Op-Ed
Photo: Chaze Matakala

Zumbi's Legacy: Finding African Spirituality in the Heart of Brazil

In the geography of the Black Atlantic, the waters of the Paraíba do Sul and the Zambezi intertwine and give birth to a goddess.

A light burst of wind brings me to my feet. To dance is also a form of praise. To the rhythm of djembe drums and musical bows, members of the Afro-Brazilian community on Ilhabela Island dance toward the altar, with red and pink rose petals at their feet, towards the priest, in exalting tones and floral prints, animal prints and wide skirts.

The day is Dia da Consciência Negra, the 20th of November, Black Consciousness Day in Brazil. We are gathered under a roofed and open air public space, surrounded by rainforest, an unknown number of waterfalls, and a small skate park, to celebrate the life and struggle of Zumbi dos Palmares, an anti-colonial and anti-slavery leader descended from West African nobility.

In between clasped and raised hands the participants are carrying homemade bread, papaya, mandioca, oranges, watermelon, mangoes (of course) and many more offerings. At the end of the service, we will be offered these fruits to eat, having been blessed many times over. There is holy communion too. The choir sings, among many others, a Zulu song familiar to me. At this mass service, the altar boys are actually altar girls, and the smiles on faces in attendance are the kind that brighten up your internal weather. The priest speaks of acknowledging roots, on the intersections of Blackness, spirituality and consciousness.

It's painful to admit and yet trendy to discuss, but oppression seems to be a standard of human existence, only enforced to varying degrees by different human beings at different times. As such, every generation has its celebrated leaders who fight for humanity. Brazil's happens to be Zumbi. The legacy of resistance is passed down to generation ad infinitum, from Wangaari to Wynter, Sankara to Fanon, Graça and Lumumba, Fela and Nina.

I am welcomed into the circle, of yellow plastic chairs. A poetic and intergenerational conversation about the history of Blackness here in Ilhabela and Brazil at large is underway. I listen with intent. This is what I am here for.

The festival taking place is political as well as spiritual. In Quilombos such as Palmares which was led by Zumbi during the 17th century according to African ways of being, inhabitants spoke many languages, practiced many religions and were of different origins. Zumbi was thought to be immortal by the masses who followed his path to liberation, which is why the celebration of his undying legacy comes in such disparate and vibrant forms.

I never heard of Zumbi before coming to Brazil, though. In the schools I attended in Southern Africa, we learnt a lot of European history. It seemed more vital that we were conscious of Napoleon and cake-eaters, than Zumbi and the Quilombos.

Imagine—self-sustainable communities of self-liberated slaves, and other indigenous people in the 17th century. Imagine what that legacy of resistance could be constructed as in our present moment? I'm listening, and processing, this entire side of Africanity that I missed out on in my childhood, and feeling so grateful to have sought it out and to be able to share it.

It makes sense that the African legacy of resistance is so strong in Brazil, since it has the highest population of Black people in the world—second only to Nigeria. The African spiritual consciousness is strong too and I felt that as soon as I got to this island. I'm all too familiar here, people look at me like I am a distant relative.

Photos: Chaze Matakala

I came here for an artist residency which transplants my Masters research in African Studies, to the context of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in Ilhabela. Since my research at home entails finding myself through decolonising my history, as seen through the lens of my cameras, I am bound to find pieces of myself here in Brazil.

Slaves, I'm taught, used their spirituality as a means of survival and unity. Having been barred from identifying with their tribal groups and being made to adopt Christianity, it's these more syncretic traditions that remain. I gaze at a crucifix and close by there are wooden masks that are staring back at me. Who is to say if they were brought here from Africa on a plane or carved from the memory of somebody who arrived on a ship, at Praia do Fome, beach of hunger, where slaves would be fattened after a journey across the Black Atlantic, and drank the water from waterfalls flowing still today.

I've been told if you drink the water on Ilhabela, you will always come back, some time.

How can I describe this feeling of looking my ancestress in the eye? Her name, is Nossa Senhora Aparacida, she is known as the "mother of Brazil." She emerged from a river, Paraíba do Sul. She is The Black Mother Mary, and she is worshiped all over Brazil in varying spiritual practices. I am subtly reminded of a figure from my own culture—the Lozi of the Western Province of Zambia. Her name, is Mbuyuwamwambwa, she who all of our litungas (leaders) are descended from, and she, in some mythical oratories, emerged from the Zambezi.

I breathe deeply, flooded by the intertwining of these apparitions of the Divine Feminine, and how my presence here on Ilhabela on Dia da Consciência Negra, continues a legacy of resistance. Did Nossa Senhora Aparacida and Mbuyuwamwambwa conspire for me to be here?

I slip into a memory, my own juncture of Blackness, spirituality and consciousness. My primordial memory of church-going involves me running with my sister, in white stockings and matching dresses (we are not twins). We are in an open field, or maybe it's just a park which my childhood lens maximises the size of everything at play. The tops of the tall trees are dancing in the wind, this always causes deep excitement within me. We are being wild, smiling so hard my cheeks hurt, we jump into a puddle of mud. I like the way the mud dries and cracks on my shiny black buckled shoes, stockings are stained—this is not a good church look.

On Dia da Consciência Negra, on a humid day on an island far away from home and very close to my self, I felt my stockings inverted, and what once seemed like a stain to dampen the aesthetic of worship, is now revered and remixed in ways I did not know possible. Until now. The word is Sincretismo, the amalgamation of different spiritual forms. Its seems one does not have to override the other. We can, in fact, exist and worship in multiple forms. I can untie my tongue and speak in broken Portuguese, be understood by my distant relatives who are so happy to meet me in this lifetime. I can kneel at my grandmother's feet and speak in broken Lozi, and rest easy because my namesake understands me like no other. I can pray in English and know my ancestors and Creator understand me, since they exist in the River of Time Eternal and conspired all this magic we see before us.

popular
Photo: Mídia NINJA

Police Have Arrested One of Two Prime Suspects In the Killing of Marielle Franco

Both suspects have been linked to Brazil's far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.

Authorities in Brazil are one step closer to brining the men responsible for the killing of Afro-Brazilian councilwoman Marielle Franco, in March of last year, to justice The Intercept reports.

According to a police report obtained by the publication, six witnesses gave statements identifying an ex-officer—who was previously expelled from the city's Military Police Force after it was found that he had ties to one of Rio's largest organized crime groups—as one of the men responsible for the death of Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes.

After being withheld by investigators for months, the main suspects' names were released on Tuesday. Adriano Magalhães da Nóbregais is believed to be a hired assassin and the leader of the Office of Crime for a militia that controls the Rio das Pedras neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. He remains at large, according to Broadly.

Ronald Paulo Alves Pereira, another Military Police Officer and militia commander has been arrested in connection to the murder, according to a report from Brazilian publication G1, which shared photos of Pereira being taken into custody on Tuesday.

READ: A Black Woman In Power

Keep reading...
popular

The Murder of an Important Afro-Brazilian Cultural Figure Has Brazilians Reeling in Run-Up to Vote

Mestre Moa de Katendê—a capoeira master and advocate for Afro-Brazilians—was killed after saying he would not support hard-right candidate for president, Jair Bolsonaro.

Reginaldo Rosário da Costa, 63, entered his neighborhood bar last Sunday night to celebrate. His preferred candidate for President of Brazil, the center-left Fernando Haddad, had avoided a first-round defeat by the neo-fascist Jair Bolsonaro.

Locals knew Rosário as Mestre Moa de Katendê in his Salvador neighborhood. He was a capoeira master and he traveled around the world promoting Afro-Brazilian culture.

But not everyone was happy.

Keep reading...
Video
Stormzy performs during The BRIT Awards 2020 at The O2 Arena. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage) via Getty Images.

Watch Stormzy's Powerful BRIT Awards Performance Featuring Burna Boy

The night saw the British-Ghanaian star run through a medley of songs from his latest album, Heavy Is the Head.

The BRIT Awards 2020, which went down earlier this week, saw the likes of Stormzy take home the Best Male trophy home and Dave win Best Album.

The night also saw Stormzy deliver a stunning performance that featured a medley of songs from his latest album, Heavy Is the Head. The British-Ghanaian star started things out slow with "Don't Forget to Breathe," before popping things off with "Do Better" then turning up the heat with "Wiley Flow."

Stormzy nodded to J Hus, playing a short bit of "Fortune Teller," before being joined onstage by Nigeria's Burna Boy to perform their hit "Own It." Burna Boy got his own moment and performed an energetic rendition of his African Giant favorite "Anybody."

The night was closed off with a powerful message that read: "A lot of time they tell us 'Black people, we too loud.' Know what I'm sayin'? We need to turn it down a little bit. We seem too arrogant. We a little too much for them to handle. Black is beautiful man." The message flashed on a black screen before a moving performance of "Rainfall" backed by his posse.

Watch the full performance below.

Keep reading...
popular
The ornate gilded copper headgear, which features images of Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles, was unearthed after refugee-turned-Dutch-citizen Sirak Asfaw contacted Dutch 'art detective' Arthur Brand. (Photo by Jan HENNOP/AFP) (Photo by JAN HENNOP/AFP via Getty Images)

A Stolen 18th Century Ethiopian Crown Has Been Returned from The Netherlands

The crown had been hidden in a Dutch apartment for 20 years.

In one of the latest developments around art repatriation, a stolen 18th century Ethiopian crown that was discovered decades ago in the Netherlands, has been sent back home.

Sirak Asfaw, an Ethiopian who fled to The Netherlands in the '70s, first found the relic in the suitcase of a visitor in 1998, reports BBC Africa. He reportedly protected the item for two decades, before informing Dutch "art crime investigator" Arthur Brand and authorities about his discovery last year.

The crown is one of only 20 in existence and features intricate Biblical depictions of Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. Historians believe it was given to the church by the warlord Welde Sellase several centuries ago.

Read: Bringing African Artifacts Home

Keep reading...

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.