Masquerades of Afro-Femininity, Beauty, and Politics

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


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


Black Woman Dance Move Ritual Performance Beauty Contest Young Black Woman 
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© Niyi Afolabi 2016

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