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      The Baianas

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.

          ©  Kenneth Dossar 2013

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