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A DXer Looks at Bahia, Brazil

By Don Moore

A slightly edited version of this article was originally published in the December, 1994 issue of The Journal of the North American Shortwave Association in the Latin Destinations column.

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"Have you been to Bahia, Donald?" So asks the parrot Joe Carioca of Donald Duck in Walt Disney's film The Three Caballeros. If you haven't heard of the film, don't be surprised. It's not one of Disney's better-known animated feature-length films. But, with a little searching, The Three Caballeros can be found in video rental places and it's well worth the search. And, not only is the film interesting, so is the story behind it.

During World War II, Disney did what it could for the war effort. To help boost pro-U.S. sentiment in Latin America, Walt Disney himself traveled throughout the region and lead the production in 1943 of Saludos Amigos, a sequence of live-action and animated film clips set in several countries. The film was less than well done, but Disney immediately launched a new inter-American friendship project, The Three Caballeros, hiring top Latin American songwriters and singers to help out. War time shortages postponed the film's release until early 1945.

The Three Caballeros starts out with a few animated and non- animated shorts, including one about an Argentine gaucho boy who finds a flying donkey. The main part of the film revolves around the musical adventures of the three caballeros themselves - Donald Duck from the USA, Joe Carioca the parrot representing Brazil, and a pistol-toting rooster named Panchito representing Mexico in the best tradition of Pancho Villa. (Reportedly, Joe Carioca is where Radio Nacional de Brasilia got the idea for its parrot sticker.)

The Three Caballeros was actually one of the most advanced films of its era. Some of the scenes, such as the title song, have been compared to Fantasia for their interweaving of animation with songs. Also, except for some experimentation in the 1920s, this was the first Disney film to combine live-action characters with cartoon figures on the screen at the same time, paving the way for films like Mary Poppins in years to come. Some publications even scolded that the scenes of Donald Duck dancing with Latin beauties were overly erotic! However, unlike most Disney films, The Three Caballeros is a very dated product, forever set in the 1940s. For that reason, it has never gone through the cycle of repeated theatrical releases that have made other Disney films long-term classics.

BACK TO BAHIA

But, let's get back to the question. "Have you been to Bahia, Donald?" Joe Carioca gets his surname from the nickname for residents of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's capital and most famous city back in the 1940s. But, it's not Rio de Janeiro that Joe wants to take his pal Donald Duck to. No, it's the most culturally unique and interesting part of Brazil - the city and state of Bahia in Brazil's northeast. "Have you been to Bahia, Donald?" Well, no, this Donald hasn't, Joe Carioca, but believe me, it is high on my list of places I'd like to visit. I've met several people well-seasoned in Brazilian travel and each has always said that Bahia is the best.

Of course that other Donald, the one with the webbed feet, got to visit Bahia through the magic of movie-making. Joe takes him to a movie-set Bahia street scene where the two of them dance and flirt with real-life Brazilian beauty Aurora Miranda who sings with a traditional band as they weave through the streets. It's very stereotypical and more than a bit dated, but the music's very nice. However, the most historically-telling thing about the scene is that the darked-haired beauty and her band - real people, not cartoon characters - are white. You see, what makes Bahia so unique and interesting is that ethnically and culturally it is the most Africanized part of Brazil. Over 90% of the population is black. But, Disney was just doing its job of making friends with the movers and the shakers in Brazil. The middle and upper classes of white southern Brazil would have been less than happy had Disney chosen to represent their country on the big screen to the rest of the world with blacks.

A LITTLE HISTORY

It was in Bahia that the Portuguese first landed in Brazil in 1500, and the city of Bahia (now renamed Salvador, but still often called Bahia) was the colony's capital until 1763. Bahia's legacy is the country's best colonial architecture and the most beautiful churches. Where did the money come from to build these magnificent structures? Pure sweetness - sugarcane. From the mid- 1500s until the early 1700s, northeastern Brazil was the world's primary source of sugar.

Of course, the Portuguese colonists who owned the plantations weren't into back-breaking labor. At first, they tried to enslave the local Indians, but the nomadic Indians just weren't used to that type of work. Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church (primarily though Jesuit missionaries) was opposed to enslaving Indians, as it interfered with their goals of "civilizing" and converting them. (For an fascinating account of this see the Robert De Niro movie The Mission.) For whatever reasons, the missionaries didn't feel the same way about Black Africans, and the Africans were much better workers. So, beginning in 1538 northeastern Brazil began importing African slaves. By the time slavery was finally outlawed in 1888, over 3.5 million slaves had been brought to Brazil from Africa, six times the number brought into the United States. Bahia, as the center of the Brazilian sugar industry, became the center of African culture in Brazil.

As blacks far outnumbered whites in northeastern Brazil, to an extent never seen in the US, African culture blended very deeply with the dominant Euro-Portuguese culture in everything from food to language to dress. But, probably the most interesting aspect of African culture is how the 'Candomble' religion of present-day Nigeria's Yoruba tribe survived and prospered in Bahia. When the slaves were forced to worship Roman Catholic saints, their response was to to blend their gods with the saints. For example, Oxumare is the same as Saint Anthony. Today, however, it is often the African god who is the object of celebration on that particular saint's day. During carnival, groups of merry-makers parade through town carrying the image of their favorite Candomble god. Even many white Baianos make offerings to the African gods. So central is African religion to Bahian culture, that most modern pop music from Bahia draws heavily on the heavy rhythms of the lively candomble ceremonies.

GREAT STORIES

Short of making a visit, the best way to get to know Bahia is to read some of the local literature. One of Brazil's best known 20th century authors, Jorge Amado, is a Bahia native and his books focus on the lives and culture of the common people of the state. Most of his books have been translated to English. The best place to start is with his most famous novel, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon. The story takes place in southern Bahia port of Ilheus (Amado's hometown) and centers on the romance between an Arab immigrant tavern-keeper and a mysterious beautiful peasant woman he has hired to keep house. Intertwining through the story are subplots involving the political conflicts between the rich cacao planters (the traditional power structure) and the merchants, teachers, and lawyers who want their share of control as the city moves into the modern age.

A few years ago, a Brazilian movie was made from Gabriela starring Brazilian actress Sonia Braga, and the English subtitled version can sometimes be found in places that rent foreign films. Filmed on location, the scenes of traditional Brazil alone make this movie worth seeing, and the story is good, too. Be forewarned, however, that this unrated movie is not one you will want to let the kids watch. Another well-known Amado book that has been made into a movie is Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. I have not seen this one, but considering the story line and that the film also stars Sonia Braga, this is probably also not one for the kids.

(May 2000 Update: I strongly recommend Jorge Amado's novel "War of the Saints" to anyone interested in Bahian culture and the Candomble religion. The book's numerous intertwining plots and characters make it a bit complex to follow - read it three times like I did. It is a very fun and funny book to read. And, you can learn a lot about Bahia in the process.)

LOGGING BAHIA

So, you want to log Bahia? The states of northeastern Brazil are the most difficult to hear. The population is dense enough that shortwave really isn't needed much for local radio, as in the Amazon and west-central regions. Furthermore, unlike southern Brazil, there are few principal stations in the big cities that use shortwave. The 'nordeste' is Brazil's most impoverished region, and I suspect that is the reason - the big stations here just don't have the extra income. Brazil's south, by contrast, has been economically booming for years.

That said, there is one station from Bahia that is regularly reported in North America, Radio Educadora da Bahia on 9540. This station belongs to the Bahia state government and, as the name implies, is an educational station. This may well explain why they continue to use shortwave, to reach the widest audience possible. Going back several years, Radio Educadora has often been reported in the wee hours of the morning - around 0800 or so UTC. I logged them there less than a year ago. Furthermore, there have been several reports of QSLs received. In fact, I just recently got mine for last Spring's reception, which is what prompted this column idea. Radio Educadora is still listed on 6020 shortwave as well, but I have heard that co-channel Radio Gaucha in Porto Alegre paid Radio Educadora for sole rights to the frequency, so as to eliminate interference. The 1996 WRTH does list one more station in Bahia state, Radio Sociedade in Feira da Santana on 4865, however, I haven't seen any loggings of this one for years and suspect it is inactive.

So amigos, there may only be one way to log Bahia, but it's got to be worth going after to log the most interesting state and city in all of Brazil! So, as the say in Portugese, "ate logo"!

May 2004 Update: I believe that Radio Educadora is no longer using shortwave.

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This article is copyright 1994 by Don Moore.

This website is maintained by Don Moore,
Association of North American Radio Clubs
DXer of the Year for 1995
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