By Hailee Thayer
In the two weeks that we’ve been in Bahia, Brazil, we have learned more about the culture and political landscape than we could ever have in the classroom. We have been staying with a host family, which allowed us to immerse ourselves fully in Brazilian culture. I first started noticing Brazilian Elections and politics.
On the first day, we were driving from the airport to the hotel. There was a lot of graffiti, but one that stuck out to me was the phrase “Fora Bolsonaro” which translates to “Out Bolsonaro” in English.
This has still stayed with me and shows the general political leaning of the city. This dynamic is even present in my host home. When I returned home one night, I went to sit with my host dad to watch soccer. At first he turned on the news and turned-on CNN. The Republican Primaries were on, and the topic of conversation turned to politics. My host dad asked if Trump still had a following in the United States, I responded yes and used it as an opportunity to see which way he leaned. I asked if he liked Bolsonaro, and he replied “No, I think he is a bad ruler and a bit authoritarian”. This is a common thought with everyone that I’ve interacted with. I also learned that Lula, served as the Brazilian President from 2003 to 2010, was instrumental for rural communities, specifically for education. Lula and Dilma Rousseff introduced quotas to the Brazilian education system for higher education. These quotas are there in order to diversify the population of higher education institutions. They have greatly increased the number of Black students that attend both public and private universities. On that same train of thought, gender quotas have increased the presence of women in Brazilian Political Parties. But despite the quota, the number of women elected to government positions remains low (Gatto and Wylie 2021, 3). The representation of women in politics is an important issue to me, and to see gender quotas working (even if the number of women in government positions is still what we consider to be low), it gives me hope for the future.
Another important aspect of Brazilian culture is Carnaval. Many people think of Carnaval as a big parade with extravagant costumes, but it is so much more than that. Carnaval used to be a celebration for Brazilian Elites (also known as the Portuguese/Europeans) and would take place inside houses. Salves during this time started dancing and celebrating in the streets. This later became what Carnaval is today. It represents racial pride and many of the songs and instruments played are of African origin. Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro “became the most holy ritual of mestiço nationalism and the celebration of mestiçagem” (Eakin 2017, 91). Mestiçagem refers to ‘the mixing’ and is the term for the mixing of mainly African and Indigenous people, but also between African, Indigenous, and European people. This idea was present during Carnaval, but now Carnaval is a celebration of Black Pride. We also went to Casa do Carnaval, a museum all about the history and culture of Carnaval. We saw costumes from different ‘blocos’ or Carnaval groups. We also saw different individual costumes and one of them reminded me about the Mulata we read about in class. The Mulata is described as “thee most potent image of Brazilian sexuality” (Eakin 2017, 108). The Mulata became the ideal type of woman that every woman aspired to be. These lead to interesting gender dynamics within Brazilian society, but also within Carnaval itself. Below is an image of a costume that a woman wore during Carnaval. The dress itself looks like it emphasizes the chest area of the woman and her curves with how tight the dress is. There are still manifestations of the Mulata in Brazilian society and Carnaval.
The last interesting and important aspect of Brazilian culture are Afro-Brazilian religions. The one we learned the most about is Candomblé. This is a religion that was created 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). When the Slave Trade was going on in Brazil, African people were taken from all over the continent and brought them to Brazil. This created a mixing of different religious traditions and customs and with Catholicism which resulted in Umbanda and Candomblé. 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. Because of the mixing with Catholicism, the Orixás have been associated with Catholic Saints. For example, the Orixá, Oxalá is associated with Jesus. Each Orixá is associated with a color and nature element as well as having a unique symbol. Many Brazilians practice Candomblé and I consider it to be a key aspect of Afro-Brazilian culture and heritage.
Eakin, Marshall C. “Communicating and Understanding Mestiçagem Radio, Samba, and Carnaval.” Essay. In Becoming Brazilian: Race and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Brazil, 79–106. Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Eakin, Marshall C. “Visualizing Mestiçagem Literature, Film, and the Mulata.” Essay. In Becoming Brazilian: Race and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Brazil, 107–35. Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Gatto, Malu AC, and Kristin N Wylie. “Informal Institutions and Gendered Candidate Selection in Brazilian Parties.” Party Politics, 2021, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1177/13540688211008842.
Santos, Willys. Lecture on “Umbanda and Candomblé: The History, Tenets, and Practices” May
16, 2022, Salvador, Brazil.
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.