Next Stop: Festa da Boa Morte – Cachoeira, Bahia, Brazil!

A centuries-old iron bridge connects two of the oldest cities in Brazil: São Felix on one side, and Cachoeira on the other. The Paraguaçu River runs between the two cities. Back in the day, much of the agricultural production of the interior of the state used to be transported through that river. The port of Cachoeira was the connection that shortened the way between the countryside of Bahia and the seaside town of Salvador, the former capital of Brazil.

The very architecture of the city indicates that it was a rich place. Its historical importance has granted Cachoeira the title of National Monument, and the city is now officially listed as part of Brazil’s historical and cultural heritage. Until the mid-20th century, Cachoeira was one of the most prosperous cities in Bahia. It attracted merchants from all over Brazil and barons from the agroindustry of the time. The streets, composed of townhouses and mansions, were built with the money of the sugarcane industry and the labor of enslaved Africans and their descendants.

The region in which Cachoeira is located is known as the Reconcavo Baiano, and it was one of the largest concentrations of enslaved Africans at the time. According to historical accounts, more than 40,000 slaves used to work in the sugarcane mills that were built in the region. Today, it is still possible to visit some of them, such as the Vitoria mill. One of the largest in Bahia, the Vitoria mill stood out in sugar production until 1950. Today it survives as a ruined house on the banks of the Paraguaçu River.

Out of the suffering imposed by slavery, a religious organization was born: the Sisterhood of Our Lady of the Good Death. Also know as the Irmandade da Boa Morte, the organization is the oldest African-American religious sisterhood in the Americas. The sisterhood was founded in 1823 as a church-sponsored beneficent society for Afro-Brazilian females with the goals of purchasing letters of freedom for its members, and providing community aid, especially a good and proper funeral.

For 230 years, these women have celebrated the Festa da Boa Morte (Festival of the Good Death) in the small colonial town of Cachoeira. Although it started as a Catholic fellowship that honors the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the Sisterhood of the Good Death is as well one of the oldest and most respected worship groups for Candomblé, the major African-based religion in Brazil. Today, the Festa da Boa Morte is considered to be one of the most important contemporary examples of Brazil’s religious syncretism and Afro-Brazilian cultural resistance.

The Festa da Boa Morte in the colonial town of Cachoeira is Diga Brazil’s next stop. Join us this August to experience the roots of contemporary Afro-Brazilian culture, and go home with more than just a tan.

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