Political and traditional
Black women, amongst other marginalized groups across the Americas, have been placed as identity-making figures portrayed as folkloric emblems of an authentic past. In Salvador, Brazil, baianas de acarajé, popularly referred to as the “postcards of Bahia” as timeless, stewards of African heritage and regional Afro-Bahian identity, are predominantly older Afro-descendant women street vendors that sell acarajé—the West-African deriving black-eyed pea fritters. Drawing from ethnographic and archival research, this dissertation is the first English-written monograph-length study to investigate the discursive, symbolic, and aesthetic processes that portray baianas as cultural icons and elucidates the ways in which they are also political subjects. In 1992, baianas established a grassroots association, the National Association of Baianas (ABAM), to advocate on behalf of the baianas and facilitate their access to worker’s rights and benefits. In 2005, ABAM successfully lobbied for recognition of the craft as national cultural patrimony. They continue to use the title as leverage as the baianas strategically utilize state language and legislation to define safeguarding measures on their own terms to maximize their access to material and political benefits. The patrimonial title recognizes the importance of Candomblé-associated elements to the craft. At the same time, Candomblé-practicing and Evangelical Protestant baianas have created a baiana solidarity that is unique and important, considering the recent rise in religious intolerance and persecution against Candomblecistas. This solidarity has larger implications in conceptualizing and building a diverse, pluri-religious society living and working alongside others. The baianas also embody a Black feminist political praxis by renegotiating labor as not only a mode of survival but also their own personal and collective pleasure. This is most strongly conveyed through the very understudied—and misunderstood—livelihood and cultural figure of the baiana de receptivo: baianas who are generally hired as hosts for various events, including but not limited to street festivals that meld Luso-Catholic and Afro-diasporic traditions. Ultimately, this work expands discussions of political agency and cultural politics in ways that illuminate alternative modes of political engagement and that provide additional approaches to envision the ways power and pleasure circulate within and amongst baianas, the state, and beyond.