May 20th, 2009

Brothers in arms

By KENNEDY WARNE

Dó, Dedê and Jaco Galdino Santana are three brothers who work to promote the Afro-Indigenous culture of Bahia, on the eastern seaboard of Brazil. They live in Caravelas, a quiet colonial town near the southern border of Bahia state.

Dó Galdino Santana with the first letter of a magnrove font he designed.

KENNEDY WARNE
Dó Galdino Santana with the first letter of a magnrove font he designed.


Ten years ago, it would not have occurred to them that mangroves could disappear. Mangroves were part of their life, as they were for everyone in Caravelas. “We couldn’t imagine living without them,” said Dedê. Then came Coopex, a consortium with a plan to build a 1500 ha shrimp farm on land between two rivers adjacent to the town. It would be Brazil´s largest shrimp farm yet.

The developers claimed that the farm would not have a negative impact on the mangrove ecosystem, but bitter experience elsewhere in Brazil suggested otherwise. A delegation from shrimp-devastated communities in Ceará visited the Caravelas community to urge them not to allow shrimp to get a foot in the door.

The threat of environmental degradation and mangrove loss caused the brothers to evaluate their priorities. As well as helping mobilise the community to oppose the shrimp project, the brothers decided what was needed was an affirmation of cultural identity. It was not enough to be against something from the outside that threatened their way of life, they wanted to assert what made Caravelas unique.

Teaching Afro-Indigenous culture to the children of Caravelas.

KENNEDY WARNE
Teaching Afro-Indigenous culture to the children of Caravelas.


They had already started a cultural centre offering the children of the community classes in everything from drumming to carving, silk-screening to sculpture. A fourth member of the family, brother-in-law Itamar dos Anjos, taught drama and dance. They decided to explore the artistic possibilities of mangroves.

“We saw a need for cultural education to strengthen the idea of preserving the environment,” said Itamar. “Instead of offering intellectual argument, we chose artistic expression.”

“Nature is integral to the Afro-Indigenous identity,” said Itamar, and because mangroves and marine life were directly threatened by the Coopex proposal, the brothers and community members, in collaboration with the Mangrove Action Project, decided to make a short film celebrating the spiritual and cultural significance of mangroves. The film evokes the three orixas, or African deities, which are jointly responsible for mangroves: the goddesses of fresh water (Oxum), salt water (Yemanja) and mud (Nanã).

A current of mysticism runs through the film. As well as the orixas, there is a mythological figure called Caipora, who lives in the mangrove branches, protects wildlife and comes to the aid of people who are lost. In the film his cackling laughter terrifies the businessmen who expect their briefcases of money to sweep all opposition before them.

Dedê Galdino Santana helps a young student with his drawing.

KENNEDY WARNE
Dedê Galdino Santana helps a young student with his drawing.


In reality, opposition from the community caused Brazil´s federal environmental agency to reinvestigate Coopex’s proposal, and to rule that the siting of the farm was an inappropriate land use. The proposal has now been abandoned.

“The shrimp farm proposal re-awoke in the community the importance of mangroves,” said Itamar. The outcome has been not just a threat averted, but a deeper vein of cultural identity revitalised.

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.