Brazil’s transatlantic heritage from the African continent
By Thais Regina
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – How far back does the music you listen to go? And your way of speaking? After all, how do you see yourself in the world? The culture of nearly five million people forcibly brought from the African continent has found fertile ground in Brazilian soil to thrive in phonemes, philosophies, religions and rhythms.
More than building a country, these concepts have resisted violence by affirming their civilizing values. “There is an African experience in our country that is not taught,” says Aza Njeri, 35, researcher on Africa.
“Here it is common for families to live in the same yard; the oldest buys the house, then the son lives upstairs, next door, opposite, and when you realize, there are seven houses in the same yard! This is the logic of the matriarchal construction of a quilombo: everyone watches over a child in this backyard. Everyone must be vigilant that the barrier is closed so that the child does not go out into the street; if the child does something wrong, no one will call the mother, the child is educated there, on the spot ”, explains Aza Njeri.
But what would we be if these roots had not undergone a process of erasure? What would our present be if the construction of Brazil had been officially Afrocentric, that is to say if it had had African culture at the center as opposed to the Eurocentric which took Europe as a reference?
A respectful relationship with nature and the power of speech, for example, are part of the Laws of Maat, which guided the society of Kemet, the name given to ancient Egypt and the cradle of African culture. This report is dedicated to identifying some of these characteristics still present today in the Brazilian experience and finding ways to think about a sustainable future for the whole world.
However, within those backyards, something has radically changed: the way we love. “Among the differences across humanity, across time, this one is brutal. Before romanticism, this romance that one imagines did not exist, this romanticization of relationships, ”explains Caroline Sodré, 26, a master’s student in history at the PUC and specialist in diversity at Farm.
“It’s a delicate subject because we can stereotype ancient peoples by thinking that they didn’t like it. That’s not it, the difference is that these people didn’t see relationships as something that should last a lifetime. Relationships weren’t romantic love. And it’s sensitive because it really upsets us, it upsets our world.
“To help the exercise of thinking like ancestral societies”, Sodré brought a word that we sometimes hear in Brazilian music, from Nação Zumbi to Luedji Luna, and which is present in the Bantu linguistic trunk, widespread in the territory that extends south of the Sahara Desert – Malungo. “It means bond of brotherhood. This is why in the black movement we call each other brothers and sisters because I understand my neighbor as someone who comes from the same seed as me.
“At the time, the word malungo was used for everyone, from the youngest to the oldest. People had kids together and, of course, that boosted respect and caring, but that didn’t mean the relationship would turn affectionate, romantic, or the child would be a lifelong bond. Affection is another, of brotherhood.
But this is not true for all societies on the African continent. According to Njeri, it depends on how the family lineage is structured (matrilineal or patrilineal) – that is, whether children bear the surname of the mother or the father – and how it is exercised. socio-political power, with the mothers of the community at the center or the fathers (matriarchal or patriarchal).
“All of this needs to be taken into account when discussing relationships. There is a book called ‘Niketche: A History of Polygamy’ [(2001), by Paulina Chiziane], in which the author criticizes the colonization of polygamy; she explains that polygamy after the arrival of Europeans becomes something completely different from what it was before.
When Sodré links the bond of brotherhood to the idea of a common seed, she is referring to one of the creation myths in Africa: the cult of the baobab. Most creation theories involve nature and, according to Sodré, it’s hard to think at what point in history there was a split between spirituality and environment. The relationship of constant exchange with nature is also at the heart of the worldview of indigenous peoples. “The other religions that have passed through history, in addition to being polytheists, connect [directly] with elements of nature, ”she comments.
Other trees, like the Iroko, are also protagonists of creation myths, varying from one society to another. The choice was not random: it is a range of evidence and conditions for a better quality of life from the proximity of these trees.
“A lot of people south of the Sahara Desert will love the baobab seed with this idea of the tree of life, the idea that life began in a tree seed,” says Sodré. “The kingdom of Kush, which was one of the largest, will be created with many baobabs around it because it is a tree which, because it draws a lot of water from the ground, necessarily grows near rivers, so he told the people that there were rivers nearby. In a desert region, being close to the river is essential. The broad crowns of the baobab tree also provided shade, the fruits attracted animals, which could be In those days, this tree was not only a symbol of life, it was life.
Interestingly, here in Brazil we continued this creation myth in a fun way. When we explain to a child how he was born or why a person is pregnant, the story of the seed comes back into the picture. “People thought, if trees are like that and they come from seeds, why don’t we also come from seeds? “
“At that time, there was no ultrasound or tools that could see what was inside the wombs of women. Many mothers still say to their children today: “We planted a little seed and you were born. Even without wanting to, we broadcast this oral history and we are part of this oral history without realizing it, ”says Sodré.
The genre is also a Western construction, with all its historical and symbolic relevance. Thus, the distribution of tasks between men and women in ancient Africa varies between societies. In the Kemetic civilization, for example, the position of priest, high in the social hierarchy, was often held by women. “This means that women were literate and, more than that, the guardians of thought, of writing,” Sodré testifies.
Nigerian sociologist Oyèrónké Oyewùmí explains how relationships from marriage were different in Yorubaland from what we see in the West: “For example, my brother’s wife also calls me husband. Because husband in English [and other languages] must be a man, someone who has a penis. But in Yoruba it’s a social category, that’s the key. It is not a biological or gender category.
“In these great civilizations, like the Assyrians, the Kushites, the Kemetics and the Nubians, there were currencies of exchange, but they were not unitary. In other words, people traded with what they had, whether it was head of cattle, crops, or a common bargaining chip between West and East: women. Marriage was a non-romantic contract and was often used to unify kingdoms and regions.
In Namibia, which is close to one of the continent’s largest desert regions, water and camels become very valuable. It varies greatly from region to region, but the European culture of basing the economy on gold and precious metals, abundant in Africa, made no sense within these communities. In general, these metals were used in construction for their strength, but they were not valued.
Another difference is our way of seeing work. Thinking of the Yoruba and Bantu peoples, in the towns there were professional clans. While the profession is individual and does not define the individual, the craft is the activity itself, specialized and with knowledge transmitted from father to son.
“As the orixás are the guardians of the city, it was common for religion and trades to go together; if you are of the Ogum line, your family probably works with iron; or even, thinking of the Bantu, if you are Zulu, your job will probably be mining, ”illustrates Njeri. In this way, there is no mobility of the craft, because it is already defined in an ancestral way.
Oyewùmí agrees. “Your family, your lineage is more important than whether you are a man or a woman. So, if hunting is your family’s vocation, you, as a woman in this family, have the access and the possibility of being a hunter long before a man in a family that does not hunt ”, explains the sociologist. Nigerian.
By imagining this possible Brazil, and with so much to save from its latent links, we asked Aza Njeri what are the greatest legacies of Africa in our country. “Besides the body, the word, the ethical and aesthetic ensemble, which are more than inheritances, they are survival strategies. I think Africa leaves us the principle of balance, the circularity of life experiences: our family, capoeira, samba, jongo. Circularity is a civilizing value that I can see in black Afro-Brazilian experiences, ”she replies.
“Another very important heritage is the ancestry, the spirituality of the religions of the African matrix. A candomblé terreiro is a mythical matrix of African civilization, which we have of Africa as a living experience. And the “pretuguese”, this “black” way of speaking Portuguese, this entry of Bantu phonetics and lexical cadence into the Portuguese language, which will make us speak: falanu, comenu, craudia, bicicreta, you know?
From the language, the sound, the way of looking and looking at life, millions of African lives continue to live in the Afro-Brazilian soil they have built, without breaking the umbilical cord that nourishes Africa in Brazil. .