in Salvador. You notice this immediately as you approach the church because on the front gates of the church are tied thousands of colored ribbons, each color representing a different Orixa (spirit god of the Candomblé religion). The ribbons represent entreaties or wishes to those specific gods.  Those gods also have direct counterparts in the Catholic saints.  However, once you get inside the church, there are still more of the ribbons tied on the pews and alter, and other signs of the Candomblé religion coexist with the Christian paraphernalia inside.  To top it off, there was even a room in the church dedicated to signs of gratitude of the faithful who had had their prayers granted for  healing various body parts or bodily functions. Accordingly, the form this gratitude display took was by hanging the plastic replicas of the various body parts from the ceiling of the room, along with the pictures of the happily healed believers!

We then toured the port area of Salvador, and enjoyed an ice cream at a local “sorveteria” which boasted over 80 flavored, many of the made with the unique and wonderful tropical fruits and flavor of Brazil.

Our final day in Salvador started with a tour of the local produce market of São Joabim back down in the port area.  Our tour director had us play a fun game whereby I teams, we were each given the name of a local item in Portuguese and we had to find that item and bargain to buy it.  It should be of little surprise to you, dear readers, to find that our team succeeded in getting three of our items for the price most locals paid for two!

Next, we drove to another favela to view a community service center called Arte Consciente, providing services to young residents of the community in the form of lessons and training in music, dance, the Brazilian martial art known as capoeira, and circ is acrobatics. Having these skills helps these kids develop marketable skills to get out of the favela because they can get jobs working for samba schools, or with dance troops, or working for Cirque de Soleil.  In order to attend the Arte Consciente, the kids must first attend their required minimal schooling. The support the four leaders of AC offer the children with their schooling is probably the most positive thing about the project.  Although attending school is theoretically mandatory in Brazil, the government doesn´t enforce it, and the public schools are awful, and children only attend about three hours  a day anyway. Since private school tuition is not even remotely a possibility for these kids, the fact that some responsible adults in their lives are insisting that they attend school is a huge bonus.

That afternoon, we had some free time, and a handful of the women from our tour decided to go to the Mercado Modelo, which bills itself as the largest craft market in South America.  I think they may have some truth in advertising issues.

Our last night in Salvador was a blast.  It started with a percussion lesson at the studio of a musician named <makabira, who took Zen to a whole new level.  It´was pretty funny to see the group of us trying to master Afro’Brazilian rhythms, but by the end, we sounded pretty decent.  We had dinner in the Pelourinho area again and then saw a show about the orins and meanings of the Orixa gods.  The music was fabulous and the costumes were wild, so we really enjoyed ourselves.  Next stop, Manaus; the gateway to the Amazon!

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