Friday, August 22, 2008

Bahia Style

Flaunting flawless skin, a vibrant spirit and colorful fashion sense, Brazilian women are famous for their beauty. On my recent trip to Northern and Southern regions of Brazil, I wasn't shocked to discover that Brazilian women mostly rock 3-4 inch stilettos in sand, over cobblestones and through airports. Nor was I amazed that most wear very little make-up and exude a natural beauty that's eternally kissed by the sun. What grabbed my attention was the realization that it wasn't the glammed up cariocas that strut down Copacabana and Ipanema who captured my memory. It was the baianas, the striking women from Bahia that wear traditional white dresses, fly headwraps and ritual beads, who really rule.

Baianas represent the cultural symbol of the state of Bahia. Located in the Northern region of this huge country, Bahia is considered the cradle of Brazilian culture and Baianas personify it. Brazil claims the largest population of African descendents outside of Africa and Bahia is where the culture and the people are centered. Like all African art forms, there is more to Baiana fashion than just the superficial. The Baiana tradition of fabric and design was brought from West African Fon and Yoruba cultures. The weave, embroidery and placement of the fabric reflects social position and family background. The beads that all Baianas wear represent orixas or deities from the prevalent candomble religion, which mixes traditional African rituals with Catholicism. The way a baiana wraps her head, sashays down Salvador streets and smiles graciously, all reveal innate style that can't be duplicated.

Outside of Brazil, Carmen Miranda's appropriation of baiana style with fruit laden hats and exaggerated hip-swaying is the most familar image of a Bahian woman. But the true image can be found in the Baianas de acaraje, the women who sell the famed black-eyed pea fritters on Salvador streets. They work hard to earn a living, frying the fritters in sizzling palm oil, ladling peppers and onions over them in the hot sun and jostling for visibilty among Salvador's hundreds of peddlers. And yet, I never saw a splash of palm oil on any white dress. Never caught a headwrap skewed out of place or face that didn't beam invitingly. To me, that's the true essence of style; maintaining who you are whatever the situation.


Anonymous said...

Wow! What a trip! Can you be any more fantastic! I love the colors and patterns & the images. I dont travel much, but it's great to check your blog and see the world!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much Guy! I hope you enjoy traveling with me!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words about our site. I have enjoyed reading yours and will definitely link you up! Love love your stories about Brazil...this is our next trip. Its still in the planning stages but we definitely wanted to visit Bahia, and your post really has me excited! All the best!

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I look foward to hearing about your experiences!