The Idea of AfricaWhat is Africa to me:Copper sun or scarlet sea,Jungle star or jungle track,Strong bronzed men, or regal blackWomen from whose loins I sprangWhen the birds of Eden sang?One three centuries removedFrom the scenes his fathers loved,Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,What is Africa to me — CounteeCullen, excerpt from Heritage
The African Frontier Konkomba territory, East MamprusiDistrict, Northern Region, Ghana, July 1999.
Shrines and Ritual Protection
IdentityHow do I understand collective group identities—ethnic or otherwise?Anthropologists have largely come to understandthe manifestation and making of identity as asocial process; as something that is eminentlyconstructed, contingent and instrumental.However, we must always be mindful that thelanguage of identity—the way in which ethnic andnational identities are deployed at the emiclevel—is invariably rife with essentialism.
Creolization versus African SurvivalsTwo perspectives have dominated themajority of scholarship on Afro-Americansociety.1. Africa-centric or African „survivals‟ An approach which privileges the persistence of discrete and distinct African ethnic groups and culture despite the brutality of slavery.2. Rapid creolization Sydney Mintz and Richard Price first suggested that Afro- American societies were borne of the heterogeneous melange of cultures found in the plantation.
Slavery in Brazil
Black Identity and AfricaWhether one adheres to an Africa-centricperspective or one which emphasisescreolization, Africa looms large in themanifestation of many forms of Black identityinBrazil.Some approaches to understanding Afro-American identity have become mired inhistorical debates about the precise ethniccomposition of the slave plantation—how manyYoruba were there? How many Ewe?Akan?, etc.
Afro-American Anthropology• Boas, racial uplift and nation-building in the Americas.• Anthropology and Africans in the Americas• Herskovits and Frazier• Du Bois• Jean Price-Mars, Fernando Ortíz• Gilberto Freyre, Arthur Ramos
Brazil and Hypo-DescentAcastanhada (cashew-like tint; caramel water")coloured) Café (coffee)Bugrezinha-escura (Indian Loura (blond)characteristics) Pálida (pale)Laranja (orange) Alvarinta (tinted or bleached white)Mulata (mixture of white and Negro) Café-com-leite (coffee with milk)Agalegada Lourinha (flaxen)Burro-quando-foge ("burro running Paraíba (like the colour of marupaaway," implying racial mixture of wood)unknown origin)Lilás (lily) Alva-rosada (or jambote, roseate, white with pink highlights)Mulatinha (lighter-skinned white-Negro) Canela (cinnamon)Alva (pure white) Malaia (from Malabar)Cabocla (mixture of white, Negro and Parda (dark brown)Indian)Loira (blond hair and white skin) Alvinha (bleached; white-washed)Negra (negro) Canelada (tawny)Alva-escura (dark or off-white) Marinheira (dark greyish)Cabo-Verde (black; Cape Verdean) Parda-clara (lighter-skinned person of mixed „race‟)Loira-clara (pale blond) Amarela (yellow)Negrota (Negro with a corpulent body) Castão (thistle coloured)
Candomblé as a Master Symbol
IlêAiye and Carnavalblocos-afros
Bahia: The Heart of Africa in Brazil
A Discourse of Purity“Os Africanostêmquevir a nossacidade, Salvador!A bebernafontedaÁfricaVerdade!Aqui, no Brasil, existe a cultura Africana pura!”“Africans have to come to our city, Salvador!To drink at the font of True AfricaHere, in Brazil, exists the pure African culture!”—ValdinaPinto (Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, 2007)Salvador is widely regarded as the “most African” city inBrazil and is also considered to be home to the most purelyYoruba houses or terreirosof Afro-Brazilian worship. Twoimportant houses are Casa Brancaand IlêAxéOpóAfonjá.
Cosmologies in the MakingThe notion of „purity‟ or dogma is anathema tomany of the religious traditions of West Africa. Interior of the Tonna‟ab or Tong shrine illustrating sacrifice area, earth priest, and ritual paraphernalia. The Tong shrine of the Tallensi people.
Selling a Homogenised Blackness/Africa?
Blackness and the Idea of AfricaWhat role does the idea of „Africa‟ play in theformulation of Black identity in northeastern Brazil?How is contemporary Black Brazil engaged with thesocieties, cultures and peoples of the African continentand how does this engagement impact notions ofBlackness—both in Afro-America and on the Africancontinent?Beyond an African-oriented or Africa-centric form ofidentity, what other manifestations of Blackness are tobe found in the Black communities of northeasternBrazil and how do these different forms of collectivemobilization operate?
Other idioms of BlacknessMaria, an acarajé (street food) seller in Pelourinho. She tells me that the African-oriented discourse of Candomblé does not speak to her. BUT, she alsorecognises that she must employ the symbols of this tradition to sell her wares.
Christianity and Black Identity A statue of Anastácia in a Salvador church.
The Idea of AfricaI question the utility and usefulness of attemptingto authenticate the past—from an ethnicperspective.In my work, I seek move away from trying touncover the „truth‟ of the past in the plantationand focus instead on how concepts and ideassuch as „slave‟, „maroon‟, „roots‟and, importantly, „AFRICA‟ are used as signifiersof identity—not only by Afro-Brazilians, but withinwider Brazilian society and throughout theAtlantic world.Modern forms of Globalizing Blackness operate
Globalizing Blackness as Ongoing CreolizationA new baseline vocabulary or what Mintz andPrice called “grammatical principles” isemerging.Different from the work of the pan-Africanistsor the négritude of Césaire or even thecréolité of the French Caribbean.This form of Blackness employs the symbolsof Black society in the United States alongwith ideas about what Africa is supposed to be
Back to West Africa
Cultural Rediscovery Tour of Elmina Castle, GhanaPoint of No Return, SlaveWalk,Ouidah, Benin
Brazilian Religious Tourism“OpôAfonjá and Casa Branca are attracting somany members in Salvador,‟ one of the groupmembers told me near the „Point of No-Return‟ monument in Ouidah, they‟ve got somany rich patrons that our small terreiroisbeing left out. We can‟t do our work on anti-racism and empowering our communitybecause OpôAfonjá takes the spotlight away.Plus, we are losing members to these largerterreirosthat talk about Black power. That‟swhy we are here. To understand more aboutAfrica and take it back home to our religion.”
Coastal SocietiesThe coastal societies of West Africa continueto be active participants in the ongoingdialogue between Africa and the Americas.Issues: • Tourism dollars • The Joseph Project • DNA Testing • Northern peoples like the Konkomba
HighlightsExploration of Blackness as an identity and as anethnic category.Understanding the importance of the “Idea ofAfrica”Globalizing Blackness as a form of creolization.An emphasis on the richness and diversity of theAfrican ethnographic record and to work towardsreducing generalized and homogenized notionsof Africanity.