Since 2011, there has been an effort to excavate and preserve Rio de Janeiro’s Valongo Wharf. Built in 1811 and then buried for more than 150 years beneath layer after layer of stone and pavement, Valongo Wharf was once one of the largest ports in the world engaged in the transatlantic human trade.

Please follow this link for more information: “The Fight To Preserve This Historic Slave Port Site In Brazil Sparks Debate” HuffPost Black Voices (December 2015).

Brazil July 2015

This summer, MPCPMP travelled to the city of Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, Brazil. Built on a high cliff overlooking All Saints Bay (Baía de Todos os Santos), Salvador was the first colonial capital of Brazil and the main port of entry in Brazil for Africans during the transatlantic human trade, receiving around 1.3 million Africans before slavery was abolished there.  The first Africans arrived in Brazil in 1538 to replace the indigenous labour, and for the next three centuries, Salvador became the most important and most prosperous human trade centre not only in Brazil but throughout the Americas, with wealth coming from the sugar cane and tobacco plantations that sprang up in the areas around Salvador. Unwilling to bring an end to the economic gains and the social structure established by the transatlantic trade, Brazil resisted the abolitionist movement, and it was not until 1888, that the country declared an end to the trade in human beings, the last in the “New World” to do so. By this time, it is estimated that four million Africans had been imported from Africa to Brazil, 40% of the total number of people brought to the Americas. As a result, Salvador is considered the heart of African-Brazilian culture. From Candomblé ceremonies (an African religious and healing tradition), to Capoeira, a martial art form that was initiated by enslaved Africans about 400 years ago, to carnivals, to samba, to food and music, Africans were able to preserve expressions of their beliefs and cultural traditions, and that presence is undeniable . . . part of the very air one breathes in Salvador.

Evidence of Salvador’s historic past is seen throughout the neighborhood called the Pelourinho. The word Pelourinho actually means “pillory” or “whipping post,” as it was in its central plaza, that Africans were bought and sold and where they were punished. The first market for human beings in the Americas, today, in Pelourinho’s central plaza and the surrounding areas, one can see, hear, touch, taste, and feel the synthesis of all of Salvador’s history, a testament to our African ancestors who survived and forged a new identity that enabled them to endure the many hardships they faced in order to lay the foundation for us, the descendant community.

MPCPMP also visited other parts of the city of Salvador and towns in the state of Bahia. Not far from the Pelourinho district in Salvador, in the Dique do Tororó, a local lake, are sculptures of the powerful Orishas, deities in the Candomblé tradition, arranged in a circle in the water. Locals and visitors frequently leave offerings under the beautiful old trees that surround the lake.

Outside of Salvador, MPCPMP  travelled to the town of Saubara, where an annual ceremony, the Lavagem da Igreja, as held. This all day event included a brass band parade led by Bahian women with hundreds of people following to gather at the river where gifts of white flowers were placed in the water, and a libation was offered to the orishas and the ancestors. Then, the women scooped water from the river into vases, and the crowd followed them and the brass band up a very steep hill to the church, where the women used the river water to wash the church steps. The rest of the day was spent celebrating and honoring the history of this remarkable town.

Later, another demonstration of the scope and depth of Brazil’s history was seen in the town of Santo Amaro Acupe, where the streets are transformed into an open-air theater for the annual Nego Fugido performance that occurs every Sunday in July. Nego Fugido is an old ritual that depicts the experience of runaway Africans in the interior of Brazil and recreates the struggle that leads to emancipation. It is a rich presentation of culture, history, and drama that tells the story of persecution, capture, and freedom. On the Sunday MPCPMP participated, hundreds of locals and visitors came together to watch as the history was re-enacted. The actors’ faces were painted with a mixture of food and ground coal oil, and their mouths were made red by chewing red crepe paper. This represents the blood and pain of the enslaved. There were representations of hunters, dressed in skirts of banana leaves, in search of runaways and soldiers who protected a man dressed as King, representing the masters and plantation owners. All of this was accompanied by continuous, traditional drumming. We were told that on the last Sunday in July, the story culminates with the King’s arrest (to answer for his crimes) and the abolition of slavery. Nego Fugido is part of Santo Amaro Acupe’s cultural memory and history, one that should be valued and honored and remembered.