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 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    See Peter Fry, Sérgio Carrara, and Ana Luiza Martins-Costa, “Negros e Brancos no Carnaval da Velha República,” Escravidão e Invenção da Liberdade, ed. João José Reis (São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1988), 232–263.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Cited in Colin Legum, Pan Africanism (London: Pall Mall Press, 1962), 19Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    V. Y. Mudimbe, “Reprendre: Enunciations and Strategies in Contemporary African Arts,” in Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Marketplace, ed. Olu Oguibe and Okwui Enwezor (London and Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1999), 32.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    A few studies have addressed and documented the continuity of participation of Afro-Carnival groups in the traditional and popular festivals of Salvador. See for example, Manuel Querino, A Bahia de Outrora (Salvador: Progresso, 1955),Google Scholar
  5. Edison Carneiro, Folguedos Tradicionais (Rio de Janeiro: Conquista, 1974),Google Scholar
  6. Pierre Verger, Procissõese Carnaval da Bahia (Salvador: CEAO, 1980),Google Scholar
  7. and Francisco Calmon, Relação das Faustíssimas Festas (Rio de Janeiro: Ministério de Educação e Cultura, 1982).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    My translation from Nina Rodrigues, Os Africanos no Brasil (São Paulo: Madras, 2008), 170.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See Larry Crook and Randal Johnson, eds., Black Brazil: Culture, Identity, and Social Mobilization (Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications, 1999),Google Scholar
  10. and Jeferson Bacelar and Carlos Caroso, eds., Brasil: Um País de Negros? (Rio de Janeiro: Pallas/CEAA, 1998). 10.Google Scholar
  11. For a detailed discussion of this proposal, see Femi Ojo-Ade, “O Brasil, Paraíso ou Inferno Para o Negro: Subsídios Para Uma Nova Negritude,” in Jeferson Bacelar and Carlos Caroso, Brasil: Um País de Negros? (Rio de Janeiro: Pallas/CEAA, 1998), 35–50.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    See Doran H. Ross, Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity (Los A ngeles: UCLA Fowler Museum, 1998);Google Scholar
  13. Duncan Clarke, The Art of African Textiles (San Diego, CA: Thunder Bay Press, 2002);Google Scholar
  14. Rowland Abiodun, Ulli Beier, and John Pemberton III, Cloth Only Wears to Shreds: Yoruba Textiles and Photographs from the Beier Collection (Amherst, MA: Mead Art Museum and Robert Frost Library, 2004).Google Scholar
  15. For a panoramic study of the textile art of Ilê Aiyê, see also Jussara Rocha Nascimento, “A Arte do Ilê Aiyê: Elo na Corrente que une Herança e Projeto,” in Imagens Negras: Ancestralidade, Diversidade e Educação, ed Maria de Lourdes (Belo Horizonte: Mazza, 2006), 136–148.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    For a fuller discussion of the neo-negritude concept, its critique, and complication, see Y. E. Dogbe, Le Divin Amour (Paris: P. J. Oswald, 1976)Google Scholar
  17. and Peter S. Thompson, “Negritude and a New Africa: An Update,” in Af rican Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and T heory, ed. Tejumola Olaniyan and Ato Quayson (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 210–218. In his own questioning of “racial democracy” and examination of a “new negritude” in Brazil, Femi Ojo-Ade also wonders if despite the appearance of integration, Brazil is “paradise or hell” for Afro-Brazilians (Femi Ojo-Ade, “O Brasil, Para í so ou Inferno para o Negro?”).Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    Clarence Bernard Henry, Let’s Make Some Noise: Ax é and the African Roots of Brazilian Popular Music (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008), 153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 22.
    See Jônatas Conceição da Silva, “O Querer é o Eterno Poder: História e Resist ê ncia no Bloco Afro,” Afro-Ásia 16 (1995): 113.Google Scholar
  20. 23.
    Ilê Aiyê, 20 Anos de Resist ê ncia Negra/1974–1994: Uma Nação Africana Chamada Bahia (Salvador: Ilê Aiyê, 1994).Google Scholar
  21. 24.
    Pierre Verger, Notícias da Bahia—1850 (Salvador: Corrupio, 1981).Google Scholar
  22. 25.
    See Maria de Lourdes Siqueira, Pérolas Negras do Saber (Salvador: Cadernos de Educação do Ilê Aiyê, 1997), 5.Google Scholar
  23. 26.
    See onceição and Siqueira, África: Ventre Fértil do Mundo (Salvador: Cadernos de Educação do Ilê Aiyê, 1997), 10.Google Scholar
  24. 28.
    Ilê Aiyê, Canto Negro: América Negra, O Sonho Americano (Salvador: Ilê Aiyê, 1993), 3.Google Scholar
  25. 31.
    See Henry J. Drewal, “Costume in African Traditions,” International Encyclopedia of Dance, Vol. 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998): 209–213.Google Scholar
  26. 32.
    For a detailed discussion of the contradictions of tourism and social inequalities in Bahia, see Anadelia Romo, Brazil’s Living Museum: Race, Reform, and Tradition in Bahia (Chapel Hill, NC: University of Carolina Press, 2010).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Niyi Afolabi 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Niyi Afolabi

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations