Saturday, 5 April 2014

Changing traditions

History, changing local contexts and forces of globalization impact on how we look at our traditions and how we decide to safeguard them. I am remembering some of my travels in different parts of the world to reflect on this theme. In the first part of this post, I had focused on "Theme-parkification", where traditions are becoming part of the new market culture, from a journey in China. This post focuses on my journeys in two Portuguese speaking countries - Brazil and Mozambique.

The Bahaiana culture

Bahia state in north-east of Brazil is known for its beautiful sea coast and relaxed fun-loving people. Bahia was one of the areas which received highest number of slaves brought from Africa. Those slaves had rebelled against the colonial masters and sown the seeds of Brazilian independence from Portugal.

I want to focus on some aspects of traditional culture in Bahia, which are interlinked. The first is about the particular traditional dresses worn by Bahia women, mainly of African origin. I think that these costumes are a synthesis of African and Colonial traditions, probably influenced by cultures of other Portuguese colonies such as those in Goa and Macao.

The picture below shows two young women wearing the traditional Bahaiana dresses in a restaurant of Salvador de Bahia, that makes traditional Bahia food. Thus, the Bahaiana traditional culture is used as hook to attract tourists and also to underline the specific food served in the restaurant.

However, the Bahaiana culture is very much alive, outside the tourist restaurants - if you take a walk along the sea coast, you can still women wearing their traditional attires, selling food and other goods along the roadside.

Traditions - images by Sunil Deepak

The next image has a group of kids from poor communities in Amazon region in Para state of Brazil, practicing Capoeira. They explain it as a martial art that traces its roots in Africa and came to Brazil with the slaves. However, I am not sure if in Africa today there is something similar to Capoeira.

Perhaps these were some kinds of dances for men that became more complicated and refined among the descendants of African slaves, in some way moulded by the colonizers?

Traditions - images by Sunil Deepak

The third image is from a lake park in Salvador de Bahia and has statues of Orisha deities that represents the syncretism between ancient Yoruban traditions of the slaves brought from West Africa and Christianity of the European colonizers.

Traditions - images by Sunil Deepak

The way these two traditions, Yoruban and Christian, have met to give rise to different new cultural and religious traditions in different parts of south and central America and Caribbean is fascinating and underlines the way different cultures meet and change each other over periods of hundreds or thousands of years. It certainly makes me wonder about the way our own traditions and religions are evolving through our encounters with others in the virtual spaces of internet.

Reclaiming dignity of native cultures

The next three images are also from Brazil, from a primary school in the old town of Goias Velho. Max, one of the key figures behind this school, believes that the culture of European colonizers along with the contemporary American pop culture today dominates among majority of Brazilians and it denigrates the indigenous people (Amerindians) and the descendants of former African slaves.

Traditions - images by Sunil Deepak

Traditions - images by Sunil Deepak

Traditions - images by Sunil Deepak

Thus, in the school, they have different activities for the children to know and value the traditions of Amerindians and black Africans. "Feel proud of the African and Amerindian bloods that we all carry, and keep alive that part of your culture", is the aim of such activities shown in these images.

With some differences, I think that the same arguments can be made for dominating and minority cultures and traditions in different parts of the world - between the Han and minority communities in China, between English speakers and Hindi speakers in India, between upper caste/class persons and dalit/tribal persons. Sometimes, while a group of persons is made to feel inferior, they themselves discriminate against others, as between Hindi speakers and Bhojpuri or Maithili speakers in north India.

Traditions of the colonized

The next two images are from Espungabeira from Manica province in Mozambique (Africa). A group of volunteer women working with persons infected with HIV (AIDS), some of them had HIV positive persons in their families, were dancing and then some of them, enacted a community-theatre piece for creating awareness about AIDS risks and treatment.

While watching them I was wondering how much of the traditions and cultures of their ancestors, before the Europeans had occupied their lands, changed their crops, clothes and religions, were still alive in their gestures and sounds.

Traditions - images by Sunil Deepak

Traditions - images by Sunil Deepak

People have already written about the "traditional clothes" worn by the women in Africa - a tradition that is not so old and has links with the colonial past, when clothes from Indian or Indonesian colonies were brought to the African continent.


I feel that colonization in the 17th-20th centuries  almost completely decimated native people of Americas but still some information about their precolonial cultures and traditions were documented and safeguarded.

In north Africa and Asia, in countries like Egypt, India, Indonesia and China, the people were too many and their cultures and traditions were more deeply rooted, and thus the impact of colonial rules was more limited. Therefore these cultures and traditions have survived almost intact though there were some colonial influences that have persisted.

On the other hand, it seems that in Africa the subjugation of peoples and obliteration of their traditions and cultures was more complete, perhaps because they were still largely oral. I got a similar feeling of a deeper destruction of ancient traditions and cultures even in the Philippines.

However, I also feel that compared to the past, the technological revolutions of this century with the spread of mall and brands culture spearheaded by industries, satellite TV and encounters in the virtual web-space, will have an even more pervasive impact on our traditions, cultures, food, languages, clothes and religions in the coming decades.

Let me conclude this reflection with an image of a folk-dancer from India, whose dance was not part of a cultural show for the tourists, but it was a part of a social-cultural event for the local community.

Traditions - images by Sunil Deepak
 I feel that increasingly in future, such opportunities of expressing traditions will become rarer, while tourist or commercial expression of cultures will take precedence, especially in the cities!



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Mahesh and Divya for your appreciation :)

  2. This is a wonderful post, Sunil! This "theme-parkificiation" of native traditions, all this commericalization is really mind-boggling. While some of that is already happening in alarming ways in India too, I hope some sanity prevails and this could be curtailed. The one good thing about India is that it is so BIG and the traditions/customs are so diverse that at least some will escape from this negative trend. Beautiful picture, as always!

    1. When I think about India, I keep on telling myself that we have survived millenniums of mixing with other cultures without losing our essential Indian tracts so even in future, we will not become a homogenized part of MacWorld, but the commercialization does seem to be winning, especially in the big cities! Let us hopefor the best.

      Thanks Beloo :)

  3. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post !

    1. I am so happy that my words and images touched you Ananya. Thanks for your appreciation :)


Thanks for visiting Arre Kya Baat Hai and for your comment!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...