The Baianas are the descendants of African women who during 400 years of enslavement, were unpaid domestic workers for Brazilian families. They cooked the food, nurtured the children, served as healers, as concubines, worked in fields, and rebelled. Many earned their freedom by saving personal money earned vending food products on street corners and at open-air markets. Their fascinating history reflects their strength, intelligence, perseverance, resistance, and resourcefulness. In their role as spiritual mothers they are open and willing to provide people with wise counsel for life problems.
Baianas comprise a large number of participants in popular festivals in and around Salvador. For the annual cycle of religious and secular festivals Baianas dress in brilliant, white starched cotton dresses. Each woman wears her most flattering ojá or torço - a wrapping that covers her head.
Every Baiana adorns herself with multicolored beads, her rings, pulseiras or bracelets, and her sacred necklaces. This tradition of jewelery - a conspicuous display of rings and wrist bangles goes back
more than a century to enslaved African women who could afford to decorate themselves with gold jewelry they purchased from monies earned through their self-owned businesses.
Several categories of Baianas are distinguished by
their everyday attire, and by religious or social
activities. To be Baiana de acarajé means more than
being a vendor of delicious samples of Afro-Bahian
foods. For these women this work is a religious
obligation which reverences the orixas. In exchange,
the orixas take care of the individual and her family.
The attire includes a woven skirt, a laced blouse,
shawl, head wrapping, and sandals with a closed
front and opened back. Their clothing style, drawn
from many sources, reflects European baroque
influences, colorful African elements - particularly
woven fabrics, and Spanish, Portuguese and Islamic
Many of these women are members of the Candomblé
community. Some are initiated priestess of varying
ranks, others are adepts or committed practitionersor
affiliate themselves with the practices. Today, Baianas
across generations, in beauty and charm, with reserve,
strength and great grace - sing, parade and dance in the
festivals and continue in their unique roles of leaders
and Spiritual Mothers.