Bahia’s Special Heritage
There’s no dismissing the carnal, seething, pulsating extravaganza that is Rio’s Carnaval, but these days many travelers are heading north to Salvador da Bahia for a more authentic, participatory, and no less indefatigable pre-Lenten celebration. The infectious rhythm of Rio’s samba is replaced here by African-based axé music that engulfs the 8-mile carneval route snaking from Ondina to Pelourinho.
Through the euphoric crowds, motorized trio elétricos floats carry bands and some of Brazil’s greatest musical superstars (many of whom hail from Bahia and its environs). Carnaval preparations start months in advance, so off-season visitors can absorb some of the city’s myth and magic at the weekly rehearsals of Olodum, Salvador’s most innovative bateria (Carnaval percussion group).
With more than twenty festivals and processions highlighting each year’s calendar, you are likely to happen upon any one of them, especially if you arrive in December, January, or February. The year kicks off on December 31 and January 1 with the Festa de Nosso Senhor dos Navigantes, when the coastal city’s population celebrates the “god of navigators.” Next, Lavagem da Igreja do Bonfim (eight days starting the second Thursday in January) means African hymns and the local women washing the steps of the Church of Bonfim. Then, on February 2, Iemanjá, the African-Brazilian protectoress and mother of the sea (and counterpart to Catholicism’s Virgin Mary), is honored with the Festa de Iemanjá. Exploring the spirituality and religious character of Bahia’s African-based but purely Brazilian condomblé ceremonies is also possible almost any night in the city’s neighborhood terreiros: ask around, but be discreet and respectful.