Samba de Roda - Brazilian tradition from Bahia

“The Samba of Roda is a festive event combining music, choreography and poetry. The Samba appeared in the state of Bahia, more specifically in the region of Recôncavo, during the XVIIth century, and originated from the dances and cultural traditions of the African slaves who lived in the region. Later, elements from Portuguese culture, such as the language and particular forms of poetry, as well as some musical instruments were incorporated and changed the rhythm and choreography. The Samba of Roda was regarded as an expression of freedom and identity of the disadvantaged and became a means of emancipation. The Samba became a major component of regional popular culture for Brazilians of African origin. With the migrants headed for Rio de Janeiro, the Samba of Roda influenced the evolution of the urban samba, that has become in the XXth century the predominant symbol of Brazilian national identity.

One of the main characteristics of the Samba of Roda is that the participants gather in a circle, referred to as roda. It is performed on various occasions, such as the celebration of popular Catholic festivals, Amerindian or Afro-Brazilian religious ceremonies, but is also practised spontaneously. All participants, including beginners, are invited to join the dance and learn through observation and imitation. Generally, only the women dance, one after the other surrounded by the others dancing in a circle while clapping their hands. The choreography, often improvised, is based on movements of the feet, legs and hips.  One of the most typical moves is the famous umbigada, a testimony of Bantu influence, in which the dancer invites her successor into the circle’s centre. The Samba of Roda is distinguished from other forms through specific steps like the miudinho, the use of the viola machete - a small lute with plucked strings from Portugal – scraped instruments, and responses sung in verse with short, repetitive couplets.

The Samba de Roda was severely weakened during the twentieth century. The economic decline and increased poverty in the region caused an exodus to the south of the country. The influence of the mass media and competition from popular contemporary music have contributed to the devaluing of this tradition in the eyes of the young. This situation is worsened by the ageing of the practitioners and the break in transmission of the tradition and of the know-how linked to making the musical instruments"


Photo by Paulo Lima (C)

Women in São Paulo, Brazil get together to celebrate their identity by providing workshops on art, turban design and other techniques as ways to express their understanding of beauty, race and fashion. The workshop was held at the Tenendé Porã community near São Paulo. 

The group Manifesto Crespo organized the workshop as a form of resistance to stereotypes and as a space for cultural exchange between black Brazilian women and women belonging to the indigenous Guarani community. The video presented above is in Portuguese. For a complete story, also in Portuguese, visit

One of the explanations for the origins of Maculele relates it to performances of enslaved peoples in Brazil during colonial times and the movement associated with the cutting of sugarcane. This dance utilizes sticks and machetes (sharp, large knives) with acrobatic and choreographed movements. Hailing from the interior of Pernambuco and the state of Bahia, "Maculele imitates the movements of cutting cane, intricately choreographed to a special rhythm especially for this dance. The leader sings, two people enter the circle, and to the rhythm of the “Atabaque“, they begin striking their own and each other’s sticks together.  Traditionally in Maculele, the dancers wear dried grass skirts and ornaments."*

Above is a performance inspired by Maculele from Afro-Brazilian dance group DanceBrazil, and choreographed by mestre Jelon Vieira in 2008.


"Damas do Samba"  (Samba Ladies), Documentary by Susanna Lira (2013)

Believed to be one of the most popular forms in Brazil, samba has received contributions of women throughout its history.
It is impossible to understand the Samba history without stumbling upon a woman’s name.

Many women turned their own private history into the history of samba itself. Being it in their role as a designer, a singer, a muse, or a Carnival laborer, women enhance their protagonist status, lending to the samba, not only their image but also their enterprising spirit, their creativity and their inspiring nature.

Through the music and the characters, “Samba Ladies” will reveal samba’s invisible foundation: the resilient ladies that keep up with the tradition of samba. It aims at redeeming the clamorous and fundamental participation of women in the consolidation of samba since its creation covering social and artistic aspects as well as its media exposure.

Photo: Baianas in Carnaval, Salvador, Bahia. By Paulo Lima (All Rights Reserved).

Balé Folclórico da Bahia (BFB)

BALÉ FOLCLÓRICO DA BAHIA (BFB), the only professional folk dance company in Brazil, was formed in 1988 by Walson Botelho and Ninho Reis and has achieved considerable success in its short history. Under the artistic direction of José Carlos Arandiba, the company’s many national and international tours have earned it a prestigious reputation throughout the country and abroad that is reflected in the response of the public and the critics.

The 38-member troupe of dancers, musicians, and singers performs a repertory based on "Bahian" folkloric dances of African origin and includes slave dances, capoeira (a form of martial arts), samba, and those that celebrate Carnival. The company presents the region’s most important cultural manifestations under a contemporary theatrical vision that reflects its popular origins.

Based in Salvador in the northern state of Bahia, the Brazilian company made its debut in July 1988, at the Joinville Dance Festival where an audience of 20,000 enthusiastically greeted its performance entitled "Bahia de Todas as Cores" (All Colors of Bahia). The troupe’s immediate success brought invitations to perform at other festivals around the country.

At the Bahia International Dance Festival later that year, Balé Folclórico da Bahia was awarded the prize, "Best Performance of the Year" given by the Ministry of Culture through the National Institute of Dance. In a subsequent tour of the principal capitals of Brazil, sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, the troupe was acclaimed as one of the country’s most important dance companies.

Since 1994 the troupe has traveled all over the world, performing at the most important theatres, such as City Center, in New York City, Shubert Theater, in Boston, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, in Newark, Zellerbach Hall, in Berkeley, Massey Hall, in Toronto, Sydney Opera House, in Sydney, Teatro da Trindade, in Lisbon, Musik Center Teateeri, in Kuopio, Savoy Teateeri, in Helsik, Parteatern, in Stockholm, Teatret Albertslund, in Copenhagen, and many others.

During the 1995-96 tour season, Balé Folclórico da Bahia undertook its first tour of the United States with sold-out performances. The company was a revelation. The 1997, 1998, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2011 and 2013 North American tours, took again the company coast to coast (88 cities in the USA since its first tour), with several presenters rebooking for following seasons.  

Source: Bale Folclórico da Bahia website:

Dança do Chorado

By Belnidice Fernandes, Mato Grosso (Brazil). 

The "Dança do Chorado" is an ancient cultural practice performed by black women in the city of Vila Bela da Santissima Trindade, in Mato Grosso state, Brazil. One of the explanations given for the performance of this sensual dance remotes to the Portuguese colonization period in the eighteenth century where some women used to dance as a technique to persuade their overseers to lessen the punishment and the death sentence imposed on their loved ones and friends. Today, the dance stands as an important symbol of black culture revered in the festivities of the black saint Sao Benedito (Saint Benedict). The video above highlights the "ginga," posture and grace imposed on the women bodies as they manage to balance a bottle on their head while dancing.  

Mrs Fernandes obtained her doctoral degree from the Universidade Tecnica de Lisboa. Her dissertation title is: "O Corpo Chorado: O Corpo na "Dança do Chorado" e Seus Significados na Comunidade de Vila Bela da Santíssima Trindade, Mato Grosso, Brasil. (2012).

U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan To Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and Promote Equality

The U.S. - Brazil Joint Action Plan To Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and Promote Equality (Joint Action Plan) was signed in March 2008. It is the first bilateral agreement targeting racism. This initiative leverages the inter-agency policy expertise in both countries, in a unique partnership with civil society and private sector committees, to address racial health disparities, environmental justice, access to education, and equal access to the justice system. The Joint Action Plan recognizes Brazil and the United States are multi-ethnic, multi-racial democracies whose ties of friendship are strengthened by shared experiences. Both countries celebrate the rich contributions of people of African descent and indigenous populations to the fabric of our societies. The Joint Action Plan's unique structure and the goals of racial and ethnic equality and social inclusion sparked interest in other Western Hemisphere countries to pursue similar partnerships, and in January 2010, the United States signed a similar Action Plan with Colombia. The Joint Action Plan 2011 Steering Group meeting, with high-level representation from the U.S. and Brazil governments was hosted in Washington D.C. in December 2011. According to a U.S. Department of State media note, the United States and Brazil were scheduled to hold a technical meeting of the U.S.-Brazil Join Action Plan to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and Promote Equality (Joint Action Plan) on August 21-22, 2012 in Brasilia.


"Rio de Janeiro State Promotes Racial Equality and Fight Against Racism"

Picture found at:

According to a brochure issued by the Rio de Janeiro Secretary of State for Social Assistance and Human Rights, in 2007 Rio de Janeiro created the Superintendency of Racial Equality (SUPIR), an organ dedicated to coordinate and monitor the government transversal policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality and Fight against Racism. 

The program's mission and goals are:


  • Monitor the implementation of the Affirmative Action Legislation and the definition of public actions aimed at implementing the agreements, conventions, partnerships and accords signed by the State Government of Rio de Janeiro, on aspects related to the Promotion of Equality and the Fight against Racial and Ethnical Discrimination;
  • Establish public policy actions for the remnants of slave communities or Quilombos in hte State of Rio de Janeiro, with regard to land tenure, infrastructure, services and economic social development;
  • Develop actions to rescue and legalize the spaces occupied by communities, recognizing their participation in the political and social scenario, fighting religious intolerance;
  • Coordinate with the State Department of Education, the implementation of curriculum guidelines on African history, African-Brazilian and Indigenous Culture provided by the laws 10,639 and 11,645, and encourage initiatives for the improvement of curricula and training of professionals in education;
  • Identify and monitor, with the Ministries related to social areas, projects especially designed for the indigenous population;
  • Implement the State Plan for the Promotion of Racial Equality;
  • Adopt incentive policies, in partnership with the State Department of Economic Development, Energy, Industry and Servicess, so that the public and private, national and multinational companies as well as coopertives can implement programs of affirmative action and diversity;
  • Adopt affirmative action policies in order to access public funding for projects that address the various cultures, considering race, gender, and age;
  • Develop cultural and scientific exchanges with the black populations of the Diaspora;
  • Ensure the inclusion of the color question in all systems information and records on population, in databases of public sectors;
  • Monitor and observe the recommendations of the Special Rectory on African-descendant that integrates the structure in favor of human rights of the Organization of American States (OAS);
  • Develop liaison with the State Department of Health and Civil Defense to strengthen, within the Unified Health System (SUS), the subsystem of the health care of blacks, Indians and Gypsies, respecting their particularities and peculiarities in rural, urban and settlement areas, ensuring regard to gender;
  • Develop in partnership with the State Department for Culture, programs that foster cultural production and preservation of the memory of the black community, ensuring equal opportunities and treatment for these proposals among the cultural policies of the State.


The program's slogans are: "Promoting Racial Equality" and "Racism is a Crime. Denounce it!" 

Source: Secretary of State for Social Assistance and Human Rights (SEASDH), Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. Promotional brochure, 2012.

CARYBÉ, an artist from Bahia

By Marcelo Mendes[1]

[1] Marcelo Mendes is a candidate to a Master of Arts Degree in art history at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Figure 1 CARYBÉ / Iansa 1980 Watercolor Illustration for the book “Iconografia dos Deuses Africanos no Candomblé da Bahia” (African Gods in the Candomble of Bahia).

CARYBÉ was a painter, engraver, designer, illustrator, muralist, and ceramist, leaving more than five thousand pieces of artwork. His aesthetics incorporated elements from the African culture brought to South America during enslavement, especially those related to Yoruba mythology. He was a researcher who depicted Brazilian origins through his brush strokes. His works in stone, cement, clay, iron, and wood are of great importance to the study of  Brazilian art in general, as well as for the study of ethnic and social relations in Brazil in particular.


Mariano Carneiro da Cunha distinguishes the Brazilian artistic production in four categories:


Those who utilize Afro-Brazilian themes incidentally;

Those  who utilize them in a conscious and systematic way;

Those who appropriate themes and solutions based on a black aesthetics;

And those who are associated with Afro-Brazilian rituals.


CARYBÉ fits three of these categories: he uses the Afro-Brazilian theme in a systematic and conscious way; he appropriates the themes and solutions based on a black aesthetics; and he is also associated with Afro-Brazilian rituals. His extensive artwork privileges the quotidian and, above all, the rituals derived from Africa, more specifically, from the Yoruba traditions of Bahia in the first half of the twentieth century.


Argentine by birth, with an Italian father and a Brazilian mother, HECTOR JULIO PARIDE BERNABO, best known as CARYBE,  was born on February 7, 1911, in Lanus, in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. His father, ENEA BERNABO, descended from a family from Toscany, Italy, and his mother, CONSTANTINA GONÇALVES BERNABO, was from Santa Maria, Brazil, a city close to the Argentine boarder. CARYBÉ was only six months old when his father decided to move to Italy. A few years later, in 1919, traumatized by the shocked with the horrors of WWI and afraid of being infected by yellow fever, the family decided to return to South America, establishing themselves in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At first, the family lived in Bonsucesso, but when their financial situation stabilized, they moved to a condominium in Catete, RJ.

Always close to his brothers, CARYBÉ worked with them during the celebration of the Brazilian Independence in 1922. They also collaborated in decorating the Hotels Copacabana Palace, Glória, and Catete in 1929. With money raised from these Jobs, Mr. Enea decided to return to Argentina. In Buenos Aires, CARYBÉ tried to attend the Fine Arts Schools, but his application was denied, which lead him to become a self-taught artist.


Along with his brothers, CARYBÉ painted panels, decorated windows, and developed advertising campaigns, while still working as a journalist in important periodicals from Argentina. As a journalist he was a prolific writer, illustrator, caricaturist, and comedian. On Sundays, CARYBÉ would play “pandeiro” (a type of tamborim) in a group formed with Brazilian musicians. This group was selected to play with Carmen Miranda when she was touring in Argentina.


The first encounter between CARYBÉ and the City of Salvador, Bahia, was in 1938, when he was the correspondent for Pregon, a newspaper from Buenos Aires. A reader of Jorge Amado’s romances, he reported that he disembarked in Salvador with the hope to find “Jubiaba” and the desire to drink “rabo de galo” (a Brazilian drink usually made out of cachaça and red vermouth) at a bar called “Lanterna dos Afogados.” Twelve years later, in 1950, when invited by Anisio Teixeira, Bahia State Secretary of Education, to establish residency in Bahia, CARYBÉ finally moved to Salvador, staying there until his death in 1997. Along with Mario Cravo Junior, Genaro de Carvalho and Jenner Augusto, CARYBÉ actively participated in a movement to revamp fine arts in Bahia.


At that time, CARYBÉ began researching Candomble in Bahia, editing his book “ICONOGRAFIA DOS DEUSES AFRICANOS NO CANDOMBLE DA BAHIA (African Gods in the Candomble of Bahia) in 1983.

CARYBE died in Bahia in 1997, leaving over five thousand pieces of artwork that celebrate Brazil and the Afro-Brazilian culture. 

Current Challenges For the Implementation of the Brazilian Law 10.639/03

By Dilma M. Silva, Ph.D. [1]

On January 9, 2003, the Law number 10.639/03, modifying the Law of Guidelines and Basis for National Education, was promulgated in Brazil. This new Law enforces the inclusion of African and Afro-Brazilian themes in the curriculum of public and private elementary schools throughout the Brazilian federation of states. There is a consensus among scholars and specialists that the Law n° 10.639/03 is a crucial step in overcoming racial and ethnic inequalities, and a victory for the Brazilian Black movement. This new legislation must be regarded as a measurement for improving educational actions towards a better knowledge of the Brazilian historical formations.


Many of us cannot know for sure the origins of our ethnic background. In some cases, if visible traces that are perceived to be associated with a specific “race,” such as skin color and curly hair are present, some will try to conceal them, negating their own identity. Why is this happening?


Because Brazil inherited a culture of racial bias, established since the colonial period, many people would not like to be identified with the “looser,” the submissive, and other inferior conditions associated with black slavery. Unfortunately, some afro-descendants live alienated from their own origins, surrounded by whiteness ideology, western values, and facing catholic portraits of domination. This is due to strategies engendered by the Brazilian elite, which since the 19th Century sought to implement a national project mirroring European models, inducing ideology of “whiteness” among people of color, and trying to destroy any trace of violence from the slavery period. As a result, inequality continues and it is present in the daily lives of more than 40% of the population affected by policies of racial segregation, misconception, and discrimination. UNESCO’s myth of “racial democracy” needs to be ended. We must remember that in 2001 Brazil signed in Durban, South Africa, the “Plan of Actions Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance,” with an increased debate ever since.


Aiming to raise awareness over these issues, the new law has introduced the discussion in the school environment. Its main objective is to re-educate, creating a space for debate where students can “problematize the inter-racial and ethnic relations based on biased behaviors that only served to disqualify the Afro-Brazilian population through the use of disparaging stereotypes, words, and attitudes, veiled or explicitly violent; these attitudes only served to perpetuate the feeling of superiority in relation to blacks, revealing an uneven and hierarchical society.”[2]


Regardless of being a public policy, the implementation of such practices is still a challenge. There is a need to instruct and to provide continuous training for teachers, as well as to prepare and distribute didactic materials to support schools around the country. Teachers and parents have to be constantly reminded of the importance of such education in order to fight the existing resistance within and outside the school system. In this sense, for a more effective implementation of these actions, the dissemination of information on this subject through mass media channels would be extremely helpful. One of the most common complaints from teachers, who try to instruct their students by following this new regulation, refers to the resistance imposed by certain religious groups.  There are still many unsolved problems and many issues to be addressed when it comes to the implementation of ethnic-sensitive public policies in Brazil.


[1] Professor Dilma de Melo Silva, Department of Communications and Arts (ECA), University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

[2] (National Curriculum Guidelines to the Education of Inter-racial, Ethnic-relations, and the Teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian Cultural History, 2005, page 12.

African Heritage
‘Jogar Capoëra - Danse de la guerre’ by Johann Moritz Rugendas (1802–1858)

Brazil has the largest population of African-origin people outside of Africa. Until 2000, almost half of the Brazilian population was composed by African descendants. The multiplicity of cultural and ethnic backgrounds that compose the Brazilian population can be traced from Europe (Portuguese, Spanish, Jewish, German, Slavic and Italians), Asia (Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans), Arabic communities, Amerindians and Africans. 

Many aspects of the Brazilian culture have been influenced by the African population that started to arrive in Brazil during the slave-trade, which began in the sixteenth century and lasted about three hundred years, until its abolition in 1888. The Northeast region received great influence from the African culture and it holds the largest concentration of blacks in Brazil. Bahia, one of the largest states in Brazil, and located in the Northeast region, is a place where one can find aspects of this important influence in many of its cities, especially in Salvador. As in many other parts of Brazil, Bahian music, cuisine, language, dance, art, and religion have been highly influenced by the African culture. In the streets of Salvador one can find people practicing capoeira (a type of martial art developed by the slaves as a means of defense), and delicious dishes such as acarajé, caruru, and vatapá. According to Larry Crook and Randhal Johnson, editors of a book on Black Brazil, “[t]hese cultural practices and Afro-Brazilian identities have resisted, survived, and evolved—and new forms have been created—in the face of political and social repression and economic marginalization both during and after slavery.” [1]

Other aspects of the Brazilian culture have also been shaped by the African culture. In music, we have Samba, Congada, Maracatu, Carvalhada, Bumba-Meu-Boi, and Mozambique. They provide intense rhythms and sounds that pulsate on the streets and clubs of Brazil, especially during Carnaval, an annual festival that takes place during the week before the Christian observance of Lent, either in the months of February or March, depending on the Catholic calendar. The playing of Samba and other music styles in the streets of Salvador, as well as the rehearsal of samba clubs in preparation for the Carnaval parade have become an opportunity for social gathering and celebration.

[1] Crook, Larry and Randhal Johnson (eds.) Black Brazil: Culture, Identity, and Social Mobilization. Los Angeles: UCLA-Latin American Center Publications, 1999. Page 1
Candomblé practitioners dance and offer food to their Orixás in São Paulo, Brazil (August, 2010 - Editor's image).

Brazil has been highly influenced by the African culture when it comes to religion. One of the most important representations of this influence is Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion derived mainly from the west coast of Africa, and practiced all over the country, especially in the States of Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul. 

During the period that the slave-trade was practiced in Brazil, roughly between the mid 1500’s to 1888, blacks transported from Africa were not allowed to bring with them any of their personal belongings. All they had, in their hearts and memory, were their cultural background and faith in their gods. When in Brazil, as a strategy to keep blacks segregated, the Portuguese and Brazilian masters would separate families and force people of different ethnicities to live together. When the enslaved population had an opportunity to meet, they would chant and dance for their gods. The Catholic Church forced them to be baptized and to follow the Catholic religion, however the conversion did not really occur and the African religion was practiced in secret and under the disguise of religious syncretism, where African Orixás ended up being associated with Catholic Saints. 

In Candomblé, practitioners worship gods and goddesses that are linked to the forces of nature. These gods and goddesses are called Orixás, and they are, in general, representations of nature. Thus, Yemanjá is associated with the Sea, Ogum with iron, and Oxossi with the forest. There are hundreds of Orixás in the African pantheon, but in Brazil just a few of them are worshipped. The most worshipped Orixás in Bahia, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are: Yemanjá, Iansã, Oxum, Nanã, Ewa, Obá, Exu, Ogun, Obaluayê, Ossain, Oxóssi, Oxalá, Oxumarê, Xangô, and Logun Ede, among others. The gods worshipped in each “terreiro” (cult-house) will vary depending on the “Nation” and the tradition of the house (Jeje-Nago, Bantu, Ketu, etc.). 

During the religious ceremonies of Candomblé, practitioners possessed by their Orixas, in a transe-like state, dance and sing. Food, music and other offerings are presented to the deities, and sometimes to the audience, who are welcome to the public ceremonies. In Candomble,  many of its rituals are private and only available to those who are members of the cult-house.

Food items distributed during Candomblé public festivities in São Paulo, Brazil. Editor's image.

Brazilian gastronomy has also been influenced by the African culture. In places like Bahia, it is customary to find African derived foods being cooked on the beach and on the street corners of traditional neighborhoods. 

One of the most famous dishes found on the street corners of Salvador is called acarajé, a deep-fried dough made with beans and nuts, and cooked in palm-oil (dendê oil), filled with dried shrimp, caruru (okra-based pure). Acaraje is served either “quente” (spicy, really spicy) or “frio” (mild or non-spicy). Besides acarajé, some of the popular dishes are vatapá, mungunzá, caruru, sarapatel, and the delicious and rich feijoada. 

Feijoada is the most popular dish in Brazil. Whenever anybody thinks about Brazilian food, feijoada is the first dish that comes to mind. It was a simple food served to slaves in the senzalas, or slave-quarters. Made as a stew of black beans mixed with the leftovers of pork (pig ears, tail, feet) and enriched by the addition of sausage and other dry-meat (carne seca), and pork ribs this dish would be the only source of energy available to slaves. Feijoada is usually served with collard greens, farofa (cassava flour), and oranges. Because it is a rich dish, most Brazilians would prefer to have this delicacy on a Saturday afternoon, allowing some time for the body to rest before another week of hard work begins.

Candomblé practitioner dances for her Orixá. (São Paulo, Brazil. Editor's image)