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Modern Slavery and Water Spirituality

A Critical Debate in Africa and Latin America


Ineke Phaf-Rheinberger

This book contains close readings of contemporary literary texts and art work by Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking authors from Africa and Latin America. The readings reveal a critical debate that understands reflections on the slave trade and current migrations from Africa to Europe as continuity since early modern history. This part of cultural history is firmly rooted in the Black Atlantic, although the book’s primary concern is a discussion of situations in which water spirituality functions as a backdrop. This critical inquiry of social inequality and injustice is based on a theoretical framework that addresses migrations overseas and forced labor. Therefore, the readings are placed within the cultural tradition of seven countries: Brazil, Angola, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Principe, and Guinea-Bissau.

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Chapter 2: The Urban Sea in Brazil


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Chapter 2: The Urban Sea in Brazil

When focusing on traces of this “hidden network” in the cultural history of Brazil, attention inevitably falls on the city of Salvador da Bahia, which is proudly declared the most “African” city in the Americas. Salvador was Brazil’s first capital and main port until 1763. Its city poet Gregório de Matos reported about its African culture already in the seventeenth century. However, only much later did authors resume elaborating on their African descent in the urban environment of Salvador. In recent decades, the city’s image has undergone a revival. Today, the old colonial center of Salvador is completely renovated and Afro-Brazilian cultures are considered an integral part of urban life and an attraction for tourists. Coming from the airport, the traveler passes the eight orisha sculptures by the artist Tatti Moreno, representing the Afro-Brazilian deities Oxum, Ogum, Oxóssi, Xangô, Oxalá, Jemanjá, Naña, and Iansã. They are situated in the Dique do Torroró lagoon, which testifies to their important place in Salvador’s quotidianity.

Jorge Amado and Brazil’s Intellectual History

In contemporary literature, Salvador’s cultural heritage of African descent began to play a role with Jorge Amado’s O país do Carnaval (1931). After three novels on “proletarian” heroes, Cacau (1933), Suor (1934), and Jubiabá (1935), Amado surprisingly publishes Mar morto (Sea of Death), in which he opts for a more poetic structure. Luís Bueno emphasizes this shift in his analysis...

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