Consuming Candomblé: The Baiana and the Navigation of Ethnic Identity in a ‘Racial Democracy’

Katie Hurd

kurd 1
Fig. 1 Smile! You are in Bahia!!
 Postcard of the Baiana, Source Marike Vis, K. (2013)


 ‘Africa’ and the interpretation of traditions and attributes understood as being of African origin, is a contested symbol of identity in the ‘Black Atlantic’. This is partly due to the ways in which it has been continually placed in dialectical processes of objectification and appropriation for consumable means, notably as part of the global identity industry. In Brazil, this is nowhere more apparent than the state’s appropriation of African cultures as part of its national racial ideology of being a ‘racial democracy’. As such, in this essay I want to focus on the Baianas de Acarajé, street food vendors who are part of the ‘ethno-religion’ Candomblé – a religion with its roots or ‘routes’ in West Africa – to look at the ways in which they have navigated their ethnic identity under the empress of the dominating ideology of ‘racial democracy’ and an increasingly prominent global identity industry that espouses the creation of ‘ethno-commerce’. I draw on a mixture of academic work, cultural studies and grey material to look at the ways in which the Baianas have been appropriated as part of Brazil’s ‘ethno-tourism’, which has in turn folklorized them, their identity and their craft as an extension of the preservation of Bahia as a modernist dream of what Bastide (1978b: 10) termed a ‘microcosmic Africa’.

I critique a historical presumption of a one-way process of reification and abstraction by drawing attention to how they navigate this folklorization, querying whether this process of cultural objectification can be reduced to a linear interpretation of alienation. It is through drawing attention to the concept of ‘intangible cultural heritage’ (ICH) that I will discuss the notion of ‘instrumental ethnicity’, whilst using Comaroff and Comaroff’s (2009) paradoxical concept of ‘ethnicity Inc.’ to highlight the ways in which the Baianas – recognised as part of ICH – are able to manipulate the sacred and draw on their folklorization to exert themselves in ‘spaces of exclusion’. As such, I use the concept of ethnicity not as an analytic construct but as a concrete abstraction deployed by communities and individuals in their everyday attempts to inhabit sustainable worlds.


 Finding Africa in Brazil

Brazil has the largest percentage of Black people of African descent outside of the African continent due to the influx of slaves sent to work in the many plantations established in the ‘New World’ (Rey, 2016). As a result, ‘Africa’, as both a place and as an idea, has been crucial in the construction of Black identity in what Paul Gilroy (1995) has termed the ‘Black Atlantic’. Although Gilroy does not address Latin America directly, this concept is crucial in not only critically evaluating colonial legacy but understanding the ways in which race, ethnicity and identity have been informed by the movement of people and ideas, ties created earlier by global flows of the Atlantic slave trade. Gilroy’s imagery of the ship in his discussion of this concept, used to portray the fluid connection between two points, draws attention to the multidimensional aspect of ‘Blackness’ as well as serving as a powerfully melancholic reminder of the history of Black identity in diasporic imaginings. Populations defined as ‘Black’ in Latin America and elsewhere in Europe have therefore drawn on this concept of ‘Africa’ as well as the common experience of slavery in the production of Black cultures and identities. It has been argued in reference to this point that a particular point of reference in Black cultures has been the use of ‘Africa’ as a symbolic bank (Sansone, 1999) as well as a source of common experience. These symbols are drawn on as part of an “ongoing process that serves to increasingly bring together . . . disparate and quite distinct notions of Blackness in different locales of the Americas” (Dawson, 2008: 112). As such,  I wish to discuss this notion of Black identity or ‘Blackness’, not just as a racial category or pigmentation, but as a cultural and social trope that  includes, for those with whom the concept resonates, ancestry, religious practices, class and community. I draw on Stuart Hall (1997) in his discussion on the production of identities and ethnicities when he states, “Black is not a question of pigmentation. The Black I am talking about is a historical category, a political category, a cultural category” (1997: 53).

How have these ideas played out in what has been constituted and institutionalised as a ‘racial democracy’?  Although now aptly labelled as a ‘myth’ by many Brazilian race relations scholars, the ideology is still maintained in the national consciousness in that due to ‘mestiçagem’ (the mixing of white Portuguese colonizers, native people and African slaves during Colonialism), Brazil has avoided racial prejudice and discrimination due to these exceptional colonial circumstances. These ideas became popularised by Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre (1956) and his idealized studies of the development of the Brazilian population, which claimed that through this “lubricous union” of races, a meta-racial identity was created. Although Freyre’s theories celebrated racial mixture, promoted a notion of “triumphant brownness” and challenged Brazil’s North American counterparts, he inevitably assigned Portuguese colonialists “with nonracist sensibilities” (Sherriff, 2003: 89) whilst simultaneously romanticising (and sexualizing) the encounter with the ‘other’.

As a consequence, anti-racist movements and a unified ‘black’ identity have proved difficult in mobilizing.  However, there has been increasing reverence on the part of Black social movements for African cultural symbols, employing the concept of a ‘remembered Africa’ to reinforce Diasporic connections (Dawson, 2008: 9). Black identity making in Brazil has therefore revolved around what Barth (1998: 15) has called the ‘cultural stuff’ within an ethnic boundary. Black as an ethnic category (that is defined as different from mainstream culture) has therefore increasingly come to mean and encompass a range of cultural practices, religions and disputed ideas about the importance of ‘Africa’ within this ethnic construction. “For many Afro- Brazilians, blackness, must mean an engagement with the practice of what they deem ‘African’ e.g. ‘African’ religious rituals, ‘African’ values and the learning of an African language, in other words the Africanization of their Black identity” ( Dawson, 2008: 6).

However, this ‘Africanization’ has not resonated with a large majority of ‘Black’ Brazilians. Although Brazil has been suggested to have a ‘bi-polar’ racial configuration (Sheriff, 2003), Brazilians themselves, to a large extent due to the continual permeating strength of the ideology of ‘racial democracy’, identify with a variety of colours. Race is then understood or interpreted through appearance rather than phenotypes. Many censuses conducted since the 1940s by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) have managed to classify the population into five main categories: branco, (white), pardo (brown), preto (black), amarelo (yellow) and indigenous, however the institute has acknowledged the precarity of these categories with many Brazilians preferring to self describes as ‘morenos’ (Telles, 2004; Gates, 2011). In a census taken in 1976 it was even found that there were in fact 134 different answers to the question about race (see Dawson, 2008: 27 for list of results) ranging from Azul (bluish) to Parda (dark brown), highlighting the fluidity in racial classification. As Wade (1995) has suggested when looking at the diverse definitions of Blackness in Colombia, these definitions can often be contradictory, which in turn, can lead to the reification of Blackness and “essentialist notions of race” (1995: 351).

This has to be understood contextually within a national appropriation of these ‘African’ derived cultures for consumable means. One only has to look at the famous Rio Carnival, with its infamous parades of capoeira and samba schools, to look at the ways in which these cultural elements have been reified and essentialised as part of a national symbol. In fact, as many scholars have noted, this reverence for African culture acts as a symbol to uphold the discourse of ‘racial democracy’ through their ability to mask the innate racial inequalities of Brazil through their enactment. Many scholars have drawn attention to this more globally with the appropriation and/or commodification of black cultures and the potentiality of this to erase structures of disadvantage and discrimination (Gilroy, 2000; Alexander, 2002).

Bell Hooks (2015) in her discussion on this point and the representation of Blackness, talks about this in terms of the commodification of Otherness: “within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture” (2015: 44). In so doing, Bell Hooks (2015) argues that this in many ways can be seen as a revival of “the ‘primitive’ with a distinctly post-modern slant” (2015: 45). Although her discussion is primarily focused on the appropriation of Afro-American culture and the media, her argument resonates with the essentialisation of ‘African’ culture by the Brazilian state that in many ways de-politicises its political potential through its reification. As such, ‘Blackness’ is only celebrated or constituted through its performance of ‘African’ elements in the national imaginary. This begs the question:  if mobilization occurs on the premise of a subject that has a tendency to be appropriated and that is often exclusionary, the question lies in whether it can be effectively used against the dominating powers that be? (Selka, 2005: 90). Should we say then that ‘Afro-Brazilian’ culture is merely an ideology used to veil racism, a tool in the ideological apparatus of ‘racial democracy’?

Candomblé virou moda’ (Candomble has become fashionable)[1]

I will address these questions and tensions around ‘Africa’ as a contested source of identity for Afro Brazilians by focusing on the ‘ethno-religion’ (Selka, 2005) Candomblé. This is a ‘spirit’ religion developed through a creolization of traditional Yoruba, Fon and Bantu beliefs brought from West Africa (notably Benin) by slaves for the Portuguese empire and plantations in the northern state of Bahia. At the time, many slaves were the subject of the gaze of the then prominent Catholic Church, its leaders and the vast majority of slave owners felt it necessary to convert enslaved Africans as a form of domination. Although a large percentage did convert, many instead incorporated elements of Catholicism into their traditions, largely in order to feign conversion to Catholicism in front of Portuguese masters. Interestingly, they often hid sacred symbols or tokens of their Spirit deities, the Orixas, inside the figurines of Catholic saints. Today, Candomblé and its counterpart Umbanda, are often lumped together in both academic literature and by government agencies as ‘Afro-Brazilian religions’ and ‘Afro –Brazilian cults’ (Selka, 2005), which despite both religions now having a changing racial demographic, including that of white followers, remain seen as symbols of ‘Blackness’ (Sansone, 1999) due to its ‘authentic’ African elements.

This has recently come to light due to a rise in a militant Pentecostalism that has participated in hate speeches, or what (Neace, 2016: 42) has called a “rhetoric of war”, as preachers have condemned the sinfulness of African-based worship and provoked hate crimes that have seen Candomblé houses (temples) in addition to their practisers attacked. Although Pentecostalism is practiced by all races in Brazil, the semiotic link established by Black activists between Afro-Brazilian identity and Black identity, as well as the ties between Candomblé and Blackness, have meant that acts of intolerance towards the religion have become widely associated with racism (Selka, 2003). In addition to being seen as an ‘authentic’ African tradition, this symbolism is also partly due to its imagery, its ability to subvert the denigration from the Catholic Church and colonial masters and is a product of changing governmental discourses around the religion: once disregarded and considered veiled as a taboo, it is now one of the most important cultural references in Brazil.

In his discussion on the history of these ever-changing discourses surrounding the religion, Van de Port (2015) discusses the fact that Candomblé was once publicly presented as nothing “but a jumble of primitive, barbarous and scary practices of African origin” (2015: 244). He cites a letter sent by an elite citizen of Salvador in the early 1900s to the editor of a local newspaper urging for a tighter grip around the religion: “The festivities of Carnival are coming up . . . and the African drums are already preparing to tell the world once more about our low level of civilization”[2] (Rodrigues, 1904 [1935]: 257 cited by Van de Port, 2015). After the abolition of slavery, the Brazilian nation set out towards a ‘progress’ and ‘modernity’ in which the African population was seen as a hindrance, especially in the northern state of Bahia where the majority of plantations had been. As such, the ‘whitening’ of Bahian society was proposed as a solution for “the African presence” (Van de Port, 2015: 245) which revered miscegenation and consequently the ‘whitening’ of the Bahian population. This discourse had its roots in the theories of scientific racism, eugenics and the idea of the ‘great chain of being’ (or racial determinism) being discussed in Europe at the time, which attempted to map out the hierarchical comparison of peoples, with the ‘African’ marking the lowest tier of this evolutionary model.  Resultantly, a policy to “un-Africanize” (ibid) the streets was implemented in which African traditions and entertainments such as the Baianas de Acarajé, Capoeira and Samba were taken off the streets from 1905 to the 1930s (ibid).

However, as discussed earlier in section one of this essay, new understandings of mestiçagem and discourses on race and ethnicity espoused by Freyre (1956) and his notion of ‘triumphant brownness’ allowed for a re-evaluation of this African cultural heritage, accumulating in the presentation of the nation as a ‘racial democracy’. Bahia was construed instead as a land of magic and mysticism as part of this elitist construction that echoed surrealist and modernist representations of the ‘primitive’ aesthetic in European arts. As De Port (2015) notes on this change in representation, “already in the 1950s, tourist guidebooks urge visitors to Salvador (Bahia) not to miss out on visiting the ‘barbaric beauty’ of Candomblé ceremonies, describing these as ‘the savage poetry of Bahian nights’” (2015: 246). This assigned a new value to the ‘primitive’ character of Candomblé – a change made visible through the metamorphosis of the representation of Candomblé objects – towards ‘Black magic’ and fearsome fetishes that the police confiscated (ironically out of fear of their power). These were subsequently displayed next to criminal objects in the Geographic and Historical Institute in the late 19th century, later becoming cultural works of art and public monuments in the Afro-Brazilian Museum of Bahia (Sansi, 2007: 83-109).

As Roger Sansi (2007) states in his evaluation of this cultural transition, Candomblé images and objects became revalued from “weapons of crime to jewels of the crown” (2007: 83). He draws attention to the ways in which Black bodies and cultural expressions, embodied in the religion of Candomblé, became reinterpreted by Brazilian (as well as international) artists and intellectuals as an expression of vitality and strength (2007: 52), with one famous Brazilian writer Jorge Amado venerating Candomblé as something “beautiful” (Amado, 1935: 96-7) and sensual, fulfilling modernist expectations with its “music, mysterious symbols, and a troubled eroticism” (Sansi, 2007: 52). This revolutionary change articulated Candomblé not only as an institution of Afro Brazilian popular culture, but as ‘high culture’ (Bastide 1978a), a ‘microcosmic Africa’ (Bastide, 1978b).

Bahia: the ‘Living Museum’

In light of this, Candomblé has been made into ‘culture’ through what Bourdieu (1993) has termed the ‘field of cultural production’: its institutionalisation as part of ‘high culture’ through its participation in arts, literature, museums and being the subject of academic focus as a ‘microcosmic Africa’. This has been internalized or even activated by Candomblé practitioners, especially those houses that reject syncretism and establish themselves as authentically African, a symbol of Blackness and resistance in Brazil. On the one hand, this draws attention to the fact that the use of African identities – whether essentialised notions of ‘Africa’ as a homogenous entity or specific African ethnic categories – act as a symbolic anchor for notions of Blackness. This can ultimately be understood as being about the creation of meaning for historically marginalised peoples (Dawson, 2018: 342). However, at the same time Candomblé’s veneration as culture has in turn made the religion more, to use Dawson’s word, ‘palatable’ or consumable for a wider audience through this concentrated campaign to revere Candomblé at “the centre of all aspects of black popular culture in Bahia” (ibid: 197).

This paradox is reflected in the creation of the African Heritage City Tour around Salvador that offers tourists, many of them Afro-Americans, to come and see the ‘true’ Africa in Brazil’s ‘Black Rome’. Tourists can take tours of ‘authentic’ Candomblé houses where they can watch the ceremonies of Candomblé, unveiling the once secret and private religion. Dawson (2008) notes after one such ceremony, tourists asked their tour guide who was from West Africa, “do they get it right? Is this really similar to what you saw growing up in Africa?” (Dawson, 2008: 3).

This has led many academics to highlight Candomblé’s ‘folklorization’ (Stansky, 2012) as one that revers Candomblé whilst simultaneously restricting it to a static and folkloric icon of Brazil and the Northeast.  As one Afro-Brazilian informant stated:

Candomblé is folklore, and more remembered during parties. But day to day, no one remembers . . . it was a belief of the slaves. For example, Pelourinho (a city in Bahia) literally means the ‘whipping post’. It was a place where they sold and punished many slaves that came from Africa. And now, it is just a tourist attraction” (Stansky, 2012: 33).

As Godreau (2002) draws attention to in her study of folklorization in Puerto Rico, this process of making ‘folklore’ (a. k. a. making it more inclusive and more ‘palatable’), in turn feeds into national ideologies found in Latin America of mestiçagem that romanticize Black communities as “remnants of a past era” that she links to a “modernizing state agenda and discourses of authenticity that fuel cultural nationalism worldwide” (2002: 281). This is reflected in Brazil’s state sponsored tourist initiatives that espouse a rhetoric of recuperating tradition and revitalizing the past, which objectify Afro-Brazilian heritage whilst romanticizing the colonial era. As such, this highlights the effects of tourism’s ability to commodify an ethnic population. Tilley (2006) discusses this point in his article on identity and place as well as ‘ethno-tourism’. He argues that at the heart of this is the production and reproduction of difference, drawing on the ‘authenticity’ of a culture to fulfil the ‘exoticism’ of experience (2006: 17). He creates a linkage between museum exhibitions and heritage sites through the ways they prioritize the collection and classification of objects and peoples reminiscent of Said’s (1995) ‘orientalism’ and the static construction of the mystical and erotic ‘Other’. This is why ‘ethno-tourism’ is frequently argued to “destroy that which it seeks” in its ability to render culture “flat” as part of the process of “drama and the aura of its decay” (Comaroff and Comaroff, 2009: 20).

kurd 2.png
 A Baiana selling Acarajé, a familiar image around Bahia. Source:


Although briefly mentioned in section two, this finally leads me to the main focus on my discussion: the Baianas De Acarajé – the ‘postcard of Salvador, Bahia’ (see Fig.2) and the ways in which they navigate these prevalent and regulatory discourses.

The Baianas are exclusively female street vendors who sell the sacred food of Candomblé (the Acarajé). This is peeled black-eyed cowpea beans, onions and salt formed into a ball then deep fried in palm oil, which in Candomblé ceremonies are offered to the Orisha deities as sacred food. The Baianas began selling this West African speciality during colonial times, originally as wage-earning slaves. Their ubiquitous presence in Bahia has made them the subject of writings and popular culture: from being depicted as irrational and lazy[3], to becoming sexualized by the Brazilian Broadway star Carmen Miranda in the 1950s (see Fig.3[4]) (Castañeda, 2015).

The Baianas are characterized by their dress or ‘uniform’ in which they wear a white dress, characteristic of the rituals of Candomblé, as well as cloth turbans and beaded necklaces in the colours of their deities, which together symbolically constitute the identification of the craft, its religious intent and its historical ties to slavery in addition to the position of women in the Afro-Brazilian community (Gaspar, 2009). As such, they have been seen as a “symbol of resistance since slavery” (Maria Lêda Marques, President of ABAM[5]). Over a period  of ‘positive commodification’ of Afro-Brazilian culture in Bahia, this folklorization of Candomblé, with its roots in museum culture, extended over the city itself including its buildings, Candomblé houses and its practitioners, which has led many to argue that Bahia has itself turned into a ‘living museum’ (Romo 2010), preserved as a static modernist dream. This becomes highly visible through the production of the Baianas’ ‘costume’ as part of an initiative in which tourists can try on the ‘outfit’ worn by the Baianas and even take pictures with shop girls wearing the ‘costume’ (Gage, 2016: 171- 175). This arguably produces a certain exhibition value to the craft, or even a “Disneyesque version of black culture but without any uncomfortable exposure to black poverty and the realities of Salvador” (Romo, 2010: 154).

kurd 3.png
Fig 3: Carmen Miranda, the ‘Brazilian Bombshell’. Source:

In addition to this point, one must look at the effects that Brazil’s recognition of its ‘intangible cultural heritage’ by UNESCO [6] has had, which became institutionalised in Brazil through the creation of IPHAN[7]. This has worked to constitute Candomblé as a cultural reference and its actors as living cultural assets, subject to safeguard measures for its preservation, protection and promotion (Santos, 2012). A municipal decree was created in 2004 to specify the regulations of the craft including “the traditional garb, the association to Candomblé, the religious symbolism Acarajé imbues, and the obligatory use of the tabuleiro or wood tables used for generations” (Castañeda, 2014), which in failing to be adhered to, leads to a municipal fine preserving the Baianas in a static and controlled role. As such, UNESCO’s heritage policies have always been subjected to criticism when one asks: Who selects what cultural assets should be preserved? And “how much have the bearers of intangible heritage . . . been able to (in)form such agency?’ (Stefano, 2012: 215).


Manipulating the Sacred

It is through exploring the concept of ICH and its criticisms that I take issue with a historical and theoretical presumption of a one-way process of objectification and abstraction of Afro-Brazilian culture, especially in relation to the Baianas. There is a considerable debate to how this process of ‘cultural objectification’ should be interpreted (Stansky, 2012: 36). On the one hand, the folklorization of Afro-Brazilian heritage creates an image of Candomblé and its actors as part of a traditional colonial past, ultimately de-politicizing it as a symbol of ‘Blackness’ in Brazil and feeding into the state’s interest in revenue. On the other hand, as Stansky (2012) draws attention to when discussing whether IPHAN can be construed as a form of protection or appropriation (2012: 37), many Afro-Brazilians celebrate this folkloriation as they see it as a long-awaited recognition by the state that protects community efforts “to resist cultural hegemony, survive persecution, and maintain traditions in the face of racism, socio-economic injustices and the fight for human rights” (2012: 44).

Herein lies the paradox of marketing ethnic identity that Comaroff and Comaroff (2009: 23) draw attention to with their concept ‘ethnicity Inc.’: the liquidation of the “traditional value of cultural heritage” within what they term the ‘modern impulse’ to bring things closer, has the tendency to debase its mystique upsetting that “old modernist angst” of difference vanishing. However, they draw attention to an inherent complexity as it also appears to “(re) fashion identity, to (re) animate cultural subjectivity to (re) charge collective self-awareness” (ibid: 26), especially in what they discuss as the current global identity industry and market.

As such I ask: Can this cultural objectification be reduced to an interpretation of alienation? The registration of the Baianas and their sacred food as an intangible cultural asset was recognised as a long-awaited appreciation of the craft professionally by the Association of Baianas de Acarajé. When the president of the Association explained this, she discussed the fact that she did not want to fill the field profession as ‘cook’ but rather wanted to be recognised and identified as a Baiana, since cooks cook at home (Bitter and Bitar, 2012).

Selling Acarajé is still an economic mainstay for many Afro-Brazilian women and 70 % of Baianas in the state of Bahia are heads of the family, leaving the craft to be the economic mainstay for entire families (Africa Up Close, 2014). As Comaroff and Comaroff (2009) argue: “vendors of ethnic authenticity, however bound they may be to the market, are not alienated proletariats, in thrall to the fetish of their own estranged essence. Nor have they simply become fetishes themselves” (2009: 24-25). They draw attention to the self-enactment and proclamation of identity within the rise of ‘ethno-commerce’, critiquing Bourdieu’s theoretical separation of ‘economic’ and ‘cultural’ capital by arguing the two concepts can no longer be seen as at odds with each other “when culture is objectified by those who inhabit it” (2009: 32).

This draws on the concept of ‘instrumental ethnicity’ in which ethnic identities are “claimed, challenged, or reconfigured for present day political, social, and economic purposes” (Kearney, 2012: 40). The Baianas have in some ways accepted or even asserted the folklorization or institutionalisation of their Afro-Brazilian identities. As such, I highlight the ways that ethnicity in Brazil is a negotiated terrain drawn from a national and local history in which collective and individual identities are constantly playing out against the empress of the Brazilian state’s negotiation of its ‘racial democracy’ and the increasing global identity industry. Baianas as such, have strategically used their folklorization under IPHAN and state-sanctioned agreements to protect their livelihood as cultural assets.

Once again, this became contextually prominent within the rising militant Pentecostalism discussed in section two of this paper, which attempted to de-legitimize Baianas and displace them from selling Acarajé – something they term ‘devil food’ due to their association with Candomblé – in order to re-claim the delicacy as ‘Acarajé Jesus’. This led to the Baianas eventually wining a court case in conjunction with banning the evangelical churches from promoting and selling ‘Acarajé Jesus’ (Bitter and Bitar, 2012). However, the enactment of their identity and craft as ‘cultural assets’ reached an international scale during the FIFA World Cup in 2016, whereby the Baianas were banned from selling Acarajé in and around the stadium. This led to a twitter trend started by the Baianas stating #NãoQueroMcDonalds and #QueroAcarajé,[8] which asserted the Baiana’s right to sell their sacred food in this ‘zone of exclusion’ (Ivester, 2015). Their ability to raise global awareness in describing FIFA as a “global imperial force actively displacing a nationally recognised cultural patrimony” (Castañeda, 2014) led them to becoming the first street vendors in history to be allowed to sell their delicacy in and around the arena.

kurd 4.png
Fig 4: ‘Global Voices’: Bainas Protesting Outside the World Cup Stadium



In this essay I have sought to demonstrate the ways in which the Baianas de Acarajé navigate a sense of ethnic identity under the empress of an ideological apparatus that appropriates the ‘Afro’ and a global identity industry that spurns ‘ethno-commerce’. I have argued that Candomblé exists within a hegemonic narrative that encapsulates, exoticizes and commodifies the religion and its associates, not only within the context of promoting a ‘racial democracy’, but within a notoriously Western tendency to appropriate African based identity in diasporic communities. However, what becomes apparent when looking at the changing discourse around the religion is that a new ‘dimension’ has been created that celebrates and recognizes the local within the context of the global, highlighting the changing nature of categories such as ethnicity, race and national identity. Although this has led many to believe that this leads to a cultural ‘flatness’ in which the glory of ‘authenticity’ becomes debased through these global flows, I have argued that through looking at the ways in which the Baiana’s have exercised their folklorized identities as emblems of Afro-Brazilian culture, using the tools of ICH, they retain the local referent and historical content of their craft, straddling both the ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ worlds.

This touches on an increasing academic focus on the globalization of Afro-Brazilian identity politics that looks at the ways in which African cultures in Brazil (e.g. traditional practices such as Capoeira), have been globalized through the rise of tourism and other international flows. Practices such as Capoeira have been utilized by lower-class Afro-Brazilians to exert their agency both internationally and nationally to challenge the racial inequalities that are deeply veiled and still very much prevalent in Brazil.  As such, I wish to conclude by drawing on Mezzana (2011) in her blog discussion on ending the underestimation and basic stigmatization that has been reserved for African traditions, which places them in static and depoliticized, or in this case, folklorized roles, that have often resulted in ‘African’ phenomena becoming locked behind a ‘interpretation cage’ as if they existed in a ‘historical void’, or, a one-way presumption of objectification that is thought to limit their survival in the world. As such, she suggests that we must extricate them from their established post-modern stereotypes, focusing instead on their profound connections to modernity and the ways in which an ethnic identification with ‘Africa’ can be deployed by communities and individuals in their everyday attempts to inhabit sustainable worlds.



Africa Up Close (2014). Acarajé is a central element of Afro-Brazilian culture. Africa Up Close: a blog of the Africa Program at the Wilson Centre [online]. Available at: < > [Accessed: May 1. 2018].

Amado, J. (1935). Jubiaba. Sao Paulo: Martins.

Alexander, C. (2002). Beyond Black: Re-thinking the Colour/Culture Divide. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 25(4), pp. 552 – 571.

Barth. F. (1998). Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Cultural Difference. Waveland Press.

Bastide, R. (1978a). O Candomblé da Bahia. Sao Paulo: Nacional.

Bastide. R. (1978b). The African Religions of Brazil. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Bitter, D. and Bitar, N. (2012). Food Work and Equity. Notes on the Craft of the Acarajé Baianas and Tacacazeiras. Anthropological Horizons.

Bourdieu, P. (1993). The Field of Cultural Production. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bitar, N. (2011). Baianas de Acarajé: Food and Heritage in Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Aeroplano.

Castañeda, V. (2014). Traditional as Political: the Baianas de Acarajé. Stories of El Salvador: The civil War and its Aftermath [online]. Available at: < [Accessed: April 5. 2018].

Comaroff, J. and Comaroff, J. (2009). Ethnicity Inc. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Dawson, A. (2008). In Light of Africa: Globalising Blackness in Northeast Brazil. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Montreal: McGill University.

Freyre, G. (1956). The Masters and the Slaves: A study in the Development of Brazilian Civilization. New York: Knopf.

Gaspar, L. (2009). Baianas de Acarajé. Joaquim Nabuco Foudation [online]. Available at:  <; [Accessed: 29. April 2018].

Gates, H, L. (2011). Brazil: A Racial Paradise? [online]. Available at <; [Accessed: April 12. 2018].

Gilroy, P. (1995). The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. London: Harvard University Press.

Gilroy, P. (2000). The Sugar you Stir…. In: P. Gilroy, L. Gossberg and A. McRobbie (eds.) Without Guarantees: In Honour of Stuart Hall. London: Verso, pp. 126 – 133.

Godreau, I. (2002). Changing Space, Making Race: Distance, Nostalgia, and the Folklorization of Blackness in Puerto Rico.  Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 9(3), pp. 281 – 304.

Hall, S. (1997). Old and New Identities, Old and New Ethnicities. In: A. King (ed.) Culture, Globalization and the World-System: Contemporary Conditions for the Representation of Identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 41 – 68.

Hooks, B. (2015). Black Looks: Race and Representation. New York: Routledge.

Ivester, S. (2015). Culture, Resistance and Policies of Exclusion at World Cup 2014: The case of the ‘Baianas do Acarajé’. Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events, 7(3), pp. 314 – 324.

Kearney, A. (2012). Ethnicity in Wounded Spaces: Instrumentalism and the Making of Africa in Brazil. Nineteen Sixty-Nine: An Ethnic studies Journal, 1(1), pp. 39 – 55.

Gage, K. (2016). Moda da Bahia: An Analysis of Contemporary Vendor Dress in Salvador. Fashion Theory, 20(2), pp. 153 – 179.

Marike Vis, K. (2013). Admiring Brazil’s Traditional Baianas de Acarajé in Salvador Da Bahia. BucketTripper [online]. Available at: <; [Accessed: April 25. 2018].

Mezzana, D. (2011). The End of a Stigma (African Traditional Religions in Modernity). African Culture and Women [online]. Available at: <; [Accessed: 10. May 2018].

Neace, S., Amar, P., Gunn, G. and Juergensmeyer, M. (2016). Religious Tension in Brazil: The Rise of Militant Pentecostalism and Implications for Afro-Brazilian Religions. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Santa Barbara: University of California.

Guimarães, R. (2012). Objetos, sistema culinário e Candomblé: O patrimônio das “Baianas de Acarajé”. Religião E Sociedade, 32(1), pp. 233 – 237.

Rey, S. (2016). What are the Countries with the Highest Black Population Outside of Africa? Sola Rey [online]. Available at: <; [Accessed: May 17. 2018].

Romo, A. (2010). Brazil’s Living Museum: Race, Reform, and Tradition in Bahia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Rodrigues, N. (1904 [1935]). O animismo fetichista dos negros baianos. Civilização Brasileira: Rio de Janeiro.

Said, E. (1995). Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. New York: Penguin.

Sansone, L. (1999). From Africa to Afro. Amsterdam/Dakar: South-South Exchange Programme for Research on the History of Development (SEPHIS) and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA).

Sansi. R. (2007). Fetishes and Monuments: Afro-Brazilian Art and Culture in the Twentieth Century. New York: Berghahn Books.

Selka, S. (2003). Religion and the Politics of Ethnic Identity in Bahia, Brazil. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. New York: State University of New York.

Selka, S. (2005). Ethnoreligious Identity Politics in Bahia, Brazil. Latin American Perspectives, 32(1), pp. 72 – 94.

Sheriff, R. (2003). Embracing Race: Deconstructing Mestiçagem in Rio De Janeiro. Journal of Latin American Anthropology, 8(1), pp. 86 – 115.

Stansky, V., Amar, P., Pieterse, J. N. and Lezra, E. (2012). Persecution and Permanence: Re-Negotiating Brazil’s Identity, Religious Intolerance, and Consuming Candomblé. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Santa Barbara: University of California.

Santos, P. A. and Müller, E. (2012). When ICH Takes Hold of the Local Reality in Brazil: Notes from the Brazilian State of Pernambuco. In: M. L. Stefano, P. Davis and G. Corsane (eds.) Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage. Suffolk, U.K: Boydell & Brewer, pp. 213 – 222.

Telles, E. (2004). Race in Another America: The Significance of Skin Colour in Brazil. Oxfordshire, U.K: Princeton University Press.

Tilly, C. (2006). Introduction: Identity, Place, Landscape and Heritage. Journal of Material Culture, 11(1-2), pp. 559 – 582.

UNESCO (2018). What is Intangible Cultural Heritage? [online]. Available at: [Accessed: May 17. 2018].

Van de Port, M. (2015). Bahian White: The Dispersion of Candomblé Imagery in the Public Sphere of Bahia. Material Religion, The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief, 3(2), pp. 242 – 274.

Wade, P. (2010). Race and Ethnicity in Latin America. London: Pluto Press.


[1] An often-repeated phrase in Brazil (see Stansky 2012: 23)



[2] Translation from the Portuguese are from the author Van de Port.

[3] By Aluisio de Azevedo in his book O Cortiço (The Slum, 1890)

[4] Carmen Miranda, the ‘Brazilian Bombshell’. Source:

[5] The Association of Bahian Acarajé and Porridge Women.

[6] UNESCO defines this as including ‘traditions, performing arts, social practices, ritual, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts’ (UNESCO 2018)

[7] Registry of Immaterial Heritage and the National Programme for Immaterial Cultural Heritage

[8] Translation: ‘We don’t want McDonalds. We want Acarajé’


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s