Bahian beat

Half of all the people in South America live in Brazil and 70 percent are younger than 30, which helps explain Brazil’s popular image, one of bronzed bodies, beach volleyball and the elemental tanga, a swimsuit so skimpy it’s local nickname is “dental floss”.

The country’s south-east, which includes Rio de Janeiro, presents Brazil’s best-known face. But it’s in the north-east that you find it’s best preserved, most erotic, historical flavours. In Bahia you find a state rich in folklore, steeped in the traditions of its African heritage.

The first Europeans, the Portuguese, settled at Salvador da Bahia in the early 16th Century and for 300 years Salvador was Brazil’s most important city. During the 17th Century the province became one of the world’s prime sources of sugar. The first slaves were brought from Guinea in 1538 and, in time, constituted more than half the population. Salvador’s black residents have clung steadfastly to their culture, religion, their food and music. This gives the city a rhythm all its own.

Candomblé is the key to understanding Bahian culture. Candomblé is a belief, an Afro-Brazilian religion that worships the African deities of Nature, the Goddess of the sea and the God of Creation. Bahia is the stronghold of this colourful spiritualist sect. Shrouded generously with mysticism and secrecy – it was prohibited until 1970 – Candomblé is also, today, a source of endless fascination to visitors.

Fusing African rites with Catholic symbolism, Candomblé is a dance in honour of the gods. Some rituals are open to the public. These take place in a terreiro (temple) and are conducted in the original Yoruba tongue by a pai or mai de santo, the Camdomblé priest or princess. Casa Branca, in the Engenho Velho neighbourhood, is Salvador’s oldest terreiro. Strict customs govern attendance, so it’s best to go as an invited guest or with a paid guide. Wear white where possible, avoid dark colours. Contact me for complete article

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