From Candomblé to Carnaval: Secularizing Africa and Visualizing Blackness

  • Cheryl Sterling


Like the rituals found in Candomblé, carnival is known for its transformative effect on the body and the psyche. Individuals play, create transgressive identities, and reposition themselves in hierarchical social arrangements. Dichotomies such as self and Other cease to represent binary opposites, given that they often coexist during rites of spirit possession, masking, or the simple act of dressing up or down. In this complex play of identities, the following must be asked: At what point do these dynamics cease being play and become transformative political discourse? Thus I turn to the epigraphs above to conceive and construct the diversity of experience and formulation found in carnival. For Da Matta, who studies carnival in Rio, its luxuriousness hides the poverty and social misery that mars the Brazilian sociopolitical body. For Aldrick, the synecdochical body that only becomes animated through his role as the Dragon Masker during carnival in Trinidad, it is the time when the dispossessed can be seen and, by extension, heard. While in Da Matta’s formulation carnival hides sociopolitical realities, for Aldrick, carnival reveals them. Political engagement, we can infer, appears in the interplay between what is hidden and what is seen. This chapter examines carnaval1 as a rhizomatic location in the Afro-Brazilian insertion of their Africannness and blackness.


Black Woman Psychological Empowerment Staging Area Black Middle Class Spirit Possession 
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© Cheryl Sterling 2012

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  • Cheryl Sterling

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