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7 - The Permeable Boundary: Media Imaginaries in Candomblé’s Public Performance of Authenticity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 January 2021

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Summary

On one of my visits to Gantois I caught sight of Luis, a fellow anthropologist. He was standing on the other side of the barracão, the great ceremonial hall of the terreiro. As it was very crowded, it was impossible to reach him. We acknowledged each other's presence with a nod.

The purpose of my visit to Gantois was a celebration in honor of Oxum, the Candomblé deity of beauty and of the sweet waters. The barracao had been decorated with garlands and cloths in the yellow and golden colors of the orixá. As always, the splendid performance sought to recreate an ‘Africa’ on Brazilian soil – with non-stop drumming, Yorubá chanting, and an impressive gathering of temple dignitaries dressed in their imported Nigerian garments: grands boubous, wax-print dresses, and colorful kaftans with matching hats.

For some reason, my observer's eye lingered on the floral decorations that hung from the ceiling: Styrofoam balls in which little dried flowers and golden, spray-painted leaflets had been stuck. These floral balls, fastened to the ceiling with velvety ribbons in a soft yellow tone, could only be described with the word ‘Biedermeier’ – the romantic rococo style of early 19th-century Vienna. I am not sure whether I had already made a mental note saying ‘these quaint little bouquets don't look like Africa to me’ when I met Luis’ eyes, who clearly had been observing me observing the floral decorations. We both burst into laughter, having seen something to which we, as anthropologists, should not have been paying attention. Clearly, our fieldwork diaries of that day were supposed to mention the ritual sequence of the ceremony, the names of the orixás that had come to celebrate, the presence and absence of honorary guests, the quality of the drumming and the food. They should not, however, mention Biedermeier bouquets hanging from the ceiling.

In all of its triviality, the example shows that the people from Gantois had found themselves seduced by an aesthetic that runs counter to their ideological, political and religious pursuits.

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Ecstatic Encounters
Bahian Candomblé and the Quest for the Really Real
, pp. 215 - 248
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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