Back at the Gantois 75 years later

From left to right Hilda of Oxum; Celina of Oxalufan; Carmen, daughter of Mae Menininha and leader of the Gantois today; Mae Menininha; Cleusa, oldest daughter of Mae Meninha and her successor in the leadership of the Gantois; America of Obaluae Kneeling in front: Floripedes of Oxossi; and Titia Amor of Obalue

From left to right: Hilda of Oxum; Celina of Oxalufan; Carmen, daughter of Mae Menininha and leader of the Gantois today; Mae Menininha; Cleusa, oldest daughter of Mae Meninha and her successor in the leadership of the Gantois; America of Obaluae
Kneeling in front: Floripedes of Oxossi; and Titia Amor of Obalue

During his stay in Salvador, Bahia in 1940-41 Dr. Lorenzo Dow Turner  visited several houses of Candomblé worship including the Gantois (Ilê Iyá Omin Axé Iyá Massê) founded in 1849 by Maria Júlia da Conceição Nazaré. Since then the leadership of the Gantois has followed a consanguineous hereditary tradition, in which the rulers are always female. In 1940-41 Mãe Menininha (Maria Escolástica da Conceição Nazaré,) great- granddaughter of the founder, was the iyalorixá or leader of the house. Dr. Turner spent hours interviewing her. He also took several photographs of her and the people who lived in the compound. One of these photographs reproduced here depicts Mãe Menininha and seven other women wearing traditional garb. This photograph and many others are part of the collections of the Anacostia Community Museum Archives.
On November 18, 2015, 75 years after Dr. Turner had visited the Gantois I went there for an interview with Mãe Menininha’s daughter, Mãe Carmen de Oxalá (Carmen da Conceição Nazaré de Oliveira,) great-great-granddaughter of the Gantois founder, and at present the iyalorixá of the house. She has been in this leadership position since 2002. This incredible opportunity was possible because I was in Salvador, Bahia for the opening of the exhibit I curated Gullah Bahia África, which tells the history of Dr. Turner’s life and work including his visit to Bahia. The exhibit is traveling in Brazil under the auspices of the American Embassy and in Salvador was being shown at the Palacete das Artes under the auspices of the Fundação Pedro Calmon. The conduit for the interview were Mariângela Nogueira from the Fundação Pedro Calmon, and Déa Márcia Federico who is the equede of the Gantois, an important position in the hierarchy of the house.
Mãe Carmen, a very youthful 86 years old, graciously received us for an interview that lasted almost one hour. I was told that this is not common; she does not have much time within her activities as leader of the house and her community to give to visitors. Mãe Carmen exuded charisma, peace, security, and, reassurance that all would be well. I was very touched when she told me during the interview that when she looked at me she knew I was trustworthy and that she could deal with me without concern. She was ecstatic when Mariangela produced a high-resolution copy of the photograph taken so long ago by Dr. Turner and proceeded to identify the women in the photo and to my surprise herself. She remembered well the day Dr. Turner came for the interview, and she described the scene of her mother singing into a microphone contraption of old, set at the end of a very long pole. This scene is shown in a photo in the collection of Dr. Turner’s research companion at the time Dr. E. Franklin Frazier which is held by the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center
And so Dr. Turner, represented by this photograph, returned to the site of his research 75 years later. Salvador is much changed from that time, he would not have recognized it. What would have been the outskirts of the city in 1940-41, the Federação neighborhood where the Gantois is located, is now very near the center of town connected by large avenues which would be unpaved roads at the time, and well developed with tall buildings. The Gantois has had its importance for Bahian and Brazilian culture well recognized. The Gantois has been designated as a historical site by Iphan (The Brazilian National Institute for the Preservation of Historic and Artistic Sites) in 2002, and Mãe Carmen received the UNESCO Five Continents Medal in 2010. Dr. Turner would be happy to know that the traditions he researched and recorded in 1940-41 are still maintained by the people of the Gantois.