From Oyó to Bahia

I finished grad school in 2011 and instead of immediately turning the chapters into articles and a book, I wanted to do something more hands-on… So I took the themes–100% indebted to Robert Farris Thompson, Kamau Brathwaite, Wilson Harris, and Gates’s Signifying Monkey–and used them to rebuild an international education study center in Salvador da Bahia. New courses, new strategies for dealing with safety, digital storytelling, multimedia writing, and the use of that incredible city and crown of the Yoruba diaspora as a living text. 

Digital Painting by Eder Muniz | Blue Sage Art Gallery | Art for Scholarships Initiative

Thanks to the Fulbright Program’s award to expand my dissertation research, I stayed in Bahia for four years (2011-2015) and met some of the most incredible artists I have ever come across. Their work is going to be featured in a new online art gallery that supports artists–some very well established, some emerging voices–and the design, development, and implementation of scholarship programs. The concept is that the artists are from the countries where I have either designed, developed, or run experiential learning programs, and many of these extraordinary artists have taught inside of the education projects.  

“Eu Sou Todas” | Digital Painting by Eder Muniz

At the very end of my time in Bahia, the great gift came: the King, Queen, and Royal Drummers and Dancers of Oyó, Nigeria came to Bahia and were welcomed by six of the longest-running Candomblé communities. 

Ismael Silva’s photograph, Caminho | Part of the Art for Scholarships Initiative

At Ile Oxumaré — which was home to my first creative writing teaching experience way back in 2002, when I was on a Benjamin A. Gilman service learning grant — the Babalorixá of the house asked me to translate for between the royal family and the elders of the Candomblé house. 

For someone who had been writing about cultural shifts, adaptations, and translations–all the while witnessing this immense meeting of Yoruba religions on both sides of the Atlantic–the gift also confirmed that I needed to write about that first teaching experience in 2002.

Wilson Carrero Okenlá, Master Bead Artist of the Yoruba Orisha tradition | Art for Scholarships

I just did not know how to, how to express the magnitude of teaching in a city-wide Afro-Brazilian youth empowerment project inside of Ilé Oxumaré and to be teaching creative writing, working with voice and language in the very space of ceremony and ritual, with Xangô’s pole–Orisha of justice and life force, whose essence is captured brilliantly in the piece above by Wilson Carrero Okenlá–reaching between the heavens and that part of earth on the Old Sugar Mill, Engenho Velho da Federação.

photograph by Ismael Silva, Art for Scholarships

That point on earth, Engenho Velho da Federação, was home to diverse West African and Central West African “nation” groups, brought by force to Bahia during the Atlantic slave trades. And–as oral sources from the Candomblé communities told me–the hill of the Old Mill was populated into sections according to those ethnolinguistic groups. These groupings, or “nations” as Kamau Brathwaite and others call them, had the unintended effect of preserving African languages and religions in Bahia, and of forming nation language. More on this coming.

I have started to write this experience. The work of the artists, some deeply connected to Ilé Oxumaré, is inspiring me! 

To be continued in the next @siroccoblue post!   

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