August 12, 1912
December 2, 1972
Edison Carneiro was born in Salvador, Bahia. In addition to earning a law degree in 1935, he dedicated his life to journalism, the study of black culture and folklore, and political militancy. At every step he sought to defend communist ideals and Brazil's Afro-descendant population.
During the 1930s, influenced by his family and by larger debates about the role of blacks in Brazilian society—especially works by Gilberto Freyre, Renato Mendonça, and Artur Ramos—Carneiro became one of the most well-known and effective advocates of Afro-Brazilian studies. In 1932 he presented two essays at the First Afro-Brazilian Congress in Recife, both of which previewed future interests: "A Situação do negro no Brasil" (The Situation of the Black in Brazil) and a study of Africaninfluenced religion titled "Xangô."
Between 1936 and 1937, Carneiro prepared and published his first books, Religiões Negras (Black Religions) and Negros Bantus: Notas de ethnographia religiosa e de folklore (Black Bantus: Ethnographic Notes on Religion and Folklore). During the same period, he collaborated with Aydano Couto Ferraz and Reginaldo Guimarães to organize the Second Afro-Brazilian Congress, in Salvador. According to contemporary accounts, the second gathering was largely successful, despite criticisms made by Gilberto Freyre, the luminary scholar who organized the First Congress but publicly denounced the second for being disorganized.
In addition to Brazilian intellectuals, the conference in Salvador brought together foreign scholars such as Melville Herskovits, Donald Pierson, and (from Cuba) Salvador Garcia Agüero. Participants discussed themes ranging from religion, music, dance, class relations, race, and culture to assessments of the study of blacks in Brazilian history and culture. The conference produced a volume titled O Negro no Brasil (The Black in Brazil), published in 1940 by Civilização Brasileira.
The Second Congress was also notable for the participation and presentations made by leaders from Salvador's terreiros : communities dedicated to the worship of Candomblé, a popular African-derived religion. Those notable participants included Martiniano do Bonfim (during the late nineteenth century an informant for Nina Rodrigues, a leading researcher at the Bahia Medical School who took particular interest in Afro-Brazilian religion), Manoel Bernardino da Paixão, Manuel Vitorino dos Santos, and Eugênia Ana dos Santos. Dos Santos, better known as Donha Aninha, hosted a party for the conference's participants at the terreiro of her Axé do Opô Afonjá congregation.
The Second Congress also led to the founding of the "Union of Afro-Brazilian Sects of Bahia," which united all of the Bahian Candomblé communities. The federation's larger purpose was to fight persecution against Candomblé and to defend religious freedom. With the support of Carneiro, Martiniano do Bonfim won the presidency. The conference also helped alter the way that politicians and the press treated African-influenced religions in Bahia, a change affected largely by the writings of Carneiro and the increased exposure that religious and black studies had won in academic circles.
Carneiro's time in Bahian terreiros and his relationships with religious leaders allowed him to record important ethnographic observations during the 1930s. He also facilitated research by the likes of Donald Pierson, Ruth Landes, and Roger Bastide. At the onset of President Getúlio Vargas's dictatorial Estado Novo (New State), Carneiro found political refuge in the house of Donha Aninha. In the preface to Negros Bantus, Carneiro thanked the religious leaders, as well as the capoeiristas (practitioners of capoeira, a combination of martial art and dance) and samba musicians (samba combined musical streams from Africa, Europe, and the Americas, becoming by the 1920s and 1930s the de facto national rhythm), naming them all as the book's collective author. Carneiro's relationship with those whom he studied would mark his oeuvre for the rest of his career.
After moving to Rio de Janeiro in 1939, Carneiro continued writing while remaining active in academic and political circles. In addition to dozens of articles and encyclopedia entries, he published widely read books, such as Candomblés da Bahia (1948), Antologia do Negro Brasileiro (1950), Linguagem Popular da Bahia (1951), O Negro em Minas Gerais (1956), A Sabedoria Popular (1957), Samba de Umbigada (1961), Ladinos e Crioulos (1964), and Dinâmica do Folclore (1965). Folguedos Tradicionais was published posthumously in 1974.
With the organization of the Brazilian Folklore Movement in the late 1940s, and with increased government interest, Carneiro assumed a crucial role in national projects to preserve folklore. In 1961, he was named executive director of the Campaign in Defense of Folklore, leaving the post three years later after a coup established the military regime that would rule until 1985. Even after the coup, Carneiro remained an active intellectual, and in 1966 he traveled to Africa, chosen by the Ministry of Foreign Relations to represent Brazil at the First Black Art Festival in Dakar, Senegal.
Carneiro's interest in folklore is indicative of his larger desire to understand and explain the formation of Brazilian culture. To Carneiro, Africans and their descendants made enormous contributions to that culture, but in a 1953 article (included in Ladinos e Crioulos ) he pushed his contemporaries to see "the Negro as a Brazilian with black skin" (Carneiro, 1964, p. 117). By doing so, he challenged the notions that black populations were isolated from the rest of Brazil and that studying them meant only studying Africa. The "Afro-Brazilian phase," which made blacks strangers in Brazil, would be definitively closed. Carneiro considered the search for a black cultural personality a "forced Americanization of the problem." Instead, he sought details about what he saw as a reciprocal relationship between whites and blacks in Brazil.
In 1962 Carneiro organized another conference, this time in order to discuss and implement strategies to protect and preserve samba music. The conference's participants declared samba to be a unique manifestation of Brazilianness (they called samba, among other things, the "legitimate expression of our people" and "one of the cultural manifestations that most clearly distinguishes our nationality") and felt the music to be threatened by the influence of international music. Participants issued a manifesto titled "Carta do Samba" which identified samba schools (associations that, in addition to serving as community centers throughout the year, organize parades and events during Carnival) as the guardians of traditional samba. Having already established numerous links between academic and nonacademic circles, Carneiro was well connected among the schools, just as he had been among Candomblé communities in Salvador during the 1930s. In 1960 he received honorary titles from three of the oldest and most famous samba schools: Portela, Mangueira, and Salgueiro.
Carneiro, Edison. Carta do Samba: aprovada pelo I Congresso Nacional do Samba, 28 de novembro/2 de dezembro de 1962. Rio de Janeiro: Ministério da Educação e Cultura, Campanha de Defesa do Folclore Brasileiro, 1962.
Carneiro, Edison. Ladinos e Crioulos, estudos sobre o negro no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 1964.
Carneiro, Edison. Religiões Negras, Negros Bantus, 2d ed. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 1981.
O Negro no Brasil. Congresso Afro-Brasileiro 2 (Bahia), 1940. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 1940.
Oliveira, Freitas Waldir e Lima, Vivaldo Costa, ed. Cartas de Edison Carneiro a Artur Ramos. São Paulo, Brazil: Corrupio, 1987.
martha abreu (2005)
Translated by Marc Hertzman