The Real Fight for Independence

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On May 8th, 2013, Bahian Independence Day, which falls on July 2nd, was officially recognized by the Senate as a date of national importance in Brazil. The recognition doesn’t mean it will become a national holiday but the date does hold an important place in the hearts of Bahians.

While Dom Pedro I was shouting “Independence or death!” on the banks of the Ipiranga river in São Paulo, the war for the independence of Bahia against the Portuguese military was in full swing. In actuality, it not only ended after Brazil was declared independent but it begun before the fight for Brazilian independence had started. The Bahian efforts, in the end, were what sent the Portuguese packing. In fact, Bahian people are proud of July 2nd because it symbolizes the real fight for independence (and not just a mere proclamation of it), where they not only shed a lot of blood and tears, but where slaves and those of native indian descent (caboclos) came together to aid in the fight. It is also where they found themselves outnumbered, by three-thousand Portuguese soldiers versus one-thousand five-hundred on the Brazilian side, and still ended up victorious.

In 1822, the royal courts in Lisbon ordered Portuguese commander Madeira de Melo to take control of Bahia in light of Dom João VI’s return to Europe almost a year prior. The rumors, and later knowledge, that his son, Dom Pedro I,  would not return to Portugal brought about Madeira de Melo’s appointment. With the start of 1823, Portuguese reinforcements arrived in Salvador, dominating the city. Dom Pedro I, then, sent in Brazilian troops, who eventually had to fall back into the Recôncavo region outside the capital city. (Important to note that “Brazilian” here means fighting for Brazil, since almost all the troops actually doing so were Portuguese-born).

Surrounded and with food and ammunition running out, Madeira de Melo requested more Portuguese troops from Europe. It was then that Dom Pedro I sent in the French general and mercenary, Pedro Labatut, to expel the enemies. Labatut had previously participated in the Napoleonic Wars, as well as alongside Simon Bolivar in Colombia. It’s somewhat ironic that a Frenchman would push the Portuguese out of Brazil since it was due to the French invasion that the Portuguese went to Brazil in the first place.

In the Battle of Pirajá, which was a defining moment in the fight for Bahian independence (and, ultimately, that of Brazil), Madeira de Melo took the offense and ended up getting injured. One account of the battle relates the story of a soldier who, while being Portuguese but fighting for the Brazilians, confused the Portuguese troops by giving the sound for them to advance according to a specific battlefield scenario. The only problem was the scenario wasn’t actually happening so instead of advancing, they fell back, at which point the Brazilian troops attacked, winning the battle.

The Portuguese retreated to the city center and soon found themselves weakened, tired, low on firepower, and with a Brazilian fleet (with an Englishman at the command) all but surrounding them seaside. Madeira de Melo and the remaining troops finally fled the country, returning to Portugal while being chased all the way back to Lisbon.

The day that Labatut and his men took back the city was July 2nd, 1823.

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Salvador dos Mortos Vivos

Folha TV has an interesting report on the current state of Salvador where they speak of its deterioration and criminality. I’ve heard this time and time again in recent years, from tourists who have gone there, gringos who have lived there, as well as from long-time ‘native’ residents. It really is unfortunate because, if done right, the city could rival Rio de Janeiro, in my opinion.

Skip to minute 6:00 and watch until 11:40 for the report in question (in PT).

Playing For Change Goes Samba

“While on our journey of recording and filming musicians in Brazil, someone told us that all we needed to do was “shake a tree, and musicians would fall out like fruit.”  That couldn’t have been more true.

It was one of our last days in Salvador da Bahia when we discovered this band, Sangue Brasileiro.  Wow!  They are super fun and I guarantee you will want to dance to this jam and smile at the screen.  This song, “Samba de Viola” is a true reflection of the Samba music that is the pulse of Brazil.  This performance truly embodies the Playing For Change spirit, and the band’s musicianship is incredible!  Enjoy!”

Check out their cool video in Salvador!

TV FTC – The Real Salvador

As you can see from my new city categories (the ones that refer to the cities I’ve written the most about), Salvador da Bahia is high on the list. The more I learn about it, the more I’m intrigued by it and let me tell you, TV FTC of Bahia really doesn’t help in the matter because I love watching their videos on Bahian culture. Sure, I just discovered their Youtube channel and spent a lot of time watching and learning from their videos such as the Salvador Visto Por and Giro series. The former are 15-minute interviews with people important to Salvador talking about their connections with the city and the latter are shorter tours around interesting parts of the capital city.

According to their “about me” section,

“TV FTC is the university-run TV station of the Faculdade de Tecnologia e Ciências de Salvador (College of Technology and Sciences of Salvador). Made up exclusively of employees and interns of the Cinema and Video field of study, the team produces videos that mix culture, information and entertainment, always with Bahia in the spotlight.”

Below is an example of their work and more specifically, of their Salvador Visto Por series.

And by the way, if you are interested in hearing that song mentioned, the first song to be recorded in Brazil, authored by Xisto Bahia…here it is.

Mãe Menininha – Notable People

Born in 1894 and baptized as a Catholic as Maria Escolástica da Conceição Nazaré and in candomblé as Mãe Menininha do Gantois, she was the most respected mãe-de-santo (spiritual leader) of Bahia. Aside from having followers in the candomblé religion, by way of her spiritual powers and personal charisma, she managed to bring together people from many religions on her terreiro (gathering place for Afro-Brazilian religious festivities), including personalities such as Dorival Caymmi, Caetano Veloso, Tom Jobim, Antônio Carlos Magalhães and Vinícius de Moraes, all of which were known to only make important decisions after consulting her.

As the grandchild of African slaves from the Kekeré tribe of Nigeria and while still a child, she was chosen as a mãe-de-santo (or ialorixá in candomblé) by the candomblé saints from the terreiro of her great-grandmother, known as Axé La Masse. By 28 years old, she had reached the top of the religious hierarchy. Abiding by the rules and comanding the terreiro, known as Gantois, she earned much respect and acceptance within the candomblé religion and in others through her political power. Her merits also helped in the modernization of candomblé: even opening doors to members of and people from other cults and religions and at the same time, not allowing space for folkloric nor touristic exploitation. A model of vitality and good will, she streamlined the activities of the terreiro with the family and all the while, doing acts of charity.

Below, one can see a song about her which Dorival wrote in the 1970s, being sung by Caetano and Maria Bethânia, accompanied by their mother, Dona Canô, and Mariene de Castro.


Lyrics (in PT)

Praia do Forte – Getting out of Salvador


(photo: by Michael Reckling)

Praia do Forte is a little over one hour north of Salvador and doubles as a fishing town and an eco-resort. Judging by the pictures of the area, it seems reminiscent of São Sebastião on the coast of São Paulo, only the water looks better. One can find the official site here (in PT, photos from the site) with a list of all the things one can do there, such as swimming in natural pools, relaxing on the various beaches, visiting the Garcia D’Ávila Castle or the Fisherman’s village.

Also between June and October, many whales pass through the Brazilian waters off the coast and for that reason, Praia do Forte has a whale conservation center called the Baleia Jubarte Institute. If you are looking for something a little smaller, check out the Project Tamar which showcases the four kinds of marine turtles that lay their eggs on the local beach. In the case you want to do some hiking, the Sapiranga Reserve nearby comes highly recommended.

To get an idea of how Praia do Forte is situated, see this colorful map. To find out how to get there, check this out (in PT)

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Narrow-minded Brazilian Architecture

Somewhere in a small town in Brazil, there’s a pretty narrow-minded architect, I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he’s a real stand up guy but his head was a little in the clouds when he made this one…

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In the small town of Madre de Deus in Bahia, of just about 4 miles squared, there’s a house that’s three stories high and seven feet wide and believe me, it’s an eye-catcher. The residence comes complete with two living rooms, a kitchen, three bedrooms and a varanda. The owners are two 40-somethings, Helenita Queiroz Grave Minho and her husband Marco Antonio and they live with their three children, Helenita’s mother, sister and one dog…go figure!

On the narrow plot of land, when Helenita found herself unemployed, she decided to build a house and rent it out for extra cash. Marco Antonio thought it was a crazy idea but in the end, he gave in and hired a bricklayer who happened to agree with Marco, saying that not even a fridge would fit in a place so narrow. And you know what? He was right. The family ended up having to take apart their appliances and furniture in order to get them in the house.

At the end of two years of work, the owners became satisfied with the house which was bigger than where she lived previously. Upon having this realization, Helenita decided to move to the narrow house and to rent out the old house, which today goes for around $350/month.

The mayor’s office made a fuss at the start but upon seeing the finished work, gave in as well and eventually accepted the new tourism spot where tourists come to sit in front and take pictures. Now, Helenita and Marco Antonio plan to build yet another story, this time without a roof so they can enjoy the sunshine and a nice bbq.

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The Tororó Jetty – Salvador

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The dique (dam, bank, jetty) was constructed by the Dutch that inhabited Salvador starting from the year 1624. For decades, it was abandoned but in 1998, it was urbanized. The Dique de Tororó (tororó means ‘small talk’, but is also the neighborhood where the lagoon is located) is the only natural spring in Salvador registered by the Institute of Heritage and National Art. It delineates the northern-most region of the Upper City (Cidade Alta) of Salvador.

Aside from the lake which is part of the dique, the area contains a jogging track (called a ‘pista de cooper‘), an area for rowboats, fishing decks, piers for small boats, equipment for sports and gymnastics, playgrounds, as well as a Activity Center and an Events Plaza. The center also has restaurants and parking for 150 cars. In the middle of the lagoon, there’s a floating stage for the implementation of shows and spectacles as well as an architectural ensemble of diverse orixás (African deities) which compliment the beauty of the region and show off the religious aspects of the city.

Historically, the water from the jetty was used by the inhabitants of the city, and there’s even a popular four-verse carol (called a quadrinha) that speaks to the days when the water dried up.

“Eu fui ao Tororó
Beber água e não achei
Encontrei linda morena
Que no Tororó deixei…”

“I went to Tororó
To drink water but all I found
Was a pretty morena
Who I left in Tororó…”