Pelourinho – Historic City Tour

Trip Start Jul 19, 2012
Trip End Aug 03, 2012

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Bahia,
Tuesday, July 24, 2012

This was the most exciting day of our trip so far, we saw some of the real African aspects of Salvador that we only heard about before. The trip to the historic center of Salvador, Pelourinho, was an eye opener and a very educational experience.    Africa is very much alive in Bahia and extremely well documented in the streets, churches and museums of Pelourinho and all around Salvador.   

Our first stop was in the community of Roça da Sabina on the hill above Barra.  These communities are what they call Favelas or Ghettos and are built on captured land or land donated by wealthy benevolent individuals.  These are real African communities where people build their homes not with hired labour but using corporative economics with friends and neighbors giving time and effort to help each other.  People are literally living on top of each other but everyone aspires for a better live.  After all that is what they thought they were coming to the city for in the first place.  They pay the same taxes and utility bills as the rich people in apartments with swimming pools on balconies, but they get nothing in return.   Here, the extended family is still intact and elders grow old within the security of their family home.  People here are generally welcoming and polite and this was no less evident in the community    

We did a short tour of the sea front visiting the different forts and our guide took the opportunity to explain the significance of the ribbon of Bahia.  This is another example of how Africans strategically absorbed elements of Catholicism in order to preserve their religion and culture in the face of great adversity.   Like so many thing religious in Bahia the African and European elements intertwine and are equally prominent.    Each color of the ribbon represents the color of an Orixa but each Orixa has an equivalent catholic saint.  It is this strong intermingling of the cultures and the strength of the African expression that has resulted in the general acceptance of African religious practices as a way of life here in Bahia.

The historical tour focused on the area of the city known as Pelourinho, the old city.   We visited the African museum where the African experience is documented starting from the slave trade.  There were displays of African art, culture and science and of course the very strong influence of the Yoruba culture on the Brazilian experience.  There were numerous documents, statues, dolls and carvings of the Orixa pantheon.    The significance of the Yoruba influence in Bahia cannot be overstressed, the Orixas are everywhere.

Walking through the streets of Pelourinho you see the Bahian women in their traditional dress, some selling African food, Akaraje, on their stalls known as regional kitchens.  This is authentic stuff.

We also visited several churches where the evidence of African presence, craftsmanship and labor was very evident.    In the church of San Francisco they had the statues of St Benedict and the Black Madonna facing each other and we were shown the side rooms where African men and women were isolated during service because they, the builders, were not allowed to go into the main church nor mix with each other during the service.  

We also visited the Black people's church or "Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Black People".   The Building was started in 1704 and completed over a period of 100 years by the brotherhood of the Rosary reputed to be one of the first organisations of black people created in Brazil.   The church was built specifically for the use of black people because they were not allowed to go inside the other churches and in order that their day time work was not interrupted; building work was carried out at nights.   In the back of the church there is an African cemetery where slaves are buried and a shrine maintained to this day by the sisters of the church where offerings are made and candled lit in honor of the ancestors.    

These churches have regular, sometimes daily services often accompanied by African drumming and Yoruba ceremonies. While we were at the black church, the sisters were preparing special African foods for a ceremony.    This was a moving experience.

In Pelourinho square we ate Acaraje in front of the last slave market in Salvador and yards from the spot that gave the area its name.  Pelourinho means "Whipping post" and although the post is no longer there, there is a concrete slab on the ground marking the spot.

We are extending our limited vocabulary and can confidently greet people at different time of the day, say thank you, please and good bye and as we have found so far,  there is nothing about us that says we are not Bahians except the language.

When we returned to the apartment I went back to the water shop, order my 20L bottle and had it delivered and paid for in about 20 minutes.   Another challenge overcome and I am already planning the next one.    
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Nana (Sis. Sekhmet) on

I knew you would do the full African tour that we give most of our clients and I knew you would be in good hands and see the real African side of Salvador. Now, just wait until you visit a Condomble ceremony and the Sisters of Boa Morte. I know you will love it. Happy you met folks in the community but then you have the right guide who knows the people so continue to enjoy. Back from Korea and off to Ghana next week. Love your daily posts.

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