Read Your Way Around the World is a series that explores the world through books.
I was born in Salvador in the Brazilian state of Bahia and lived nearby until I was 15. But it was when I left that I really got to know my city. How was I able to find out more about my birthplace while traveling away from home? It might sound rather cliché but, I assure you, literature made it possible: it took me on a journey, long and deep, home, enveloping me in words and imagination.
A regular visitor to public libraries, I discovered Jorge Amado’s books. I already knew something about Amado, not from reading him but because he was an omnipresent figure in the cultural life of Salvador. Entering the world of her novels began a great love story, for two reasons: I experienced the power of writing in the hands of a capable storyteller – one who captivates us and takes us to the heart of the story – and, subsequently, I I recognized myself as one of the protagonists of Amado, because his books are inhabited by the people of my community.
Salvador was the first capital of Brazil, founded in 1549 as part of the Portuguese colonial project in the Americas. In yesterday’s Salvador there were Europeans, especially Portuguese and Dutch, but also indigenous people, especially the Tupinambá. Many different ethnicities from Africa were also represented, such as the Yoruba, with roots in Nigeria, Benin (formerly Dahomey) and Togo, as well as the Bantu people of the Republic of Congo and Angola. With wit and creativity, the heirs of the African diaspora – a large majority, since approximately 80% of Salvador’s current population identifies as Afro-Brazilian – have shaped the city’s rich and beautiful cultural life, making Salvador a living monument to African cultures in the Americas.
What should I read before packing my bags?
To understand the formation of our unique society and, consequently, the urban landscape of Salvador, one should read, first of all, “The Story of Rufinus: Slavery, Freedom and Islam in the Black Atlantic”, by João José Reis, Flávio dos Santos Gomes and Marcus JM de Carvalho. Rufino was a lunufa, or Muslim spiritual leader, born in the Oyo Empire in present-day Nigeria and enslaved in his teens. “The Story of Rufino” is an epic tale, encompassing the life of a man in search of freedom and the story of the development of Salvador itself, a place inextricably linked to the diaspora across the black Atlantic.