Facts About ‘Little Africa’, The Afro-Brazilian Community Where Every Enslaved African Is Free

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Felipe Restrepo Acosta

 

Little Africa, the Afro-Brazilian community, is home to thousands of Africans, but it is a region where its Black heritage is under attack from local authorities. Some historians attribute it to colonial authorities’ efforts to push the Black history of the enslaved who have made Rio de Janeiro their home to the back burner.

According to rioonwatch.org, folktales from Little Africa have been used in poems, music, and cultural narratives, and the site has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The community of African descent, known traditionally as Peda Sal Dol in Portuguese, which literally means large and salt, believes they are not in servitude. That is why the city is known as Little Africa.

The region was popular in salt trading in the early 1800s because the stones on the beach played an important role in crystallizing the salt. However, the region’s story changed over time when the presence of enslaved Africans made it a hub of their survival after slavery was outlawed in Brazil in 1831. Slave laborers earned their keep in Little Africa, which became a safe haven for freed Africans from Bahia.

The enslaved Africans entertained everyone, and Little Africa eventually became its own community. Despite the African community’s large presence in Brazil, there are concerns that authorities are attempting to obscure their identity and culture. Historians contend that, despite recent port city renovations such as the Porto Maravilha project and the African Heritage Circuit, the presence and role of enslaved descendants has been subtly buried.

Little Africa was designated as a city with a rich African heritage and the birthplace of samba in 2005. This connection was made because Little Africa is known in Rio de Janeiro for popularizing samba and Carnival. According to Riotur, despite efforts to diminish African heritage, the people of Little Africa have been preserving their culture through oral tradition and music.

It is a Black-populated region that has been recognized by London’s TimeOut magazine as one of the best places for tourists to visit, with lively pubs and serene beaches.

Pedra do Sal’s history is intertwined with the transatlantic slave trade, as many slaves were transported to the region to work on plantations. Little Africa also has monuments commemorating Brazil’s slave past as well as rich Afro-Brazilian culture, history, handicrafts, and food. The city practically thrives on its colonial past and customs passed down through generations.

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