Monday, November 19, 2007

Cultural exchange in Brazil

Three weeks in Brazil just went by in a blink of an eye. D. and I flew together to Sao Paolo for the wedding of a good friend of his outside the small town of Avare. Then we flew up to the northeast to Salvador de Bahia, a place I had always wanted to go for its famous music and dance culture. This is where most of the African slaves were brought to Brazil, and they remained in the region, resulting in a rich mix of African culture with the native and Portuguese ones. The people were the happiest and friendliest of anywhere I've seen in Brazil, and there was always music - drumming and dancing and capoeira (a form of martial arts developed by the slaves, which today is a kind of dance).

They also have a unique religion, Candomble, which is descended from the Voudun practiced by their African ancestors. We were able to attend a ceremony celebrating the god Ogum, in which several dancers dance in the middle of the room until they all achieve a trance (when the spirit of the orixa, or god, inhabits them), and then handlers take them out and dress them in the clothing of the orixa and bring them back in to continue dancing until the ceremony is over. The woman standing next to me actually went into a trance, in which she seemed to lose control of her body and could no longer
stand unaided, and she couldn't speak. She was removed by the handlers so they could send the spirit away. Each orixa has its own unique drum rhythms and dance, and each person belongs to one particular orixa. All in all, a very interesting experience, especially after seeing the origins of the culture and religion in Benin a few years ago.

In the midst of this, we took a detour to the interior to do some trekking in the Parque Nacional Chapada Diamantina, which was very lovely but had been built up so much as one of the highlights of Brazil that I think our expectations were a little high. The area looks a little like the desert scenery of southern California, but with big table mountains that provide for some stunning vistas over the valleys. We had a nice time sleeping in a cave and seeing the stars.

Then we flew to Foz do Iguacu, where we went to see the Iguazu Falls. It was my third visit there, and each time it's a lot more built up, but the falls are one of those beautiful natural wonders that are so amazing they are worth seeing even when you have to fight hordes of tourists. Surprisingly, we saw quite a few animals, including a toucan attacking the nests of some smaller birds, some small crocodile-like animals, and many big lizards, coati (badger-like animals), and small guinea pig relatives.

And then D. had to go home to go back to work, and I continued on to Argentina, where I am now, visiting friends from my exchange program in high school. It's quite interesting to see how things have changed, and a bit of a shock to see the babies that have been born and relationships that have been made and broken in the six years since my last visit.

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