Traveling Afro-Brazil Style

Returning from nine months in Brazil, including three months of fieldwork as the group leader of 10 other female collegians for the non-profit orginization Operation Crossroads Africa, former SMC student Adrianne Jackson shared her passion for Afro-Brazilian culture with the Anthropology Club.

To a packed audience, Jackson, who in 2003 received her B.A. from USC in cultural anthropology, detailed many of her insights into, as she said, "[The] history and culture of African slaves in Brazil, and the remnants of their traditions still alive today."

She acknowledged that her own awakening had been assisted by a summer '01 trip to Belize, with SMC anthropology professor Dr. Brandon Lewis, and by Dr. Joan Barker, club advisor and head of the Anthropology Department, who she said, "is the reason many of us are here today."

Dr. Lewis, an enthusiastic supporter of Jackson, said, "Adrianne is one of the most accepting people I've known in my whole life. She is a real go-getter. She's been to Africa, Belize and elsewhere, studying different cultures. She's done it."

Jackson told of the difficult conditions she encountered in the favela (slums) of Santa Luzia, which is located on the hillsides overlooking Salvador-Bahia, in Brazil, as her team provided education, mentoring, food and clothing for the poor.

Favelas are often built on the hillsides above many Brazilian cities with the wealthy living below. The movie "City of God," Brazil's entry for the 2003 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, depicts one such favela. They started in the late 19th century, following the liberation of the slaves. Rio de Janeiro itself has at least 600 favelas.

The people of Santa Luzia suffer extreme poverty and use whatever materials are available to construct their homes - clay, sand, rocks, used sheet metal and wood. Their lives exist on the brink of survival. Many children run around naked because there are no clothes for them and malnutrition is rampant.

"It was some of the most emotionally challenging work I've ever done," said Jackson, who has worked through Operation Crossroads Africa for the past few years. Curiously, it is the poor who have the amazing views.

Despite the poverty of the people, there is a great enthusiasm for their culture and traditions, especially in Salvador, which according to Jackson, "is to music as Hollywood is to film."

In fact, it is during the annual Carnival held in Salvador - which most Brazilians prefer over the more famous carnival held in Rio - that Brazil's great variety of music is heard.

Even more popular then Brazilian reggae, Brazilian hip-hop and Bosa Nova, is "Axé" music. For about 20 years it has been the people's favorite music, especially during Carnival.

With Luis Caldes and Margareth Menezes playing for thousands of listeners, the singing from the crowd during the recent 2005 summer Festival de Verao, held in January, (the seasons are reversed south of the equator) was louder than the performers.

The crowds were so huge that, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, for the past two years, Salvador has been known as the "biggest party on the planet."

"It's six days of dancing in the streets," said Jackson. "It's everything you can imagine and more."

With her hand in many projects, Jackson is excited about where she has been and where her life is going.