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 types, and build paradigms of blackness with impacts from US-based views, throughout the vectors of public rituals, carnival, drama, poetry, and hip hop.

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For those in the Candomblé community, it meant restrategizing a relationship with hegemonic forces to continue the all-important concourse with the orisas. It is still amazing how aspects of black self-empowerment are viewed as aberrant notions, or, to interpolate current academic discourse, essentializing ideals, or just ignored in scholarship or not investigated at all. 42 The question must be asked, Where is black agency in this entire event? As a forensic physician, Nina Rodrigues’s project of studying Afro-Brazilian religious communities was to shape a psychological understanding of Negros in order to enact penal legislation befitting their inferiority.

Such bodily processes are ritualized, and practitioners become habituated in their actions to such an extent that they become codified in memory and epistemologically formulized for oral transmission. These oral-kinetic inscriptions on the body, the formulaic chants, songs, calls, prayers, and divination sequences are integral to the African matrix that traversed traumatic space and lives because of the “praxis of embodiment” that keeps memory refreshed (Alexander 297). Quite simply to Gilroy, the roots exist and are constantly remembered, cultivated, refreshed, and reaffirmed through the embodied praxis guarded and transmitted in Candomblé.

Continuity, however, as Mãe Valnizia Pereira points out, is found in the passage of knowledge from one generation 44 AFRICAN ROOTS, BR A ZILIAN RITES to another (Harding, Refugee 147). When the transmittal of the religious knowledge is reconfigured as “traveling theory,” memory serves as a conduit, revealed through the configuration of the orisas—in the names and identifications of each, the existing mythos, the patterns of divination, and the ritual processes encompassed in the belief system. But even more so, it is apparent in one’s subjective orientation through the communal ethics, shared affiliation, and sense of belonging to a larger continuum, which are all hallmarks in the formation of a diasporic consciousness.

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