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Salvador da Bahia

 

 

The rich culture of Salvador is heavily indebted to its legacy as the port of arrival for many African slaves. The Portuguese dominated the African slave trade beginning in 1452, when Pope Nicholas V issued a papal bull permitting the enslavement of any and all non-Christians. Thousands of Africans were captured by the Kingdom of Congo, sold to the Portuguese, and shipped to their colony of Brazil, where they were unloaded and sold in the city center of Salvador: the district earned the charming name of “Pelourinho,” or “whipping post.”

 

 

Slavery thankfully abolished, a dynamic Afro-Brazilian culture evolved from its ashes and now dominates the city—about 80% of the population is of Afro-Brazilian descent. Traditions fusing African and Portuguese are at home in Salvador. The transplanted slaves brought their religion with them: it is called Candomblé, and it survived in spite of centuries of repression by the Roman Catholic Church and the government of Brazil. An amalgamation of cultural influences, Candomblé incorporates both African and Christian traditions. It is a polytheistic faith, and the different deities, about 50 in all, each have their own unique histories and personalities. Some of these Orishas, or God-spirits, are associated with Catholic saints. For those interested in religion, it is possible to observe certain Candomblé services in Salvador.

 

 

Salvador is also known for new traditions, such as the famous capoeira dance, native to Salvador. This cross between a dance and a martial art consists of a series of spins and kicks, although the participants never touch one another. If you’ve never seen it, it looks sort of like a Kung Fu movie set to music. According to tradition, capoeira started as a way for slaves to practice hand-to-hand combat disguised as dance.

 

 

Visitors to Salvador are often surprised and delighted by how much there is to see and do in the city. A number of musical/dance groups have sprung up: a good one to check out is Olodum, which was founded in 1979 and has performed around the world (you may remember them from Michael Jackson’s 1995 music video “They Don’t Care About Us”) The city also sponsors a lively art scene: there are numerous theaters and art galleries. The old town, still called Pelourinho, is home to the best cafes, hotels, restaurants, and nightlife.  There are a number of fascinating colonial churches and museums, and Pelourinho is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If that’s not enough, stop by during Carnaval: according to locals (and some visitors) it’s more fun than the one in Rio de Janeiro.

 

 

The city was for centuries the most important port in Brazil, and the historic forts and fortifications are worth a look. One such landmark is the massive Lacerda Elevator, which was built in the nineteenth century to carry goods from the port to the city above. Beyond the port is the Bay of All Saints, upon which Salvador sits. This maritime graveyard is home to more than 100 shipwrecks and is a scuba diver’s paradise.  

 

The unfortunate legacy of slavery forced dislocated Africans to cling to values which could not be taken away: their Gods, their culture and their souls. These precious possessions took root in a green corner of the New World; today their culture blooms in Salvador.



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