The Bantu peoples in Brazil

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By Afrânio Catani*

The Bantu culture is deeply impregnated in the life and daily life of Brazilians, but it is usually not identified as such.

About 15 years ago, my life was confused: I had ended a marriage that had lasted more than two and a half decades and, at the same time, I had obtained a sabbatical semester at the university, which allowed me to hold conferences in several Brazilian states and in some Argentine provinces. He traveled full of papers, books, notes, since he had assumed commitments to write five or six texts for publishers and academic journals. I managed to fulfill the obligations incurred and, in the following months, everything I wrote was published – or rather, almost everything…

All that remains is a short presentation, written in Buenos Aires, in April 2004, for the book by Celso Prudente and Renato Gilioli, The Bantu peoples in Brazil (Mogi das Cruzes, Oriom Editora) which, for reasons I cannot recover, ended up being edited only in 2013 – I only found out about it these days –, with very restricted circulation. I don't own a copy of it. I understand that the book has the most relevant content and themes, which is why I recover, in the following lines, this presentation written on Buenos Aires soil.

bantu culture

Celso Prudente and Renato Gilioli offer us this little book, The Bantu peoples in Brazil, in which they rescue the contribution of those peoples to Brazilian culture and society in a broad sense.

Nei Lopes, author of the Bantu dictionary of Brazil (1995), explains that the word “Banto” was used for the first time in 1862, meaning the term ba-ntu “human beings” in approximately 500 languages ​​of black Africa. The researcher indicates that the influence of Bantu languages, especially Kimbundu, Umbundu and Quicongo, acted decisively for the configuration of the Portuguese language in Brazil, highlighting that in addition to these three, the main languages ​​are the following: Gangala, cuanhama, iaca, macua, nhaneca, nhungue, nianja, quingana, quioco (chokwe), ronga, Swahili (swahili, “a general language with a strong influence of Arabic, spoken mainly on the West African coast, a region that was traditionally a sphere of influence for Arab trade”), Tonga and Shona (Shona).

On a daily basis, we speak a significant amount of Bantu slogans, which are now definitively incorporated into our language, which the authors had the good idea of ​​incorporating from Lopes' aforementioned dictionary. Just for illustrative purposes, I highlight a few: harangue, nanny, asshole, mess, bullshit, band, banzo, mess, batuque, bingo, silly, bomb, ass, caboclo, bucket, youngest, cafuné, calombo, paddy wagon, candango, canga, one-eyed, henchman, capenga, cazuza, cry, nap, cuíca, dendê, deceive, farofa, gossip, cornmeal, fuzarca, ginga, see-saw, iaiá, scarlet eggplant, rooster, macumba, crazy, mambembe, castor bean, mandinga, basil, marimbondo, matutar, matuto, miçanga, milonga, kid, whore, quilombo, grouchy, samba, slave quarters, clog, thong, tango, xepa, curse, zabumba, get angry, zanzar, mock, zonzo, buzz, zunzum.

The authors, astutely, explore two dimensions of black culture in Brazil that permeate the entire book, namely: there is “a unity arising from the exchanges and interactions existing between different black-African peoples prior to the arrival of Europeans to the basements of slave ships and slave quarters” and, also, “there are and have been various peoples, ethnic groups and states among Africans”. From these two parameters, they detail the histories of the various dimensions, exchanges and African nations, generally little known among us.

Celso and Renato's greatest merit consists in showing how the Bantu culture is “deeply impregnated in the life and daily life of Brazilians, but usually it is not identified as such”. They also emphasize that the colonizers made, over time, a distinction between the “Sudanese” and the “Bantu”, considering the former endowed with a “superior” culture, endowed with greater “intelligence”. In fact, the designation “Bantu” refers to the linguistic-cultural unit of a large number of peoples from Central and Southern Africa and, “in the context of forced immigration to Brazil (and to the Americas in general), they represent one of the great groups where enslaved Africans came from”.

They add that this supposed evolutionary differentiation between these two groups of Africans, slowly and cruelly elaborated by traffickers and slave masters, reinforced the reductionism of Africanity to the Yoruba vector (one of the ethnicities of the “Sudanese” group) – for this reason it is found a small table in the book, establishing the correspondences between Sudanese and Bantu religions.

The text, in didactic language, examines the human geography of the Bantu peoples, elaborates a brief recapitulation of life in the Kingdom of Congo, describes the arrival of the Portuguese in Africa and the subsequent development of the slave trade, establishes the relations between the Bantu and Brazilian cultures , as well as the significant contributions of these African peoples to Brazilian society as a whole.

The Bantu peoples in Brazil thus becomes one of the motives in the broad struggle that is the effective insertion of blacks in Brazilian society. Knowing part of the Bantu culture, we get to know part of ourselves – the Bantu culture is “deeply impregnated in the life and daily life of Brazilians, but it is not usually identified as such and, perhaps, there lies a relevant dimension in the materialization of concepts about us and on others, thus minimizing the formulation (and practice) of preconceptions.

*Afranio Catani is a retired professor at USP and visiting professor at UFF.

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