22.04.2011 - UNESCO Office in Brasilia

International Year for People of African Descent

© UNESCO/Edson FogaçaUBO director, Vincent Defourny, gives the General History of Africa collection to minister Luiza Bairros and governor Jacques Wagner in Salvador.

The months of March and April 2011 were significant for the African-descendant population in Brazil. In the international year focused on these population, the UNESCO office in the country organized a series of regional meetings and debates to launch the first complete Portuguese edition of UNESCO’s General History of Africa (GHA), which was simultaneously distributed to 8 thousand universities and public libraries in Brazil.

In December 2010, the Collection had been made available online on a cost-free basis, with the support and funding of the Ministry of Education (MEC) and the technical coordination of the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCAR).

Along with the debates and round tables, there were cultural gatherings and activities related to the African-Brazilian tradition, and the integration with social movements as part of the events.

In the words of Vincent Defourny, UNESCO Brasília Office Director: “Brazil is returning to Africa its own history. And launching the Portuguese edition of the collection in several parts of the country is something that helps rebuild the bridge between the nation and the African Continent – especially because this action is in tune with old desires and claims of this population, as it portrays and disseminates aspects of the identities and characteristics that helped shaping the Brazilian people”.

So far, there have been events in five Brazilian states. It is expected that until the end of the year, all the regions of the country can be visited.

Celebrating the integration

In the state of Ceará, the date of March 25 is the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the city of Redenção – the first Brazilian city to end slavery. On this date, UNESCO Brasília Office Director Vincent Defourny made a special presentation of the collection at the recently-created University for the International Integration of African-Brazilian Lusophony (UNILAB) and at the municipal hall of Redenção, city where the university is located.

Culture and tradition

In the state of Bahia, which is marked by the highest percentage of African-descendant population of the country, the celebrations lasted for three days and counted with the presence of four African experts who are members of UNESCO’s international committee for the pedagogical use of the GHA collection – Elikia Mbokolo, Doulaye Konate, Jean Michel Tali and Ali Moussa Iye, chief of UNESCO’s Section of Intercultural Dialogue.

The first to receive the collection were social movements with a strong African-descendant tradition in the state and in the country: Ilê Ayê and Olodum, which for two decades have worked to secure equality and inclusion for the black population through culture and education.

The traditions were also focused in a meeting in Cachoeira, a city in the region of Recôncavo Baiano known for being the cradle of Samba de Roda, a musical style that is now an Intangible Cultural Heritage of mankind. Along with a round table at the Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia, there were visits to a religious brotherhood and to a Candomblé-yard, where visitors had the opportunity to experience more about religious syncretism and the preservation of African religious traditions, as well as about the fight to preserve cultural identity and dignity.

In Salvador, at the Federal University of Bahia, the launching was marked by an entire day of debates that gathered African and Brazilian experts. The Minister of the Special Secretariat of Policies to Promote Racial Equality, Luiza Barros, and state Governor Jacques Wagner took part in the meeting and received a copy of the collection from the hands of UNESCO’s Brasília Office Director, and from the Coordinator of Diversity of the Ministry of Education, Antônio Mário Ferreira.

History in focus

In the capital city of São Paulo, the theater Tucarena at PUC became a small site for accommodating all the participants of the debates that took place during the entire day on Wednesday, April 6. Students, academics, scholars and social movements debated with experts the issues related to the production of historical knowledge, the academic education of professionals, black identity and the genesis of UNESCO’s collection on General African History. The Brazilian expert Fernando Mourão, who took part in the scientific committee that wrote the collection, and Brazilian historian and Ambassador Alberto Costa e Silva were some of the guest speakers invited by UNESCO for the meeting.

Film and education

In Minas Gerais, the launching event was marked by two special moments. The first was the screening and debate on the documentary film “Terra Deu, Terra Come” [‘The Earth Gave, the Earth Eats], directed by Rodrigo Siqueira. With an innovative language, the film approaches important issues for the African-Brazilian culture, such as the presence of the tradition of the Bantu-peoples in the culture of Minas Gerais, and aspects of the history of mining in the region of Diamantina, having as its scenery the Quarter of Indaiá, a Quilombo-community. On April 13, the auditorium of the School of Education of the Federal University of Minas Gerais hosted a discussion of experts on the educational paths of the ethnic and racial relations, and their potentials as the Portuguese version of the General African History is made available.

State celebration

On April 19, it was the time for Pernambuco to host a presentation of the collection, at the invitation of the state government, to mark the opening of the state’s activities in connection with the International Year for People of African Descent. According to Jorge Arruda, special advisor of the government, “the work strengthens and empowers the affirmative actions, the promotion of racial equality and the combat to institutional racism”.

The transformative power of culture

The collection has almost 10 thousand pages. It is the result of 30 years of work by 350 researchers, coordinated by a scientific committee of 39 experts – two thirds of them, African. Making it available in Portuguese and organizing the regional launching-events are parts of a strategy to support the implementation of Act 10639/2003, which includes the teaching of the history of Africa and of African and African-Brazilian culture in the Brazilian schools.

“Launching the collection is the first step to effectively and properly include ethnic and racial issues in the Brazilian education. We are currently working so that the contents of the collection can be transformed and adapted to a broader public, reaching the spaces were professionals of education are trained, and the classrooms of the country”, affirms Marilza Regattieri, coordinator of the Program of Education on Ethnic and Racial Relations of UNESCO’s office in Brazil. UNESCO, MEC and UFSCAR are now preparing pedagogical materials to be released before the end of 2011, so that the contents of the collection may reach a wider audience and the spaces of basic education.

In the last instance, these actions aim at contributing to the transformation of the ethnic and racial relations in the country. “UNESCO believes that knowledge is the best basis for working out the mutual understanding among the peoples, and for creating a culture of peace. There is a relation between such understanding and the development of a nation, thus turning it into a strategy also for building identities and affirming human rights”, concludes Defourny.

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