J Cleidiana makes us reflect on the connections between indigenous peoples and people of African descent in the interior of Bahia as a fundamental historical identity for the construction of Brazil, and which was not articulated as part of what is better known as Bahianness—being that Bahia was fundamental for the foundation and development of the country that we know today as Brazil. With her magazine Flor de Dendê along with other colleagues and invited journalists, they create a rereading of these peoples and histories, asking—
C Who are the Sertanejans? Who are these Sertanejan people, the semi-arid peoples? Maybe they don’t have this Black political identity, much more defined as it is here on the coast, in the capital and in Recôncavo. But they are people who resisted through racial mixture. African descendants, the Africans also were pushed toward the Bahian interior. As well as the indigenous. The indigenous who were forcefully acculturated and negated. The indigenous culture of the interior of Bahia is as if it didn’t exist, they never existed, they ceased to exist or are over. When we look at various movements, settlements, and villages that are still resisting, battles they are still fighting from the 20th century, everything becomes mixed together as if it were just one thing with the movement of the landless. And there are very interesting things in this interior, the municipalities that have indigenous names. My municipality, for example, is called Iaçu, which in Tupi means “Grand Water.” The Paraguaçu, which is a Bahian integration river, bathes three different ecosystems, the Cerrado in High Chapada, the Cantiga, in the middle of Paraguaçu, which is where Iaçu is, which is characterized by droughts. So, hunger and poverty are markers of these places. Then the river reaches the Atlantic forest, which is the Recôncavo region; it flows into the salt flats in Paraguaçu, in a place called Barra do Paraguaçu and begins in Barra da Estiva in High Chapada near Vitória da Conquista in the Southeast. So you can see how we are all connected. Chapada is the point of connection to Minas Gerais, for example, from another state. We need to show these connections, and this is what we try to do at Flor de Dendê. The term “Afro-Sertanejo” is a provocation. A provocation in this sense that these two identities are more or less related, not so separated like the whole world thinks. So it is a very experimental project, it is not monetized. It is more of an experiment.
J Oh, but the magazine is so beautiful! I think it has content and information that you can’t find anywhere else. And I understand why, because you also have an approach that really stands out. Okay, Cleidiana, I want to know what being a cultural leader means to you in the political and cultural context of Bahia and Brazil. And with this, I want to highlight the importance of the context of Candomblé. And I want to know a little more about your experience with Terreiro do Cobre and how this influences your work, your politics and the Black movement in Brazil today.
C Friend, to tell you the truth, I don’t see myself as a cultural leader. I’ll explain to you why. We, here in Brazil, and maybe later you can comment as well, but I think it’s a little different here than some of the experiences you all have. Normally initiatives, I imagine there, are taken from a more collective movement. In Brazil, because of the history of personal experiences, there isn’t always a way to separate this from the individual aspect. So when you look at it, you are propelling a movement without having necessarily planned to, right, so often we end up functioning as, in my case for example, I’ve been functionary more like someone who gives support from the point of view of making these movements central, mainly Afro-religious movements. Giving visibility to what is being done, which is something that has bothered me a lot from the point of view of news coverage, for example from the national propaganda media. Every time something happens here that impacts us, it is very difficult, right, because every day there’s something new. We still haven’t recovered from a Black man being hit by 80 shots by two military personnel from the army, right, you can imagine what the army is in the streets, policing the streets of Rio de Janeiro, and a musician on his way to spend the weekend with family only to be confused with a car burglar and a car that had a Black man inside, his wife and kids being hit by 80 bullets. And then there’s the case of a Black man also in Rio de Janeiro who disappeared after a Black woman who, while being approached by the police, was dragged for kilometers by a police car, which is the story of Cláudia Silva. And then there’s the death of Ágatha, an 8-year-old girl, after a 14-year-old boy. And we keep seeing more. After the absurd death of this man just a few weeks ago, on the night before Black Consciousness Day, November 19th, João Alberto was killed at Carrefour (a national network of supermarkets), right, and killed in such a brutal way—beaten to death, suffocated like George Floyd was in the U.S., right, but before that, he was beaten in such a brutal way, and we have videos showing it. And so we aren’t even recovering. Yesterday, there was a 4-year-old girl named Emily as well as another 7-year-old named Rebeca, two cousins who were killed in a shooting, and the bullets came from what all points to, based on facts, police weapons. So in this country, we don’t breathe, we don’t have peace, you cannot distance yourself from this. We need people— Black women and Black men—who have some kind of platform that could give voices to these types of violence we all suffer from. You have to be very anesthetized and distanced and in a state of denial in order to not do something, if you are able to and don’t. So it is in this sense that we end up acting a lot as individuals. Oftentimes not even as a group, but as individuals.
Yes, what bothers me is when these reports come out, right, and you can only imagine our surprise when, for example, the biggest communications company in the country, the Globo organizations, in 2021 began to make, shall we say, links, connections between police violence and racism because of the episodes in the United States, such as George Floyd’s death. And what did the Grupo Globo organizations do? They have a cable TV company called Globo News where they spent a whole day (because this is cable TV) having debates, live programs discussing the race issue with all white journalism professionals. So then there was an uproar on Twitter. And the next day, Globo News went and apologized and put on a special program hosted by Heraldo Pereira, who is a Black journalist at Grupo Globo, along with 5 other Black journalists. 5 Black women, right. Including Maju Coutinho, who is the only Black news anchor for the daily TV news program, which is Jornal Hoje, a new program that’s on at noon, or 1 P.M. until 2:30. So Globo went and put on this show. It was so successful that the day after, they did it again on Globo Repórter, which is a basic cable program. But what scares me is how this communication company just mobilized that way, pressured heavily by Twitter. Because we are living this moment of many voices, many Black activists on Twitter. So it’s like that, once again this protagonism brings about talking points that are actually very old. And what irritates me is that they present this movement, I’m speaking of commercial media, as if it were something new. And always with the discourse, “It’s because in Brazil, it doesn’t happen here like it happens in the United States.” The protests gained a much larger dimension. Oh because in Brazil the Black movement, the Black movement is always in the singular. The Black movement is peaceful, the Brazilian Black movement doesn’t make any kind of trouble, but when you look at the history of this country from [the Quilombo] Palmares, you know, from the results in Búzios, from Malês, the Malê revolt, which took place in 1845 and is the largest, is considered one of the largest of the Americas. A very important uprising that, for example, scared Spanish America more than the Independence of Haiti, right. So we see, today, we see the Black women’s movements, they are not recent, they are not, they were not suffragist like you all were, right, they weren’t like suffragettes, or based on property like in England, it was all that, but it was so much more. We see that there has been an emancipatory movement of Black women since the colonial period. Tereza de Benguela led an uprising of quilombolas [Brazilian communities founded by formerly enslaved runaway Africans] in the 19th century along with the indigenous and quilombolas. We’ll see the history of figures such as Maria Quitéria, a sertaneja who fought in the war of Independence of Bahia dressed as a man, practically like transgender, right. Because women couldn’t enlist in the war. We see the story of Maria Quitéria, we know that Maria Quitéria suffered an attempt at feminization, right, because that story of that woman was a threat to the patriarchal power.
We see the Irmandade da boa Morte [Sisterhood of the Good Death], formed by the so-called Black women of the high class. In other words Black women who in the middle of that brutal violence of slavery, through this figure of the escrava de ganho [female slave who earns money as an independent street vendor], right the independent female earners, these women ascended to the point of being called Black women of the high class [partido alto]. So that’s why on the last day of the festival, they fund the celebration, even today. It is the Sisterhood that finances the festival. Of course, the government today gives support because the festival is transnational, right, there are even many African Americans who come to attend the festival of Good Death in August. But they [the sisters] fund the food there, every day of the festival, especially on the 15th, which is the most important day of the festival, the day of Nossa Senhora da Glória [Our Lady of Glory], what do they do? They go out in the street, their clothes are extremely upscale, covered in jewelry. Because of the message: We rise. So how can you say that in this country there is just one singular Black movement? We have Black movements. We have different strategies and many segments. There is Capoeira, there are the artistic movements. Carnaval, as it was always a space of struggle. And Carnaval wasn’t born with Ilê, nor with the group Filhos de Gandhy in 1964, rather it was born with the Ambassadors of Africa in the 19th century. We, the Black population, are always confronting the repressive power that said we couldn’t. When African drumming was prohibited, they found another way to do it. When the Bahian carnival group, Ilê Aiyê, appeared for the first time in 1975, in the midst of the military dictatorship, racism was written into the national security law, so they couldn’t speak about racism or else they would go to jail. But Ilê Aiyê went out to the streets with aesthetics, the aesthetic discourse: Black is beautiful. The newspapers heard. A Tarde made a note accusing them of being communists, calling them Moscow spies.