Aesthetics of Ilê Aiyê’s African(ized) Carnival Costumes

  • Niyi Afolabi
Part of the African Histories and Modernities book series (AHAM)


This chapter examines the different phases of experimentation, consolidation, and sophistication in the emergence of Africanized textiles as an aesthetic symbolism of Ilê Aiyê’s black pride bodily statement. Ilê Aiyê’s emblematic signature lies in its colorful and African-derived Carnival costumes. Translating its negritudist ideology more concretely, the costumes reflect a conscious effort to Africanize by deliberately dressing up in African costumes during Carnival parades and other cultural events throughout the year. Responding to the racist attitude that characterized Brazilian society in general, especially during Bahian Carnival, when specific instructions were given to Carnival organizations by the Bahian government at the time that African costumes and drumming were prohibited,1 Ilê Aiyê has sought to command respect from the public by engendering pride in the aesthetics of its textiles. Framed in the interest of “public safety,” the ban on African costumes and drums reasoned that they were provocative because they were perceived as symbolic elements that could potentially spark violence. Obviously, that was only a pretext for discrimination and censorship on the part of the white elites who were in charge of state governance. In reality, the participation of Mocos afros in Bahian Carnival has always been seen as a “problem,” especially predating the emergence of more recent groups such as Filhos de Gandhi (1949) and Ilê Aiyê (1974).


Racial Discrimination African Culture Military Dictatorship African Diaspora Black Beauty 


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© Niyi Afolabi 2016

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