Afro-Brazilian woman of Ile Aiye, Black consciousness group based in Bahia being dressed in her traditional African Heritage Dress celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ile Aiye at Salvador, Bahia in Brazil. Ile Aiye women are chosen to represent the power of black culture to the world, in this, the city (Salvador, Bahia) nicknamed “Black Rome” and arguably the center of black culture in Brazil. Salvador, Bahia is considered the blackest city in the country with a population of more than 2 million, 80% of whom are recognized as Afro-Brazilian. Salvador is located in the northeastern state of Bahia, a state that is world renown for its strong links to Mother Africa. The population of Bahia is said to be between 70-75% Afro-Brazilian and the city of Salvador was a major port of entry of African slaves during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Influenced by the American Black Power movement the early 70s, the lyrics in the music of Ilê Aiyê were a voice of protest against the farce of the Brazilian “Racial Democracy” with a visual aesthetic that emphasized African history and culture. The founders of the popular bloco afro originally wanted to call the Carnaval/Social/Percussion organization “Poder Negro (Black Power)” when it was founded in 1974 but were advised by authorities that this wouldn’t be a good idea. Ilê Aiyê’s ultimate mission was raising black consciousness amongst Brazil’s African descendants, a population that had been indoctrinated to prefer a European aesthetic and to have shame in its African ancestry and appearance. Ilê Aiyê was a bloco that only accepted black members, a controversial practice in a land where millions of people believed that racism was only a thing of the United States or South Africa and that the races of Brazil lived a harmonious co-existence. The group instituted a Rastafarian cultural philosophy and became active in the community with its social work. Although visible throughout the year, spectators recognize the appearance of the group during the Carnaval season by its colorful outfits: red, representing the bloodshed in the slavery era, yellow, representing power, white, for peace, and black, the color of their skin.
For 40 years now Ilê Aiyê has crowned a woman to represent the “most beautiful of the beautiful”. The woman selected to be the “Ebony Goddess” is chosen as a symbol of black beauty in a country where the skin color of fashion runways, magazine stands and television stations are overwhelmingly white, a contradiction in a supposed “racial democracy” where the majority of 200 million citizens declared themselves non-white in the latest national census. Beyond beauty, the winner of the Night of the Black Beauty must also possess a knowledge of the history of the group as well charisma and an elevated sense of black consciousness.
BY: Kweku Darko Ankrah