Queens and batuqueiras
This study examines maracatu nação, a working-class, Afro-Brazilian carnival pageant from the city of Recife in Pernambuco state, and its relationship to the transnational circuits of knowledge production created by elite artists and intellectuals interested in the practice. Maracatu nação features the procession of an African royal court dressed in elaborate and ostentatious European Baroque garb, with thunderous drumming, call-and- response songs of competitive bravado, and dance. Linked to the coronation festivities of Black Catholic Brotherhoods and the rites of Afro-Brazilian spirit-possession religion, and associated with black, working-class neighbourhoods in Recife, in recent decades maracatu nação has commanded increased attention from academics and artists, gaining popularity among the local lighter-skinned middle-classes, within other regions of Brazil, and in the Brazilian diaspora. However, though this attention has exploded since the 1990s, this dissertation demonstrates that the relational patterns that characterize this interest extend well into the early twentieth century. Combining archival, ethnographic, and close reading methodologies, this study uncovers the how the field activities, creative and intellectual output, interventions, and field relationships of local and foreign artist-folklorists established enduring representations of maracatu nação as well as the intellectual paradigms through which the practice is understood today. Engaging with transnational and relational theories of identity and culture, this study also examines how performers of maracatu nação navigate the landscape shaped by former generations of researchers, and how they situate their practice and themselves within historical narratives of local blackness. Performers of maracatu nação continue to grapple with two legacies left by former visitors: one, the practice of stylization of maracatu nação by elite artists, which contributed to the term maracatu estilizado (“stylized maracatu”) becoming a pejorative term used to place limits on innovation; and two, the threat of “going to the museum”—the cessation of a group’s activities and donation of their instruments and costumes to a local archive—perceived as a kind of death. These two intertwined discourses produce a tension between notions of tradition and innovation that are central to how performers of maracatu nação conceive of the conditions necessary for the practice’s survival.