Ritual Encounters and Performative Moments

  • Cheryl Sterling


Rituals are often seen as static forms of communal remembrances. Yielding to the onus of tradition and elements of cultural fixity, rituals are characterized by their attempts at reviving or vivifying the past, generating normative standards of conduct for individuals and their societies, while allowing for celebratory moments that access a shared reality (Myeroff 1984).1 Rituals reify social order, contends Néstor García Canclini (2005), but they also impel transgressive movements (Hybrid 23). In the limits of hybridity, rituals occur and are perpetuated because the subject can only bear so much interlocution, negotiation, mixing, and transformation; but they may also signify the movement toward difference that society proscribes or incorporates as a new defining order (ibid. 23–24). I reposition the ritual contexts to examine them as part of organic, dynamic, evolutionary processes that draw on African traditions to construct Afro-Brazilian identity. Cultural reconversions happening through the hybridic, rhizomatic transposition of ritual forms, I contend, reassemble concepts of Africanness/blackness as markers and anchors for that identity. Ritual life is often conducted through both public and private performances. This chapter examines the dynamics at play in three annual public rituals in Salvador, known as the festas populares [the popular or public festivais]: the festa de Santa Barbara, the festa de Iemanjá and the Lavagem do Bonfim.


Social Drama Sacred Space Ritual Specialist Ritual Form Spiritual Force 
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© Cheryl Sterling 2012

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  • Cheryl Sterling

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