When it comes to Brazil’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, Salvador is regarded as a city with a rich history. According to the Museum of Ethnography, the culture of enslaved African women wearing balangandas, gold and silver jewelry, became popular in Salvador during the 17th century.
Enslaved women were not allowed to wear decorative clothing or jewelry in the 18th and 19th centuries. According to Sheila Cunha, a seasoned goldsmith, enslaved African women who gained their freedom began wearing balangandas as a form of protest and a demonstration of their freedom.
For centuries, these women made and wore this jewelry to make a cultural statement. Those who did not have gold or silver readily available wore wooden pendants with their own message.
These enslaved women gained their freedom at a high cost and with great effort, and in their own unique way, they invested it in the balangandas. It was also thought to be a form of payment from slaveholders to favored enslaved people.
Another reason the balangandas were so important to them was that they allowed them to keep their wealth close to them while also storing value. As a result, they wore it on their arms, around their waists, and around their necks. Some women wear them as amulets because they are thought to have spiritual powers.
Balangandas have a distinct appearance with a silver ring-like structure. The jewelry piece features two parrots perched on top of fruit-like metals and sheet silver-connected leaves. According to Michael Blackman, gallery owner and art historian, they were created by blacksmiths.
According to art historians and some scholars, balangandas are among the first authentic Brazilian jewelry of African descent. Each component of the jewelry represents something different. The fig and clover represent good fortune, while the fruit represents abundance as well as African gods.
The personality and influence the jewelry item weaves around the enslaved African woman when she wears it is significant in all of the different meanings assigned to balangandas. Each balanganda was unique and was designed to reflect the tastes and meanings of the enslaved African woman. Others created balangandas as charms with the sole purpose of attracting prosperity, good health, or fortune.
The thick chain belts that come with the balanganda are another distinguishing feature. During ceremonies, enslaved African women wore it around their waists and strung it around their wrists. When not being worn, the jewelry is usually hung on door posts or placed on a high pole, according to House of Good Fortune.
There is also a subliminal meaning of appreciation for those who wear balangandas. In the event of misfortune or an accident, jewelry is created to commemorate the unfortunate incident that one triumphed over.