By Dorien Boxhoorn and Brennan Stark, Contributing Reporters
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil lies so heavy with African influence that the term “Afro-Brazilian” is almost redundant. Indeed, in no other country outside the African continent is the influence of African culture so heavy, and since much of Africa shares a colonial history with Brazil, it is particularly well represented.
Between 1532 and 1888, about four million African slaves were shipped to Brazil, with two million of them entering through the port of Rio de Janeiro. Most of these slaves came from what is now Angola, Congo and Mozambique.
These African men and woman brought with them their religion, music, dance and cuisine, all of which have become a major part of Brazilian culture and identity.
Ruth Fernando is an Angolan women who has been living and working in Rio de Janeiro for two years. She claims, “There are a lot of Angolan influences in Rio de Janeiro, actually Brazilian dance is being greatly influenced by different Angolan types of dances.”
The stirring rhythms of samba, that so famously Brazilian dance, actually originated from the Africa, where the dance is called ‘Semba or Jongo.’ Originally, it was an African circle dance where participants drummed or clapped their hands.
On Friday and Saturday nights, downtown Rio’s Lapa buzzes with African sounds and smells as you pass the stands where African snacks are often sold, and just under the Lapa’s arches is an African Cultural Center where African drum bands and dance groups perform on weekends.
Besides dance and music there is also capoeira, another Brazilian cultural staple. The martial arts dance was actualy created by slaves in the times of Brazilian imperialism as a defense mechanism. Nowadays it is a symbol of the Afro-Brazilian culture and emancipation, and officially considered an ‘intangible cultural heritage’ of Brazil.
Reinier ‘Fogo’ Mostert has practiced capoeira since 2003 and moved to Rio almost six months ago. He explains, “Capoeira is a cohesion of different African and Brazilian cultures. The art has a lot of African elements such as the instruments we use today and the idea of fighting and dancing in a circle.”
Another part of Brazilian culture that originated in Africa is the religion candomblé. The main characteristic of this religion is the belief in another, parallel world of spirits, that can be contacted through songs, dance, music and offerings.
The last day of the year, candomblé is very visible as women in white head out to Copacabana to offer flowers, gifts, perfume and rice, all set into little boats and cast adrift into the sea, to the goddess of water ‘Iemanja.’
Restaurants offering a taste of Africa are also becoming popular throughout Rio. Yoruba in Botafogo (Rua Arnaldo Quintela 94) is a fine choice, and the restaurant is decorated in a religious theme of African syncretism.
African culture, so engrained into the Brazilian psyche, continues to invigorate Rio’s society to this day in new and modern forms. The Angolan consulate in Rio de Janeiro has a special focus on African, and in particular Angolan, contemporary art and culture.