Saturday, June 6, 2009

Axé do Soteropolitano

Axé= deriving from the Candomble religion to mean “good vibration” is used to refer to how one is going to act, for example our tour guide asked how are we going to be? And we answered Axé. Axé has also become a popular music genre with roots in Bahia.

Sorteropolitano= is used to refer to the people of Salvador da Bahia. They used to be called salvadorenho (Salvadoran) up until the about the 1950’s when they changed it to Sorteropolitano to differentiate themselves from the Central American salvadorenho of El Salvador. They took the name from the greek roots sotero meaning savior (just like Salvador does in Spanish and Portuguese) and polis meaning city.

After debating whether to take the originally recommended tour because there had been a problem on the one conducted the previous day, the owner of the guesthouse tried to arrange for a private tour but we couldn’t do it in time so we took a chance with the original company. We are glad we did!

Wilson was an excellent guide that was not only knowledgeable but also recounted events and facts as though telling a story with a lot of energy and charisma. He even serenaded in French to show off yet another language he knows well.

We began at Farol da Barra which also served as a look out point/fort.

Pelô, or Pelourinho as it is officially called, is the old city center of Salvador da Bahia. Filled with cobblestone streets and restored buildings, this center is named after a torture device used to punish slaves and criminals. This device, called a pelourinho, used to hang outside of a house.

After taking the Elevador Lacerda—literally an elevator--that is the fastest way to get from the lower city to the upper city, we stopped at the first Jesuit school and church that was founded in the town. This beautifully adored church was decorated by Chinese artisans because all decorations for the church, barring the sculptures, were considered to be apprentice work and not a master artisan’s work. The Chinese influence is somewhat apparent, but once it becomes pointed out, it becomes even more obvious. Some of these hidden images are Chinese masks, and even two interlocking dragons on the main alter.

Igreja São Francisco, also known as the Golden Church, because of it’s heavily adored gold motif interior, was also not decorated by the Portuguese but instead by slaves. Approaching a slave rebellion, the artisans made real life genitalia for the miniature angels. This was a stance against the Catholic Portuguese. Catholicism was imposed on slaves that were brought to Brazil from Africa. From this and their own practices of Candomble came a morphed practice that is still used today, especially in the Bahia area.

Free caipirinhas to start off our delicious dinner traditional Bahian fare: Mocaque ou ensopado de Peixe—farofa de azaite de dendé e Pirão (essentially fish stew with rice, fish broth thickened in palm oil with manioc, and toasted manioc flour sautéed in palm oil. We cleared our heart vessels with some excellent Brazilian wine—Terra Nova Shiraz from Vale do São Francisco.

Balé Folclórico da Bahia was a thrilling experience and a great way to end the night after a day of Bahian history. This dance company is considered to be the best folk dance company in the world. We had seen a performance of theirs in Berkeley because my uncle managed them when they did their US tour. While the performance in Berkeley included a large ensemble, and about a thousand in crowd attendance, the theater in Bahia was a contrast. The theater in Pelô, it probably seats no more than 60 people tightly and the seats are blocks which you can sit cross-legged on and the stage is about 5 feet away from the first row. Sitting in the second, it was difficult to not get enveloped into the trance that the Orixas (gods and goddesses) went into during their presentation of a Candomble ceremony. We though we might be burned by the second performance that included a dancer who balanced fire in bowl on his head and hands and then proceeded to light a torch and quite gracefully rub the flames against his body and arms…a trail of flames was left momentarily on his body. The third included a dance will real machetes that sparked during the fighting scenes. And finally, the performance ended with capoeira.

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