In the Brazilian city of Salvador, Bahia, there is a complicated cultural identity. With the help of tourist guides written by locals, the region established￼ exotic Afro-Brazilian culture as an attraction. Dr. Anadelia A. Romo, Associate Professor of Latin American History, explores how Afro-Brazilians in Salvador, Brazil developed a composite identity through tourism.
In the article, “Writing Bahian Identity: Crafting New Narratives of Blackness in Salvador, Brazil, 1940s-1950s,” published in the Journal of Latin American Studies, Romo explains that Bahian history included battles with imperialism, industrialization, and economic monopolies controlled by the white elite. Only after a long fight for inclusion was the Afro-Brazilian community recognized as essential to the makeup of the Bahian region and the city of Salvador.
Local authors of tourist guides such as Jorge Amado, Odorico Tavares, and Jose Vallardes connected black culture to the rest of the region and portrayed Salvador and Bahia as extravagantly foreign. Romo says, “[T]ourist guides revealed a new enthusiasm for African-based rituals and further helped create a broader Afro-Bahian aesthetic.” Local tour guides praised the allure of Bahia and the credible authority of its native citizens.
As the Brazilian economy prospered, tourism increased. She notes that “New leisure, rising incomes, nationalism and more efficient transport combined to create a rising middle class suddenly willing and more able to travel.” The rise of a middle class and the increased wealth across the country boosted domestic tourism and the local economy.
However, Romo also describes how the city still struggled. Domestic and international tourism picked up, but poverty, scarcity of amenities, and lack of government funding for tourist programs slowed the evolution of Bahia and Salvador’s internal progress.
In Salvador, the large black population livens the area with their traditional celebrations, cuisine, and spirituality; the city’s pull is the exotic culture. Inviting visitors interested in the city and regional culture played on both the region’s difficult history and the affluent tourism industry. But true justice would require more balance between economic development and the needs of the underrepresented.