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.”