- Ilê Aiyê in Brazil and the Reinvention of Africa by Niyi Afolabi
Niyi Afolabi's mixed-methods study of one of Brazil's most influential Afro-Bahian carnival organizations, Ilê Aiyê, is a welcomed addition not only to the literature on Afro-Brazilian cultural politics and production, but also to the body of literature bridging the gap between African diasporic cultural producers and productions. As such, Afolabi argues that despite Ilê Aiyê's ability to maintain social and cultural prominence in Curuzu-Liberdade (the neighborhood where its headquarters is located) as well as in the Salvador community at large, the organization must struggle through the paradox of staying true to its cultural and religious roots, or compromising its position in order to be more financially stable (xv). Often accused of reverse racism by choosing to exclude white Brazilians from participation in the organization, as well as organizational events like the popular carnival procession, Ilê Aiyê has been severely hindered financially for refusing to participate in the myth of Brazilian racial democracy and, further, by asserting race pride. Where other organizations, like Olodum, have received major subsidies from the federal government and the private sector, Ilê Aiyê is forced to fight for survival if it means to stay committed to its pro-black cultural and political stance.
Divided into eight chapters, Afolabi begins with an introduction to the cultural significance of carnival throughout the African diaspora as a place where these events have "produce[d] sustained continuity of Africanness in their respective expressive cultures" (7). Afolabi then goes on to map the development of various carnival organizations across Brazil and their varying degrees of commitment to, and execution of, cultural agency. The remaining chapters are dedicated solely to the inner-workings, major figures, programs, successes, and failures of the Ilê Aiyê organization. Consequently, the reader comes away with a comprehensive understanding of how the organization sees itself carrying out its function and how the community it serves evaluates the organization's performance. Transparent throughout, one of the major triumphs of the book is the intimacy with which Afolabi details the achievements and set-backs of Ilê Aiyê, having been affiliated with the group since 1982 (x).
Evenhanded in his assessment of the organization, Afolabi dedicates the eighth chapter to critiquing Ilê Aiyê. As one would suspect based on the organization's history of financial instability, much of the critique focused on money management. In Afolabi's own research, he found that the organization had no uniform method of accounting from year to year (148), and thus unpaid and underpaid community members suspected, and sometimes charged, the organization's leadership of corruption. In addition to presenting this critique, Afolabi thoughtfully prescribes ways in which the organization can rectify some of its problems, namely being more transparent about its finances (222). Rich in its description of [End Page 271] the Ilê Aiyê organization, as well as its relevance to the Afro-Brazilian community that it serves, Ilê Aiyê in Brazil and the Reinvention of Africa serves as a valuable resource to persons researching and teaching Afro-Brazilian culture, as well as the ways in which cultural agency provides fertile ground for other kinds of agency in the African diaspora. [End Page 272]