Anyone who travels all the way to Brazil for Carnival likely goes to Rio. I went to Bahia first to meet up with friends, one of them who lives there, and I'm glad I did.
Bahia is where I got to see black blocos, which I may not have have experienced otherwise. They're Afro-Brazilian carnival groups formed by the local Black Power movement in the 70's in response to black exclusion from Carnival by Brazil's military dictatorship.
Above, a woman in a black bloco of elder women called “Forever Young” dances in a costume made of recycled material including old CD's in the historic Pelourinho district.
I should back up and give some context. Brazil shipped in the largest number of slaves worldwide and was the last country in the western world to abolish it, just 131 years ago.
Bahia's capital of Salvador was the center of a sugar industry fueled by slave labor. Today Salvador is known as the “African soul of Brazil.” Its Carnival is steeped in African traditions including Yoruba, Kikongo/Kimbundu, Vodoun, and Wolof.
These giant statues in Praça Anchieta were amazing. They were erected for Carnival in clothing modeled after that of Candomblé priestesses, an African religion prohibited during the slave trade era that originates from the knowledge of enslaved African priests.
We ran across so many impromptu dance performances in Pelourinho’s Terreiro de Jesus plaza. The segregation and devaluation of black blocos from the main stages of Carnival persists, so black blocos often march in areas like Pelourinho, which means “whipping post,” where slaves had been tortured and sold. Today it's a tourist attraction.
We later went to Carnival in Rio, which felt grander and more commercialized, so I was glad to have experienced Bahia's as well. I highly recommend, if you're able, to do the same.
Below are some night scenes from Carnival in Bahia.