Rio’s slave history forgotten amid Olympic media glitz

Rio de Janeiro, Aug 14 (IANS) As foreign journalists covering the Olympics here relax at night in the provided accommodation, few of them are aware that the apartment buildings sit on a land which was once a mass grave for African slaves.

Authorities and developers in Rio might have forgotten that past, and in the eyes of the residents of Camorim Quilombo, which lies near the media village in western Rio, the developers have forgotten the people of the present too, reports Efe.

Quilombos are villages originally settled centuries ago by runaway slaves and today Rio has 20 of them, with about 20 direct descendants of slaves living in Camorim Quilombo.

People in Camorim believe the site under the village contains archaeological remains of their ancestors, which Rio developers cleared away and built over without consulting the Camorim community.

“They did not hold a public hearing about the decision to develop and pull down old trees and part of our territory that is recognised as belonging to the Quilombo,” said Adilson Almeida on Saturday, the leader of Camorim Quilombo and a seventh generation descendant of slaves.

As Adilson holds a small model of a traditional slave dwelling, he explains that his last enslaved ancestor from centuries ago was named Caetano, and worked in sugarcane fields near the hill beside which the media village now sits.

As a means of keeping alive the community’s connection to the land, the people of Camorim want the authorities to return some of the land so that they can build a cultural centre to commemorate Afro-Brazilian culture.

“We want to rescue Brazilian culture and keep alive the memory of our history in a positive way. People focus on slavery but our focus is on the cultural and positive side of the people,” said Almeida.

Though the community hasn’t gotten the land back yet, they’re still keeping their heritage alive through traditional music, dance and martial art of Capoeira, which slaves brought into Brazil in the 16th century.

It was originally intended as a self-defensive fighting style for slaves and later developed into a hybrid of dance and martial art.

Capoeira music consists of singing, drumming and the use of a berimbau, a bow-like percussion instrument which sets the rhythm during Capoeira exercises.

Almeida’s daughter Rosilane, 28, and son Willlians, 22, practice the rhythmic kicks, jumps and flips of capoeira along with the community three times a week, as others stand around them in a circle playing Capoeira instruments.

In 2004, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) inscribed Capoeira on the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and recognized it as a contribution of Afro-Brazilian culture.

Just a few kilometres away from Camorim Quilombo where community members practice Capoeira outside their homes, Olympic athletes now compete in multi-million dollar venues for athletic and international glory.

Though some might suggest that all the investment and publicity generated by the extravagance of the Olympics will trickle down to all parts of society in Rio, Almeida sees it differently.

“It did not bring anything good to the community or me,” said Almeida.



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