Salvador’s Afro-Brazilian Culture
Salvador de Bahia is one of the most historically important and largest cities in Brazil. It was the first capital and major port of entry during the countries colonial period. It is a particularly interesting city in Brazil in that its culture is predominantly African. From the Capoeira dancing to the Candomble ceremonies many of the cities most well-known and important traditions have been passed down from the days of African slavery. These aspects of Salvador's culture have been present since the Portuguese first began bringing African slaves to the country to work sugarcane plantations. While African slaves were present throughout the country of Brazil, many of the other sections of the country have a more European influence. Catholicism is the major
religion and soccer is the main sport across the country. These things are true in Salvador, but there is more of a cultural mix. Its residents have made a conscious effort to preserve their heritage while becoming a modern city. During the military dictatorship, which ended in the 1980's, many of Salvador's cultural traditions were outlawed. Since that time Brazil has done a good job of integrating the old traditions with the new in an effort to become a racially equal society.
Even though Salvador is one of the largest cities in Brazil it does not have a large city feeling because of the rich cultural heritage preserved in the cities architecture. Other major cities in Brazil, such as Rio, have been less successful in keeping traditional buildings around while becoming modern cities. Throughout the old city the buildings are colorful and there are several historical churches. Salvador has successfully avoided the building of large skyscrapers and modern buildings in the historic downtown district, Pelourinho. The city has been successful in its preservation because it is the most important city in Brazil historically. It was developed very early on as a major shipping port, responsible for sending goods back to Portugal in the early colonial days. Famous sites such as the Mercado Modelo have been in use for over one hundred years, having been rebuilt and restored after damage. Salvador is also home to Brazil's first medical school and cathedral. This early development has given the citizens of Salvador a sense of pride and importance, allowing for preservation over modernization.
The people of Salvador have a different attitude and outlook on life because of their cultural background. The city is most well known for its lively atmosphere and many parties. Throughout the streets live music can be heard all of the time, especially on Tuesday and Sunday nights. Residents claim that their Carnival is the best in Brazil, with large trucks with bands on them keeping the party going. These ‘Electric Trios' drive different routes around the city throughout the celebration. Carnival in Salvador is less costume and samba competition oriented, focusing more on having a good time. The music played in Salvador's Carnival is different than the rest of the country, being a mix of the traditional Rio samba and other modern African influences. Reggae and funk are a major part of Bahian Carnival music. Visitors looking to have a good time for Carnival should consider spending it in Salvador.
Afro-Brazilian food is an important part of Salvador, different than what is served in other cities across the country. Palm oil, coconut milk and hot peppers are three staples to Afro-Brazilian cuisine. One of the most well known dishes that can be found sold by street vendors all over the city is Acaraje, a type of sandwich made of fried bean patties filled with shrimp, tomatoes and hot pepper sauce. Another famous regional dish is Moqueca, made with many of the same ingredients of Acaraje and usually served in a traditional clay pot. Afro-Brazilian food can be found throughout Brazil but is most prevalent in Salvador.
Candomble is the perfect example of Salvador's mixing of European and African cultures, itself being a cross between Catholicism and mysticism. African slaves brought their own beliefs with them to Brazil, but were forced to convert to Christianity. While learning about saints and attending Catholic churches they continued pass down their own religious ideas, eventually make connections between the two. In the Candomble religion music plays a major role, especially the drums. Today in Salvador Candomble is a major part of the residents' lives. Our guide in the city joined the religion as a young child, crediting it with saving his life. Candomble ceremonies can be attended by outsiders and are an interesting way to see Salvador's Afro-Brazilian culture and hear traditional drum music. Music is central to their culture, as it has been throughout the history of Salvador.
Dancing also is a major part of life in Salvador, the most famous types being Samba and Capoeira. The Samba was first danced in Brazil in Salvador, coming from the African Semba dance. During the five days of Carnival the Samba is danced nonstop. Capoeira is the other dance Salvador is known for, actually being a combination of martial arts and dancing. During the days of slavery the African slaves were forbidden to practice their martial arts, so they disguised it as dancing by adding music. It is very interesting to watch and takes a lot of hard work and skill to master the art form. Throughout the city dancers can be seen practicing in groups in the streets, performing for tourists to earn a living. There are several famous schools where Capoeira is taught in Salvador.
Salvador's unique culture sets it apart from other Brazilian cities. Recent efforts to promote racial equality and cultural traditions have made it a more interesting place to see than ever. Whether it is the food, music, religion or dancing the city embraces its history and African roots in every aspect of daily life. Each of these things make Salvador a great location to visit while in Brazil to experience a different side of the culture, as well as having fun in one of the liveliest cities in the country.