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Masquerades of Afro-Femininity, Beauty, and Politics

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

Abstract

Ilê Aiyê's annual Night of Black Beauty is one of the strategies to make black women feel a sense of pride in their natural beauty in Bahia and beyond, in contrast to the European ideal of beauty. This chapter examines the emergence of this tradition in the context of preparing the Ebony Goddess for the next Carnival. Beyond a simple competition, the show has grown to be the most sought-after spectacle by the community at large. In a country where beauty continues to be defined from the viewpoint of Europe and whiteness in spite of miscegenation, Ile Aiyê seeks to reverse that discriminatory attitude by promoting Afrocentric models of beauty and in the process empowering Afro-Brazilian women. The chapter focuses on a riveting documentary by Carolina Moraes-Liu, Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiyê, in which three young Afro-Brazilian women compete for the title that will not only transform their lives but also reaffirm their pride in their identity and equally uplift their self-esteem. The ritualization of beauty through rhythmic dance and embodied movements creates a blend of spirituality and secularity while at the same time showcasing personal and professional qualities that transform the winner into a black diva for the larger appreciation of blackness and the visibility of Afro-Brazilians well beyond the Carnival parade. In sum, this chapter analyzes the legitimization of black beauty in contrast to many years of celebrating European standards of beauty in Brazil.
Figure 5.1

Ebony Goddess, 2013

Keywords

Black Woman Dance Move Ritual Performance Beauty Contest Young Black Woman 
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.

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Notes

  1. 5.
    Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 1987 [1957]), 150.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    For a fuller sociological analysis, see Michel Agier, Anthropologie du Carnaval (Marseille: Parenthèses, 2000).Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    For a further discussion of the potential for cultural organizations to be co-opted despite the resourcefulness of their political agenda, see Abner Cohen, Masquerade Politics: Explorations in the Structure of Urban Cultural Movements (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Ilê Aiyê, “A Festa da Beleza Negra,” Mãe Hilda Jitolu (Salvador: Caderno de Educação, 2004), 40–42.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    See Carolina Moraes-Liu, Ebony Goddess (California: Documentário, 2010) [DVD]. The cover aligns vertically photos of the three contestants deployed as case studies, wearing their overflowing Africanized garb with varied coloring effects such as “full color,” “black and white,” and a brownish “fade.” The DVD has won the African Diaspora Award in the San Diego Black Film Festival, Best Short Documentary at the San Diego Latino Film Festival, and was nominated as Best Short Documentary in the Pan African Film Festival and Best Short Story Documentary at the Cine Las Americas Film Festival, thus making Ilê Aiyê even more visible in the international arena. Ilê Aiyê has been very conservative in terms of access to its organization—a situation that has made Olodum, which started in 1980 (six years after the founding of Ilê Aiyê), more commercially savvy and organized. An additional merit of the DVD is the language selection feature that includes subtitles in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, which makes it an excellent tool for teachers.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    The Candombl é faith has often suffered persecution and discrimination at the hands of the Catholic Church, government campaigns, and police. Discrimination against the religion recently increased with fanatical televised evangelism that subjected the religion to criticism and accusation of “satanic” rituals. Although Candombl é won an important battle in the Brazilian Supreme Court in 2005 in relation to this, the court’s decision has yet to be implemented. For further studies on the repression of Candombl é in Bahia, see Júlio Braga, “Candombl é in Bahia: Repression and Resistance,” in Black Brazil: Culture, Identity, and Social Mobilization, ed. Larry Crook and Randal Johnson (Los Angeles: UCLAL at in American Center, 1999), 201–212;Google Scholar
  7. Michel Agier, “Bet ween Affliction and Politics: A Case Study of Bahian Candombl é,” in Afro-Brazilian Culture and Politics, ed. Hendrik Kraay (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1998), 134–157.Google Scholar
  8. For the appropriation of Candomblé as an instrument of resistance, see also Mikelle Smith Omari-Tunkara, Manipulating the Sacred: Yoruba Art, Ritual, and Resistance in Brazilian Candombl é (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2005)Google Scholar
  9. and Rachel Harding, A Refuge in Thunder: Candombl é and Alternative Spaces of Blackness (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    For a more in-depth analysis of the contradictions, see Patrícia de Santana Pinho, Mama Africa: Reinventing Blackness in Bahia (Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2010), 144–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. See also Anadelia A. Romo, Brazil’s Living Museum: Race, Reform, and Tradition in Bahia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010) for an analysis of the Center/Margins dialectic that sums up the Bahian condition between preservation of African culture and unequal conditions of the black population.Google Scholar
  12. 17.
    On the exploration of myth and the reinscription of African deities in African and African Diaspora literature, see Alexis Brooks de Vita, Mythatypes: Signatures and Signs of African/Diaspora and Black Goddesses (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000)Google Scholar
  13. and Wole Soyinka, Myth, Literature and the African World (Cambridge/London: Cambridge University Press, 1976).Google Scholar

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© Niyi Afolabi 2016

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  • Niyi Afolabi

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