Alexa, play Girl From Rio
By Lily Fredericks, Brianna Kreft, and Hailee Thayer
If we had a soundtrack of our trip to Rio de Janeiro, “Girl From Rio” by Anitta would be the main track. We felt like main characters throughout our week there, especially when we were able to find our own way in the city and figure things out for ourselves. However, there were definitely times where we felt like the quintessential dumb Americans, such as when we looked like deer in the headlights when people tried to speak to us, when we couldn’t tell the uber driver where we were going, or when we ordered the completely wrong menu item. But we got good at laughing these things off, making the best of each situation despite often feeling out of place, and adapting to the surrounding situation and culture. Additionally, another thing that we noticed almost immediately when we stepped foot in Rio was that we did not get nearly as many stares and yells from people on the streets as we did in Salvador for looking so out of the ordinary. We quickly realized that this was because we actually did not look out of the ordinary in Rio where there is a much higher population of white folks than in Salvador, which has one of the highest populations of black and brown folks as we learned in class. As sad as it is, this made us feel safer than we felt in Salvador, because we were able to blend into the crowd more. We also discussed how Rio was simply more touristy than Salvador, which also could be a reason that we felt safer there.
Perhaps one of our favorite things we did while in Rio was a backstage Carnaval tour that we booked through Airbnb experiences. Even though we thought that the more scenic and popular activities like visiting Christ the Redeemer or Sugarloaf Mountain would be the highlights of our trip, while they were still amazing, the Carnaval tour was the most memorable because we really learned more about Brazilian culture and how big of a deal this event is for many Brazilians. We got to see the behind the scenes of the workings of the Samba school that was the winner of Carnaval in 2022. We got to see the breathtaking floats, costumes, and the hard work that constitutes the year-long preparation for Carnaval. We also got to learn what each float, costume, and dance represented, and the Samba school’s theme for this year was Candomblé, which was very cool to see considering we had learned all about this religion while in Salvador. To our surprise, at the end of the tour, we got to dress up in old Carnaval costumes and even dance with a professional Samba dancer. It was very fun, and we were able to let loose a bit, even in the company of strangers. Learning the details of what goes into Carnaval and the meaning behind it made us appreciate it even more than we already did.
Another favorite excursion of ours was visiting Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) and Sugarloaf Mountain. Even though it was slightly cloudy when we went up to see Christ, the views were still amazing. The statue was a lot bigger than we thought and we had to take pictures at a low angle to get him in it. While we were up there, we saw a group of men trying to take a picture. Like the nice Minnesota people we are, we offered to take one of them. They then offered to take one of us. We thought it would just be one and done, but this man proceeds to take individual pictures of us, even laying on the ground to get the right angle, and even posing us. Needless to say, we were surprised. The pictures turned out great and we are forever grateful for that man. We had better weather for Sugarloaf, though. We had booked a gondola ride to go all the way up the mountain. The views from the gondola were incredible, even if they packed us into the car like sardines. We were very surprised when the gondola moved as fast as it did, the longest stretch took only a few minutes to get up there. When we were at the first stop, we saw people rock climbing up the mountain. We had to look away because the height made us nervous for the climbers. Then at the second and final stop, we found it amazing that we could see the entire city of Rio. It seemed like the Cariocas were very proud of their city and there were many native Brazilians taking in the sites as well as tourists.
On our second or third night in the city, we were finally able to meet up with Lucia, who had generously been giving us very helpful advice about the city for some time. We had great conversations about culture in Rio and she was able to tell us about her life and her family, so it was fun to be able to see what life in Rio was like for her. We then attended the Flamengo basketball championship game. This was sort of nerve racking to us at first because there were a lot of yelling men and people in general, but once we got settled into our seats, we enjoyed ourselves and cheered the team on with the rest of the crowd. We had to move seats once because a group of guys kept looking at us up and down and trying to talk to us, and we just wanted to be able to see the game. Lucia and Pedro mentioned to us that the crowd would be mostly men, so we were not really surprised that this happened. But it was really interesting to see how much less popular basketball is in Brazil as this was a championship game yet only half the arena was full. However, the fans that were there were dedicated and relentless with their cheering, which was a fun thing to experience
On one of our last days, we visited both the Lapa stairs and the Cafeteria Colombo. The stairs were a very cool site to see and take pictures of, as they were entirely made up of colored tiles from around the world. We even saw an MN painted tile. There were also other very random tiles from cities across the U.S. as well as American popstars and American Universities. The whole time we were wondering how these tiles got here and what it took for one to get to place a tile on the stairs. We were also surprised by just how many people were visiting the stairs that day. We are not sure why, but we sort of thought that they would not be crowded at all. However, we realized that in a city as big as Rio, there are not many places that are vacant. Next, we went to the Cafeteria Colombo which Lucia told us was built in the 1800’s. The interior gave us very European vibes, which we thought was interesting, and we were able to sit down and get a cup of fancy coffee. In looking around, we could tell that this was sort of a tourist spot but also most likely a place for more wealthy Brazilians to come, as the prices were higher than we were used to seeing and people seemed to be dressed nice.
While our time in Rio was amazing and very smooth, our journey home was anything but. With multiple flight changes and a 12-hour delay in Sao Paulo, we had a lot of time to reflect on our trip to Rio and our time in Brazil as a whole. All three of us enjoyed our time immensely, not only doing the fun touristy stuff but more importantly, taking part in activities that taught us about Brazilian culture and history. We will forever be dreaming of Brazilian coffee, will forever remember the cultural importance of Capoeira, and of course, will forever be hunting for our next caipirinha.
What Each of Us Learned
Lily: I think what I learned most of all in Rio was how to be truly independent and how to be flexible when things do not go as you planned them. In Rio, we no longer had things being planned for us at every step in our day like we did in Salvador. We had to figure out what we wanted to do, how we were going to get there, and what we needed to do to prepare for this on our own – all in a new country and one of the biggest cities in the world. Additionally, there was at least one thing each day that threw a wrench in our plans. Perhaps things did not go at all how we expected, our plans were forced to change, we couldn’t communicate with someone, or we simply couldn’t find a destination. In any case, we were able to change our plans and make the most of our time in Rio regardless of the several roadblocks we experienced. I can honestly say I am very proud of us as three white girls from Minnesota who were able to successfully navigate a foreign city in our own and flourish in the process. Overall while in Brazil, however, I learned to have a new massive appreciation for a culture I never thought I would get to experience in a million years. I think I can take back certain aspects that are characteristic of many Brazilians such as being forward with one’s feelings, dancing like nobody is watching, eating all sorts of different foods together, and even hugging my loved ones every chance I get. Brazil may seem like such a faraway place coming from the U.S. that is seen as a great Western power. It may also seem like it was only a small part of my experience in life, but Brazil is a huge country full of such interesting people that have called it home their whole lives and are proud to be Brazilian. I will forever maintain the connection I made with my host mom, and I really hope to go back to Salvador and visit her one day because she taught me so much.
Bri: The most important lesson I took away from our trip to Rio is the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone. While the study abroad trip as a whole taught me this, I really thought about this after our time in Rio. During the program in Salvador, we were with a group of twenty students, two professors, host families, and of course, Clara Ramos. Our days were very detailed and well-planned out. Rio was the exact opposite. We had to plan our days ourselves, and Lucia and Pedro could only help via WhatsApp. This threw me out of my comfort zone. Yet, this is what I appreciated most about the Rio trip. We were forced to learn how to navigate the language barrier by ourselves, come up with a reasonable schedule, create alternative plans when weather became a problem, and explore a new city all on our own. I am very glad we ended our time in Brazil with a trip to Rio, because it gave me an opportunity to step out of comfort zone and learn more about what I am capable of.
Hailee: Overall, the program taught me many lessons, one being adaptability. I’m sure that the other two have written about this, but it was such an important lesson to learn and keep. There were times, even when things were planned for us in Salvador, when something would change our plans. I could either loosen up and go with the flow or I could resist and end up angry or stressed. I quickly learned that it was better to go with the flow and roll with the punches. In Rio, our boat tour kept getting pushed back or cancelled. We found different things around the area to keep us busy while we waited for the tour guide to respond. Our plans changed many times throughout the day, and it was a great lesson in adaptability and international travel in general. I would say that I’ve changed as a person just from these lessons. I am much more adaptable to situations, and I have a wider worldview just from living in a different country and then comparing two cities within that country. I am super grateful for this program and the experiences it provided me. I met so many great people (like my host parents) and made so many amazing memories that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
About the Authors:
Lily Fredericks recently graduated from CSB majoring in political science and minoring in environmental studies and psychology. She is originally from Eden Prairie, Minnesota and is interested in law, public policy, and different ways to protect the environment. She likes to play tennis and be outdoors.
Brianna Kreft is a senior at CSB/SJU, majoring in Political Science, and minoring in Environmental Studies and Psychology. She is originally from Elbow Lake, Minnesota. Brianna enjoys learning about gender issues and women’s empowerment. She has participated in multiple research opportunities focused on gender-related social justice issue. Brianna looks forward to being able to learn more about the country that she has been researching for the past two years.
Hailee Thayer recently graduated from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University with a major in Political Science and a minor in Gender Studies. She is from Prior Lake Minnesota. Hailee enjoys learning about the intersection of gender and aspects of everyday life as well as political representation. Hailee also enjoys reading in her free time and playing rugby.
By Kate McGlinch
In studying race, gender and inequality in Brazil, it is impossible to not recognize the structural and interpersonal violence against minority groups in the country. The multilayered discrimination against black Brazilians has sprawled across history and recent times. Coming from the United States, these issues were not unfamiliar to me; During our trip, ten black people in Buffalo, New York were shot to death in a supermarket in a racially-motivated hate crime.
Hateful ideologies feed into many instances of interpersonal violence like this which are, essentially, swept under the rug by the institutions and individuals holding power. Colorblind legislation allows for problems to be “fixed” without being fully addressed or validated. These things happen in both the United States and Brazil.
But while I am fully aware of these issues in the U.S., I had much to learn while studying abroad. Before embarking on our trip, our class read about the history of race relations and the so-called racial democracy of Brazil. We were visited by Ian Carrillo, who had conducted ethnography on how color-blindness manifests today in Brazil’s sugar-ethanol industries, among many other scholars both in-person and virtually. In his article describing his studies, Carrillo identified racial democracy as the portrayal of “centuries of slavery and sharecropping through a nostalgic lens in which masters enjoyed cordial relations with enslaved peoples. Rather than abhorring the power inequalities inherent in the denial of human freedom, racial democracy romanticizes paternalistic relations'' (Carrillo, 58).
I found this elaboration helpful in understanding the public reception of Mestiçagem and Freyre’s theories. Looking at the centuries of slavery and harsh oppression of Afro-Brazilians in this way seems to have provided the people perpetuating it with an escape hatch from guilt or accountability. Meanwhile the racism that continues today, though veiled, remains just as violent and repressive.
We also read chapters from “The Politics of Blackness: Racial Identity and Political Behavior in Contemporary Brazil”, which provided a comprehensive examination into how the identities of Brazilians interact with their political behaviors. In its conclusion, it is stated that “discussion on the role that violence plays in maintaining an Afro-Paradise where foreigners celebrate exotic black bodies at the same time that the state destroys these bodies through terror and killing, highlights how state actors create racial categories for economic and social gain. Exclusion and discrimination are violent” (Mitchell-Walthour, 222). I found this to be a corroboration to Carrillo’s description of color-blindness in Brazil’s institutions today.
In traveling to Brazil and observing life for different people there, I found these conclusions to be very real. While driving around Bahia, I spotted a lot of different billboards. Many promoted music while others marketed healthcare and beauty products. The differences in how these different interests were portrayed, however, seemed odd to me. While billboards for music and some beauty items included more people with darker skin tones, the billboards for healthcare almost always had just white people on them. Though pretty subtle in the grand scheme of things, these billboards seemed to reinforce the idea of higher education and employment in healthcare being more fitting for people with lighter skin. This was especially concerning to me as we had attended lectures talking about the reality of racial disparity in higher education. They emphasized that these pursuits are not “more fitting” of white Brazilians, rather, white Brazilians simply have much easier access to them.
Apart from my experiences in Salvador, the lectures played an important role in identifying institutional violence against black Brazilians. We were visited by Professor Wyllis Santos for a lecture on Afro-Brazilian religions, in which he described the actions taken by evangelical and Catholic churches to suppress Afro-Brazilian religious practices throughout history and today. While the aggressive enforcement of Catholicism happened through colonialism, evangelical pastors today have been teaming up with drug-traffickers in order to target Afro-Brazilian congregations. Additionally, militias (often populated by cops) have also joined forces with drug-traffickers in implementing restrictive power over favelas, especially in Rio, which are often majority black communities (Santos, 2022). These groups do not seem to be held accountable for their violence due to their ideologies being mostly in-line with the country’s current president.
Though this violence against black Brazilians is undeniable, the counteraction of black consciousness and empowerment seems to be supported with an equal level of determination. I was especially impressed by the work of the Pai de Santo Alcides and the Steve Biko Institute in their work for black communities in Brazil. As a practitioner of Candomble, Alcides emphasized positive work in one’s community as a principle of the religion. In his community, he started projects teaching children dental hygiene and building self-esteem in black women by teaching them how to do their hair (Alcides, 2022). The Steve Biko Institute, inspired by Steve Biko’s legacy of black consciousness and citizenship in South Africa, provides a “preparatory class for the entrance exam aimed at low-income black students - the first of its kind in Brazil” (Steve Biko Cultural Institute, 2014). Institutions like these, along with Afro-Brazilian percussion and dances in public spaces, voice opposition against racial discrimination in a sophisticated way. It seems that
Afro-Brazilians have grown more and more unapologetic for their African features, making a case for the importance of these features to Brazil itself. Whether through practicing Capoeira or creating educational opportunities for black Brazilians, there is a strong sense of empowerment in Salvador.
Carrillo, Ian. 2021. “Racialized Organizations and Color-Blind Racial Ideology in Brazil.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 7, no. 1 (January): 56–70. https://doi.org/10.1177/2332649220943223.
Mitchell-Walthour, Gladys L. The Politics of Blackness: Racial Identity and Political Behavior in Contemporary Brazil. Cambridge Studies in Stratiﬁcation Economics: Economics and Social Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. doi:10.1017/9781316888742.
Santos, Wyllis. “Candomble and Religions in Brazil.” Lecture, Instituto Clara Ramos, Salvador, BA, May 16, 2022.
Alcides (Pai de Santo). “The Practice of Candomble.” Lecture, Instituto Clara Ramos, Salvador, BA, May 16, 2022.
“Projetos: Pre-Vestibular.” Instituto Cultural Beneficente Steve Biko. Instituto Cultural Steve Biko, 2014. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://www.stevebiko.org.br/projetos
Kate McGlinch is a sophomore at CSB/SJU with a major in Political Science and a minor in Philosophy. She is from St. Paul, Minnesota. Her academic interests include justice and reformation in politics as well as policy for social issues. She looks forward to understanding Brazilian politics and culture in a more holistic way while studying abroad.
Class Inequality in Brazil
By Julia Krystofiak and Grace Terlinden
Class inequality is very apparent throughout Brazil and was especially prevalent in the city of Salvador, Bahia. One of the most significant manifestations of this class inequality can be observed in housing disparities between the interior and the periphery of the city. The interior of the city houses most upper class and upper middle-class people in Bahia, while the periphery, or suburbs, is home to many lower middle-class and lower-class people. The dominant class status in these distinct areas is represented by available housing, the presence of retail and restaurants, and personal transportation (cars, motorcycles, etc.) among other things.
Our host families lived in the interior of the city in upper middle-class neighborhoods called Graça and Vitoria. The interior of the city is abundant with polished high-rise apartment buildings, shopping centers, drug stores, and restaurants. Most people in the interior of Salvador commuted through the city in their newer, personal cars or had family drivers. Their apartment buildings had doormen and maids that watched over and maintained their living spaces. Many of these buildings also had special “service” doors and elevators, representing separation by class even within the interior of the city.
Favelas are large communities often located on the outer parts of larger cities. Our tour guide, Fredi, described the favelas as unregulated communities in which the residents build their own residences and aren’t required to pay rent or any tax on their property, because they essentially have no legal right to the land. The enormous population of the favelas is what keeps the government from forcibly removing the residents but engages in discriminatory practices that keep the residents of favelas from gaining equal opportunities. The two physical distinctions of favelas that Fredi pointed out are: they are located in the outskirts of the city and far away from the “inner city” and favelas expand horizontally while the inner-city expands vertically.
The favela communities are typically viewed as dangerous, and the Brazilian police have tried to “pacify” these communities by increasing patrol in the neighborhoods and using other proactive policing strategies (Mitchell-Walthour 2017, 220). Policies such as these claim to be for the public good, but they are proven to be violent themselves, and have resulted in the mass killings of innocent residents (Mitchell-Walthour 2017, 220). Bolsonaro has exacerbated these tensions between racial and class groups, through fueling Brazilians fear of crime (Chagas-Bastos 2019). Recent research has supported the claim that Bolsonaro's “environment of fear” utilized in his campaign, has increased violence between social groups (Chagas-Bastos 2019). Bolsonaro’s position on race and class in general is important to understand the future of favelas and inequality as his impact lasts beyond his time in office.
It is important to note that these class disparities are inextricably connected to race and racism (Mitchell-Walthour 2017). Discussions about issues concerning class in Brazil often exclude the role that race plays in class disparities, likely due to the myth of mestiçagem (Mitchell-Walthour 2017, Marshall 2017). Ideas about Brazil being a racial democracy suggest that societal disparities are more related to class than race because the racial spectrum in Brazil produces a society in which racism “cannot exist” (Marshall 2017). In contrast to Freyre’s myth of mestiçagem, class status, in addition to physical features and phenotype, is used in Brazil to classify people into different racial categories (Mitchell-Walthour 2017). Elites engage with the narrative surrounding inequality by claiming that policies that help to decrease inequalities exist only because of prejudice against elites (Carrillo 2020). This practice of victimizing themselves has subsequently made light of the real racial and economic inequalities that exist and persist because of the elites’ practices (Carrillo 2020).
Eakin, Marshall C. 2017. " The Beautiful Game: Performing the Freyrean Vision," in Becoming Brazilians: Race and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Brazil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316800058.
Fabrício H. Chagas-Bastos. "Political Realignment in Brazil: Jair Bolsonaro and the Right Turn". Revista de Estudios Sociales, no. 69 (2019): 92-100. https://doi.org/10.7440/res69.2019.08
Ian, Carrillo. “Racialized Organizations and Color-Blind Racial Ideology in Brazil,” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 7 (1): 56-70. doi:10.1177/2332649220943223.
Mitchell-Walthour, Gladys L. 2017. The Politics of Blackness: Racial Identity and Political Behavior in Contemporary Brazil.”Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316888742.001.
Julia Krystofiak is going into her senior year at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. She is pursuing a degree in political science and data analytics and hopes to attend graduate school following her undergraduate studies. She is originally from Mounds View, MN. Julia enjoys learning about gendered power structures, international relations, and civil conflict. She has been involved in multiple research projects focusing on gendered and populist rhetoric, which is extremely relevant to Brazil under Bolsonaro. She looks forward to better understanding human impact on the climate and natural world in the context of Brazil!
Grace Terlinden is a rising senior at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, pursing degrees in English and Political Science. She is originally from Big Lake, Minnesota.
She enjoys learning about international relations through her involvement in Model United Nations. She is very excited to learn more about Brazilian politics and life in Brazil while
Dutch Invasions and Zip-Lines
Something which I’d focused on throughout the trip in Brazil was the history of colonial exploitation in Bahia. There seems to be two dominant industries which was primarily responsible for bringing enslaved Africans across the Atlantic, being sugarcane and gold. However, following the abolition of slavery, exploitation continued to persist as colonial institutions held up. On our visit to Cachoeira, I contrasted their current industries and adaptation to the modern world to that of Lençoís, which had been a center of diamond mining. While in Cachoeira, we visited a ranch which had been there for so long, they pointed out where the Afro-Brazilian slaves had once slept. It’s now still a ranch but also has a restaurant. Lencois had similar places, such as the colonel’s house, which now operates as a hotel. It was fascinating to see how these physical markers of the past had transformed into something which either had adapted to the times or now served the community at large.
Something which I’d observed throughout the trip was a number of physical markers which had historical significance. For example, on our trip to Morro de São Paulo, there’s a zip-line which takes people from the top of a cliff down into the water near a beach. The zip-line is nestled into an old fortification, which still had a cast iron canon from the 17th century lying around. We’d been told the remaining canon was the one which had fired the first shot of a conflict with the Dutch during their attempted invasion of Brazil, and there it was, lying on the ground in the middle of a zip-line business. The same fortifications which had hosted a number of similar weapons and was the origin point for the conflict against the Dutch — a conflict whose success meant northern Brazil doesn’t speak exclusively Dutch — was now a zip-line spot. I still can’t get over it, despite how mundane it seemed to everyone else. Imagine if the pantheon, instead of being the staple of any trip to Athens, had a car dealership inside. Historically significant spots and the evolution of their role, whether that meant being repurposed or completely forgotten, has been an interesting thing to witness.
On a more political science oriented note, I continued to ask about folk’s memory of the military dictatorship from 1964-1985. I had some interesting conversations, but ultimately people either think of that era as the “good old days” or see it for the repressive force it used against the people of Brazil. One person I spoke with during a weekend family picnic despised the military dictatorship and likened Bolsonaro to the generals who’d overthrown the prior government. Another individual at the same picnic was less critical, but only omitted their indifference to the military regime since it didn’t really affect them in any way. The majority of those who do seem to think the dictatorship era was good happen to be majority white and middle class, whereas those who were against it were usually Afro-Brazilian and lower to middle class. I stopped asking after a few conversations since people seemed to get very passionate about the topic, and since my Portuguese is exceptionally limited (more complex ideas and conversations required a translator), it seemed appropriate to stop.
Brazil has been an incredibly enriching experience. The history, the cultures, the people themselves and the food enthralls my senses. Something I was somewhat afraid of before traveling was that I’d be more the “outsider looking in,” watching people have fun and enjoying their lives in the country while we just watched from afar. It was really quite the contrary, since everywhere we’ve gone the locals have roped us into their lives and their worlds and made us feel syncretic with the moment. I’ve told my host family I’ll return to Brazil in the future, hopefully with more Portuguese and more time to travel the country to try and experience all the diverse places it has to offer. There’s so much going on here, and it seems it’d take few lifetimes to really experience it all. My host folks just said if I’m stressing about experiencing as much as I can in Brazil, then “I’m doing it all wrong.”
Who runs the world? Girls.
By Eliana Schmaltz
After a quick three weeks filled to the brim with travel, tummy warming food, and good company, I finally had some time to slow down and reflect on what I have all experienced, observed, and learned. I was surrounded by people that I have known for such a short amount of time but still felt so comfortable and at home. As I sat watching the kids play at the party, my mom would circle around every so often to send more food in my direction, a lot of which she made herself for days in advance. My sister, Ana, covers for me and tells mom I ate my hot dog when I didn’t. I think the only word to describe how I was feeling was content.
I realized there were only moms and their kids at the birthday party. I asked Ana about this, and she said the dads typically see events like this as a waste of time. This stood out to me because Ana had emphasized how these big birthday celebrations were culturally very popular. Reflecting on my three weeks here, I realized how heavily my experience was influenced by women. I lived with my mom, Ana, and Clair. Multiple times a day our neighbor Louanna would come over as well as Mom’s daughter Amanda, Amanda’s girlfriend, and another lady that lives downstairs. While I couldn't always understand the language, I immediately could tell they were all strong, confident women. My subtopic for the course was violence against minorities. In Brazil it is estimated that one woman was affected by violence every four minutes in 2017 and an average of 13 women were murdered each day (Araujo 2021, 123). While I originally learned that this spring, the statistic became even more painful after being in Brazil. In another study, it was found that positions such as head of the family, family provider, and exacerbated sexuality are social attributes of masculinity that incite gender-based violence (Silva 2020). The literature surrounding violence against women, points to gender norms and toxic masculinity as being the driving factors of this generational and cultural violence. Looking within my household, my Mom strongly followed gender norms. On her “get to know me” form, she listed housework as her hobbies.
Within our apartment complex, the residents typically were middle aged and white. This didn’t surprise me seeing as we lived in a nice building and racial inequity is a major issue in Brazil. In 2006, Brazil moved slightly down in the ranking of the world's most unequal countries when it was moved from eighth to tenth (Pacheco 2008, 714). There was consistently construction going on throughout our route to ICR. Every person we saw performing manual labor throughout our three weeks was Black. Little instances like this were observable almost every day. For a country with such blatant racial inequities, it is shocking to see these issues overlooked.
While homicide occurs globally, we can statistically see that it happens at higher rates in Brazil than in most countries. This is especially true when we look specifically at the LGBT community. According to the World Health Statistics 2019, there were an estimated 477,000 deaths globally due to homicides in 2016. Brazil accounted for around 12.8% of this total, representing the seventh largest homicide rate in the Americas (WHO 2018). My mom's biological children and our host sister Ana are all part of the LGBT community. They do not hide it in public, which I only thought of because of the high rate of violence. The overwhelming amount of violence against minorities that I read about in the U.S. was heartbreaking to read. However, now that I have met people that fall into these vulnerable groups, I am even more disturbed by the danger. If my siblings are anxious about being a part of the statistic, they do not show it at all. If anything, their confidence within themselves seems to reflect their confidence that this violence can change too.
Araujo, Victor, and Malu A. C. Gatto. 2022. “Can Conservatism Make Women More Vulnerable to Violence?” Comparative Political Studies 55, no. 1: 122-153.
Pacheco, Tania. 2008. “Inequality, Environmental Injustice, and Racism in Brazil: Beyond the
Question of Colour.” Development in Practice 18, no. 6: 713–725.
Silva, Andrey Ferreira da, Nadirline Pereira Gomes, Júlia Renata Fernandes de Magalhães,
Fernanda Matheus Estrela, Anderson Reis de Sousa, Jordana Brock Carneiro. 2020.
“Social Attributes of the Male That Suscept the Violence by Intimate Partner.” Rev Bras
Enferm 73, no. 6 (June): 1-7.
World Health Organization (WHO). 2018. “World Health Statistics 2018: Monitoring Health for the SDGs.” WHO. https://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/2018/en/.
Eliana (Ellie) Schmaltz is a rising junior at the College of Saint Benedict. She is pursuing a degree in political science and sociology in the hopes to attend law school after graduation. After law school, she would like to be a family lawyer and give back to the community that raised her. Ellie is originally from a small town called Eden Valley located in Central Minnesota. She looks forward to learning more about Brazilian culture and experiencing everything the scenic country has to offer while studying abroad in Salvador.
Taking Up Space
By Clair Moonen
Just when I thought I was starting to be a Brazilian local, I was once again humbled by my Uber driver who called me loira burra Americana and I responded with “obrigada”. As my trip comes to a triste close, I have experienced my favorite events and workshops. Throughout the trip I got out of my comfort zone, I played basketball with kids, ziplined, ate questionable foods, and had difficult cultural discussions with my host sister. Something that was not so sunshine, and rainbows were that with every great or cheap experience I had, it came at a cost. I learned of a new feeling of helplessness every time I only paid a few USD for an item knowing it was so available and cheap at the expense of the vendor. Visiting islands where you stay for a few nights in a luxury hotel as the man who sold you a bracelet for $3 USD relies on tourism to feed his family is not a good feeling. Pedro taught us to embrace the uncomfortable, analyze it, process it, and proceed accordingly.
In my pre-departure research, I focused on elections and representation. This has been a reoccurring interest in my trip here as I try to interconnect themes of the said proposal because it is what I have the most background on. Women are the largest majority of voters in Bahia and yet we don’t see women in positions of power (Santiago, ICR Lecture May 27, 2022). One of the themes that have been most prominent to me has been taking up space. Whether creating opportunities for one group of people or removing another to create more equal space. While this concept isn’t new to me in regard to gender inequality, I didn’t know how true this theory would be reoccurring in my everyday life here.
A prime example of taking up space is the efforts implemented to amplify women’s voices and guarantee their rights and protection. The law Lei Maria da Penha was created in 2006 to combat domestic violence and give women a support system. Taking up space by being present, saying loud and clear “I’m here” and that there are countless people and resources behind these women. Federal Deputy Candidate and founder of Ronda Maria da Penha in Salvador, Major Denise Santiago, gave us a lecture on the challenges of being a woman in Brazil. As a general rule of thumb, where there are traditionally male-dominated spaces, there become issues targeting women. “The concept of femicide was identified as the murder of women due to their being women, a crime defined by Diana Russel1 as a type of sexual terrorism, a social mechanism for keeping women under control, in a public masculine manifestation of power” (Meneghel et. al, 2017).
Violence against women is a problem that Major Santiago believe needs to be eliminated by women as we are the only ones who know the struggle. She believes to accomplish this education is a necessary vessel. This was instilled in us during our primary and secondary school talks where we learned how women are left out of STEM and male-dominated fields even though they attend school longer. I admire how Major Santiago enforces a feminist movement. Feminism, “can be seen as a result of many factors: changes in women’s position in Brazilian society, cumulative action of feminist movements and organizations in the country, the growth of feminist values in international media, the role of the internet in young people sociability” (Biroli, 2016). I think Major Santiago is part of and a catalyst of this change.
As previously mentioned, the opportunity isn’t equitable. Women between 25 and 44 years old finish high school more than me- 6% more and yet with more schooling ear less than men (Santiago, ICR Lecture May 27, 2022). So statistically, women should be the majority in these spaces yet are minimized to the point that in Salvador the police force has been around 197 years with only 32 years with women in uniform. Major Santiago has climbed to the highest rank a woman can be in the police force and is campaigning to keep pushing the status quo. Elections are all about resources and financials and she is building an army of her own resources- women. By running for office, Major Santiago demonstrates taking up space for the sake of those who come after her. Over the 7 years, 4,000 women were protected by Ronda Maria da Penha and none of them experienced it again.
A group of people that take up space that isn’t necessarily good are the police. When we went to my favorite event, the Bahia futebol game, I was in disbelief that they had riot police at every corner. As a Caucasian female, I have not been subject to or had fear of, police violence. If anything, as a woman I feel better with that presence because of harassment or gender violence. It seemed unnecessary and almost performatively intimidating to see the police head to toe in gear and holding giant guns. I knew I wasn’t their target audience. When Major Santiago spoke to us, she mentioned that police as so abundant in futebol stadiums. These numbers were because research showed after soccer matches violence increased by 27% (which is only known because 911 (190) calls increased- not reporting) depending on the outcome of the game (Santiago, ICR Lecture May 27, 2022). I have learned how thin the line is between negative and positive police presence. I don’t blame women for sitting closer to Ronda Maria da Penha in stadiums just as I don’t blame people of color for being afraid of the same situation. In Brazil, the most disturbing criminal activity is the violence perpetrated by these police (French, 2013). The police occupying urban and public spaces creating violence and safety should be at the top of politicians’ agendas and campaigns. Yet politicians and government officials, echoed by the media, distance themselves powerfully from police behavior (French, 2013). Understanding the double-edged sword that policing is I think is crucial to being a good human being.
Biroli, Flávia Political violence against women in Brazil: expressions and definitions. Revista Direito e Práxis [en linea]. 2016, 7(15), 557-589[fecha de Consulta 29 de Mayo de 2022]. ISSN: . Disponible en: https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=350947688018
French, Jan Hoffman. “Rethinking Police Violence in Brazil: Unmasking the Public Secret of Race.” Latin American Politics and Society 55, no. 4 (2013): 161–81. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43286490.
Meneghel, Stela Nazareth, Bruna Alexandra Rosa, Roger Flores Ceccon, Vania Naomi Hirakata, and Ian Meneghel Danilevicz. “Feminicídios: Estudo Em Capitais e Municípios Brasileiros De Grande Porte Populacional.” Ciência & Saúde Coletiva 22, no. 9 (2017): 2963–70. https://doi.org/10.1590/1413-81232017229.22732015.
Santiago, Denise ICR Lecture May 27, 2022
The Catadores of Brazil
By Miriam Nelson
Like most other cities, Salvador, Brazil has its fair share of garbage in the streets and on the sidewalks. Through walking or witnessing the environment from a bus window, colorful assorted plastics, cardboard, cans, and other refuse is sprinkled along roadsides or piled alongside large dumpsters. Occasionally, garbage bags are tipped on their sides, spilling their contents in the drainage system destined to arrive in the ocean. In 2018, Brazil produced 79 million tons of urban physical waste—where 72.2 million tons were collected, and 6.3 million tons remained uncollected (Souza 2018). This level of urban waste coincides with a variety of problems. One in 12 Brazilians have no regular waste collection, recycling rates are stagnant, and many still must learn how to properly sort trash and recycling (for its environmental and health purposes) (Souza 2018). An important aspect of Brazil’s waste and recycling system are waste pickers, known as “catadores.” The estimated 200,000 to 800,000 catadores within Brazil have been formally recognized by law but still face stigma around their work (Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, n.d.).
Along the sidewalks, I have frequently seen catadores picking through trash bags and trashcans, occasionally pulling out recyclables of value (these include plastic bottles, glass bottles, aluminum cans—and in some cases, cardboard). Many that I have seen do not wear protective equipment, walking through concentrated areas of garbage with flip flops and no gloves. Catadores earn roughly 400 reals a month, which is under Brazil’s national minimum wage of 500 reals a month. Working conditions are difficult, with frequent exposure to hazardous materials and contaminated waste (Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, n.d; Gutberlet et al. 2013). “As in other countries, their direct contact with contaminated waste renders them susceptible to diseases and consequently a lower life expectancy” (Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, n.d.). Occasionally, Catadores may temporarily store hazardous materials (car batteries, metals, electronic waste) at home, placing not only themselves but others at risk. Organized waste picking is more common in the global South than the North, where members of cooperatives work with non-governmental and governmental organizations in collection, separation, and commercialization of recyclable materials (Gutberlet et al. 2013). As I have seen, those who are part of a cooperative may wear a uniform and some protective equipment, such as gloves. Although sometimes organized, turnover in these positions remains high.
Environmental justice considerations are critical when examining the work and working conditions of the catadores.
Environmental justice is a well-established field of social activism that draws attention to and seeks ways to ameliorate such risks and injustices. Environmental justice activists have also called for recognition of communities as unfairly affected and insist on being seen and heard by both a mainstream environmental movement and a government that has, for the most part, ignored them (Young 2016, 96).
As seen above, working conditions can be hazardous—with catadores working strenuous 12-hour days and facing exposure to contaminated waste. Low incomes, as well as lessened access to education and healthcare, are markers of the inequality faced by individuals in this career (Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, n.d.). Other factors, such as stigmatization around waste picking, leave catadores more vulnerable. Further research could be conducted on various aspects of catadores’ lives (political and social) with an environmental justice lens, to understand how policy can further decrease social and economic disparities.
Catadores are critical for increasing both economic circularity and environmental quality, furthering the need for social protections. This may be done by recognizing the contributions of catadores in order to increase social standing (Amorim de Oliveira 2021, 830). In the past, this has included 2001 Federal Legislation which recognized waste picking as a profession in the Brazilian Occupation Classification—allowing for the career to be monitored and positioned in official statistics (Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, n.d.). Another notable (globally recognized) policy is the 2010 National Policy of Solid Waste sanctioned by President Lula. The policy employs the use of the reverse logistics system, which “makes the generator of waste responsible for the return of recyclables to the productive chain after consumption, which, in turn, increases the volume of activity for the waste picker” (Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, n.d.). The policy further “necessitated the availability of fiscal and financial incentives for the recycling industry, for the development of regional programs in partnership with waste picker organizations, and to facilitate the structuring of these organizations” (Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, n.d.). Although Brazil has more protective legislation for catadores than other countries, reducing inequality for workers (living conditions, education, healthcare, etc.) must still be at the forefront of discussion (reduction of the stigma around waste picking) and policymaking.
Amorim de Oliveira, Í. Environmental Justice and Circular Economy: Analyzing Justice for Waste Pickers in Upcoming Circular Economy in Fortaleza, Brazil. (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43615-021-00045-w
Global Alliance of Waste Pickers. “Law Report: Brazil.” Accessed May 26, 2022. https://globalrec.org/law-report/brazil/.
Gutberlet, Jutta, Angela M. Baeder, Nídia N. Pontuschka, Sonia M.N. Felipone, and Tereza L.F. Dos Santos. 2013. "Participatory Research Revealing the Work and Occupational Health Hazards of Cooperative Recyclers in Brazil," International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 10, no. 10: 4607-4627. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph10104607.
Souza, Ludmilla. 2018. “Brazil generates 79 million tons of solid waste every year.” Agência Brasil. August 11, 2018. https://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/en/geral/noticia/2019-11/brazil-generates-79-million-tons-solid-waste-every-year.
Young, Andrea Ferraz. 2016. “Adaptation Actions for Integrated Climate Risk Management into Urban Planning: A New Framework from Urban Typologies to Build Resilience Capacity in Santos.” City, Territory and Architecture: An Interdisciplinary Debate on Project Perspectives 3 (1): 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40410-016-0042-0.
Miriam Nelson is a rising senior at the College of Saint Benedict, majoring in environmental studies and political science. She is from Blue Hill, Maine. Miriam is interested in a wide range of topics including international environmental policy, water conflicts, and land trusts. She highly enjoys spending time outside performing backcountry trail work, backpacking, paddleboarding, and birding.
By Kathryn McDonough
In our class before coming to Brazil, we learned about the importance of dance, carnaval, and music to the Brazilian identity. While in Brazil I was able to see the importance of music and dance first hand through our lectures/workshops and observation. My time in Brazil would not be the same without dance and music. While in Salvador it immediately became evident that music and dance are essential to Brazilian culture and the importance of African influences within the culture.
Our first experience with music and dance was on our first full day in Salvador. We had a workshop on Capoeira (which isn’t necessarily dance but in a similar category). In this workshop we learned what Capoeira is, how to do it step by step, and the instruments involved. I did not know anything about Capoeira so it was really fun to see a demonstration and then learn step by step how to do it myself. We also learned the music for Capoeira. It was amazing to hear each instrument individually and then all together. After seeing the individual pieces of the music and moves, I had a new perspective. This first experience with Capoeira sparked my interest and made me want to learn more.
After this experience with Capoeira, we saw Capoeira multiple other instances. At our hotel in Lencois, we watched some students perform Capoeira. I loved this experience because I was able to see Capoeira in action and it was enjoyable to watch because the students had a lot of fun. Seeing this many people doing Capoeira was beneficial because I was able to see the impact that it had on people's lives and how important Capoeira is to the Brazilian identity. Besides our required Capoeira related events, I observed Capoeira in many other places. Throughout the city there are murals of Capoeira related things, the Capoeira instruments being played or displayed, and groups of people practicing Capoeira on the streets or in organized groups such as schools.
In addition to Capoeira, I was able to see the impact of music and dance in various other instances. One example of this was the Folkloric Ballet. This ballet showed me the importance of music and dance to Afro-Brazilians. At the ballet, I felt like I was learning a story. It wasn’t just music and dance it was so much more. No words were spoken but we all knew what was being shared or what the mood/ tone was. The ballet had multiple scenes that depicted different things. Each of these scenes told a different part of the story. Some of the scenes were about slavery and the life and suffering of Afro-Brazilians. There was even a scene that consisted of Capoeira, which re-emphasized its cultural importance. In these scenes, I could see that music and dance were used as an outlet for all the bad things that happened. When all rights were taken away from Afro-Brazilians, they only had music and dance. This has shaped the culture and defined Brazil. I was also able to learn more about the importance of music in our percussion workshop.
As I mentioned previously, in our Capoeira workshop I had the unique experience of learning about each of the individual instruments in the music for Capoeira and then how the music sounds all together. Therefore, I knew a little bit about the instruments in the percussion workshop. However, in this workshop I learned about a lot more instruments and even got to play one! While learning about each instrument we learned about the origin of the instrument, quite a few had African influences or were from Africa. Hence, we see Afro-Brazilian culture shapes music and dance and music and dance shape Afro-Brazilian culture.
I learned about dance in many other instances as well. My most memorable activity related to dance was the Afro-Brazilian dance workshop. In this workshop, we were taught multiple different dances (some more challenging than others but all fun). I learned the differences between dance here and dance in America. Our dance instructor, Antonio Cozido, “connected us to Salvador” and taught us what it meant to be from Bahia. While learning the dance and listening to Antonio, I again learned the importance of dance to the Brazilian identity. We learned about the African elements in the dances. In our classes before Brazil, we also learned about the African elements in samba, “By the 1940s, the language of discourse about samba had already become an intense debate over “authenticity,” that is over which form of samba was the most Brazilian, which really meant the version most deeply shaped by “African” influence” (Eakin). We see that samba had a large amount of African influence, which impacted Brazil and the rest of the world due to the popularization of samba.
In conclusion, my time in Bahia and my in class learning has taught me the importance of dance and music. While here, I’ve been able to observe how essential music and dance are to the Brazilian identity and that a large amount of the dances and music have African influences. I learned about the significance and importance of music and dance here and how it differs from music and dance in America. When returning to the United States, I will have a new perspective and appreciation for music and dance.
Sapoti, Mestre. “Workshop on Capoeira” Workshop at ICR Brasil, May 11, 2022.
Cozido, Antonio. “Workshop about Afro Brazilian Dance” Workshop at ICR Brasil, May 17, 2022.
Pam, Mario. “Percussion Workshop” Workshop at studio in Garcia, May 18, 2022. “Folkloric Ballet” May 18, 2022.
Eakin, Marshall C. “Communicating and Understanding Mestiçagem: Radio, Samba, and Carnaval.” Chapter. In Becoming Brazilians: Race and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Brazil, 79–106. New Approaches to the Americas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. doi:10.1017/9781316800058.004.
I am Kathryn McDonough. I was born and raised in Faribault, Minnesota. I’m a senior math major at CSBSJU. I enjoy applied mathematics and am currently planning on becoming an actuary. When studying abroad in Brazil I hope to immerse myself into the culture and gain a new perspective of the world.
By: Fabian Venegas-Ramos and Lizbet Martinez
On campus, we conducted research on trans experiences, rights, and activism in Brazil, which painted an image we had of Brazil prior to our study abroad experience, particularly one where the rights and dignity of trans people are not protected and upheld. Trans people, at the intersection of race and class, are one of the most marginalized and oppressed groups in Brazil, with growing numbers of trans violence and murders, and a myriad of obstacles caused by transphobia, like discrimination in employment, education, healthcare, and access to gender-affirming services. According to the local activist group, the National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals, “175 trans people were killed in 2020” (Thomas 2021). Additionally, data from Trans Murder Monitoring reveals that Brazil is the number one country with the highest rate of trans murders, which disproportionately consists of Black trans people (Rodriguez 2019). During our time here in Salvador, Brazil, we have been able to make observations regarding LGBTQ+ inclusion, listen to guest speakers, and even navigate being trans in Brazil (Fabian).
We were fortunate to have listened to a lecture from Viviane Vergueiro. The informal conversation centered around the challenges that trans people face in Brazil as well as the work that she does that helps combat these challenges. Through this lecture, we learned about the various types of discrimination and violence that the LGBTQ+ community encounter in the education and healthcare systems. She explained to us that it isn’t uncommon for certain doctors to turn away patients because they are trans. Braz finds this in his research stating, “From the interviews, many of the conflicts experienced in doctor’s offices could be avoided if they [interviewees] had their gender identities respected” (2019, p. 5). The acceptance of gender identity, particularly in healthcare, is important for trans people to receive dignified and quality treatment.
Viviane ultimately reinforced much of our findings from our research conducted on campus. As a trans person living in Brazil, these narratives highlight how cultural, social, and political changes are needed to improve the daily lives and experiences of trans people in Brazil. She states that much of the violence trans people experience is rendered invisible and such violence is racialized, which are part of the ongoing extermination project of trans people by the colonial state. This is in part fueled by religious ideologies that are weaponized against trans bodies, particularly through a pathologizing, invasive gaze that mark trans people as “other.” Additionally, Viviane powerfully stated that being indifferent to the violence trans people and other marginalized communities experience is an act of violence and fuels the settler colonial project. Thus, it is critical to be aware of the issues different communities face, to care, and to take action to change the social and material realities of trans people in society.
My experience as a trans feminine person visiting Brazil has been a positive one (Fabian); however, trans Brazilians have a very different reality from mine, which is largely shaped by the protection my privileged class and national identities offer me. This includes navigating Brazilian contexts as a student and tourist, which have been limited to public areas. On one hand, I navigate the public areas that are considered main points of violence and discrimination for trans people, including but not limited to harassment, physical attacks, verbal abuse (Calling 2020, p. 7). Fortunately for me, walking in and being part of a crowd with White Americans comes with protection and equal treatment. On the other hand, I have also not had to experience institutional violence from navigating the different institutions in Brazil such as the workforce, the education system, the healthcare system, among others, which have been recognized as being violent for trans bodies. As argued by one researcher, waiting is an essential category for describing the experiences of trans men in Brazil, particularly in healthcare settings (Braz 2019, p. 1). Waiting reveals structural power dynamics, which shape trans peoples’ experiences in healthcare settings. This shows how mundane daily activities like waiting are shaped by gender dynamics, which have profound consequences for marginalized gendered peoples and implications for their health and wellbeing. This is one example of the complex and nuanced experiences trans people have when navigating institutions in society.
The LGBTQ+ scene is visible in Bahia, especially within the nightlife scene. In Salvador, where we have been living, LGBTQ+ couples walk around freely, and I haven’t noticed those around them staring or judging them (Lizbet). There were also plenty of options for gay bars in the area. Viviane spoke to us about the increasing use of inclusive pronouns and changing gendered language. From Vianna we learn that “Despite certain level of permeability of the Lula government to women and LGBT movements…the power relations that determined the tradition of parameters supporting gender relations in our society still limit the possibilities of consolidating concepts such as gender and sexual diversity as defining factors for public policies in education and, in so doing, destabilizing heteronormativity and, above all, homophobia” (2015, p. 800). While there has been some progress in previous years, there is still a lot of resistance to the inclusion of LGBT rights to the government’s agenda when it comes to public policy. Our hope for the future is that with more education and people coming to together in support, the people of Brazil can further push for LGBTQ+ rights and will be heard.
Braz, Camilo. 2019. “Lives on hold? Itineraries in access by trans men to health services in Brazil and Argentina.” Cadernos de Saude Publica 35(4): 1-11 doi: 10.1590/0102-311X00110518
Calling, Nikita Lourenço. 2020. “Stigmatization and Discrimination: A Qualitative Case Study of the Transgender Community in Brazil.” Lund University
Rodrigues-Sherley, Marcela, and Karla J. Strand. “Activism Is Survival for Brazilian Trans Women.” Ms. Magazine, October 9, 2019. https://msmagazine.com/2019/08/01/activism-is-survival-for-brazilian-trans-women/.
Thomas, Jennifer Ann. “Threats against Trans Councilwomen Stir Violence Fears in Brazil.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, February 5, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-lgbt-rights-trfn-idUSKBN2A52EF.
Vianna, Claudia P. 2015. “The LGBT movement and the gender and sexual diversity education policies: losses, gains and challenges.” Educação e Pesquisa 41(3) https://doi.org/10.1590/s1517-97022015031914
Fabian Venegas-Ramos is from Immokalee, Florida. They are a senior, soon to be graduate of the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. They will be receiving their bachelor's degree in Sociology and Gender Studies. Fabian is passionate about social justice, and queer and trans rights and activism. They look forward to immersing themselves in the Brazilian culture through music, dance, and food!
Lizbet Martinez-Port is a senior at the College of Saint Benedict studying political science and Hispanic studies. She is from Minneapolis, Minnesota and enjoys learning about topics that intersect within her majors. She is passionate about immigration reform, as well as other social justice issues. On campus, she sings, dances, and acts. She looks forward to learning about a new culture and language during her time abroad in Brazil.
Candomblé: A Firsthand Experience
By Kailee Hagl and Hailee Thayer.
Candomblé is one of many Afro-Brazilian religions that are present in Brazil. Candomblé, along with the other religions, are key aspects of Brazilian culture and heritage. To understand Candomblé, one needs to understand how it was made. Candomblé was made through syncretism. Syncretism is the “process by which elements of 1 religion are assimilated into another religion resulting in a change in the nature of the religion. It creates an entirely new religion” (Lecture on Umbanda and Candomblé, May 16, 2022). This syncretism can be seen in the Sisterhood of Good Death, which practices both Catholic and Candomblé traditions. Cachoeira (where the Sisterhood of Good Death is located) has become a major place for Candomblé and for the preservation of African culture and origins (Lecture on African Diaspora, May 19, 2022). This preservation is a key part of Candomblé because the traditions and histories are passed down to Mãe or Pai de Santo and they are tasked with keeping the information safe. We also learned that there are about an even number of women and men leading the Terreiros, which is vastly different from Catholicism where women are not allowed to be priests.
During Candomblé ceremonies, and even just on Fridays, white is typically worn. For women, a white dress is the usual, and for men, white pants and a white top is normal (Shirey 2012). Our host mom dresses in all white on Fridays along with white beads to represent Oxalá, one of the 12 Orixás. In Candomblé, practioners worship 12 spirits, or gods, called Orixás. The Orixás that are recognized in Brazil are Oxalá, Lemanjá, Xangô, Iansã, Oxóssi, Ogum, Oxum, Exú, Omulu, Nanã, Ossaim, and Oxumaré (Guess which one(s) are Hailee’s). Each Orixá is associated with a color and nature element as well as having a unique symbol.
I was not allowed to watch Hailee have her shells read, so I waited outside with our host parents. While waiting, I was allowed to take pictures of the outside of the Terreiro. The Terreiro is similar to a church, or place of worship. It is also referred to as a house. The walls were sculpted beautifully with the various Orixás, some finished with color and some not. Outside of the gate, the walls and sidewalk were also sculpted with the faces of the Orixás. Our host dad, Jorge, said everything was sculpted by hand, and is similar to papier mâché. He said it takes a long time to fully complete a sculpture as the details must be perfected before the paint can be added on.
I took this time to interview our dad about the positions or roles they have in this specific Terreiro of Candomblé, since they are practioners. Jorge said his role was to take videos and photos for the Terreiro. He said he also helps prepare for special occasions. Our host mom, Licia, said her role was to prepare food for the Terreiro, and most importantly to make sure the Orixás have everything they need and want. As people were walking in and out of sections of the Terreiro, Jorge and Licia were telling me which Orixás they were. It was interesting because they carried themselves and were dressed in a way that mirrored their Orixás. Finally, since outsiders were not allowed to take photos or videos of the inside of the Terreiro especially while a reading is in session, Jorge was able to show me some of the videos he had taken. Although I did get to go inside of the Terreiro before Hailee had her reading, I did not have much time to get a good look at anything, so it was awesome that Jorge had all this footage of the inside due to his role in Candomblé.
At the beginning of the trip, I had no idea that I would learn about Afro-Brazilian Religions. Fast forward a couple of weeks and here I am, partaking in a ritual to learn which Orixá is mine and about my life. In the weeks before this, we had a lecture with Pai Alcides about how Candomblé is practiced. He shared that before he started his journey in the religion, he would have seizures (Lecture on Candomblé Practices, May 16, 2022). Ailments like seizures are common among those who were drawn to Candomblé. Injuries or sicknesses are a way for the Orixás to communicate and pull the person towards Candomblé. Something similar was happening to me, but I was having dreams instead of sicknesses or injuries. I had multiple dreams that I was getting my shells read (the ritual I mentioned earlier). The shells are a form of divination that a Mae or Pai do Santos uses to communicate with the Orixás. I did not have just one dream either, it was multiple. The dreams were explained in my reading as a way my Orixás were ‘calling’ me to the Terreiro.
My host parents are practioners of Candomblé and took me to their Terreiro, Bábataósilé. Their Pai do Santos, Pai Mario, was the one who did my shell reading. During the reading I was told who my Orixás are and how they can affect my life. My Orixás are Xangô, Ogum, and Oxalá. Xangô is the strongest one along with Ogum. Both Orixás are warriors. Pai Mario said that these two warriors explain why I am feisty. Along with being a warrior Xangô is associated with lighting and thunder and Ogum is associated with war and iron
During the shell reading, I found out various things about my life and about previous events that happened. Through the shells, Pai Mario was able to see health problems in my family (both my grandparents had recent shoulder surgeries; they’re fine don’t worry). My Orixás were able to communicate with me through Pai Mario and said to be careful with betrayal in my life (which had happened earlier this year). There was so much that was explained in this ritual that it is hard to put it into words. After my reading, Pai Mario told me which colored beads I should have based on my Orixás. My host parents gifted me a white and red strand to represent them.
Pai Alcides. “Lecture on Candomblé Practices” May 16, 2022. Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.
Santos, Willys. Lecture on “Umbanda and Candomblé: The History, Tenets, and Practices” May
16, 2022, Salvador, Brazil.
Vatin, Xavier. “The African Diaspora in Bahia: A Socio-Anthropological Perspective” May 19,
2022. Cachoeira, Bahia, Brazil.
Shirey, Heather. 2012. “Candomblé Beads and Identity in Salvador Da Bahia,
Brazil.” Nova Religion: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 16 (1): 36–60. https://doi.org/10.1525/nr.2012.16.1.36.
Kailee Hagl is a junior at CSB/SJU and is majoring in Political Science with a focus on law. She also is pursuing a minor in Hispanic Studies, as well as a minor in Latin American Studies. She is originally from Sauk Centre, Minnesota. Kailee enjoys learning about politics in other countries, social justice issues, and analyzing court cases. She looks forward to applying her experience abroad to her academics in her final year at CSB/SJU.
Hailee Thayer recently graduated from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University with a major in Political Science and a minor in Gender Studies. She is from Prior Lake Minnesota. Hailee enjoys learning about the intersection of gender and aspects of everyday life as well as political representation. Hailee also enjoys reading in her free time and playing rugby.