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  • Gabriela Meets Olodum:Paradoxes of Hybridity, Racial Identity, and Black Consciousness in Contemporary Brazil
  • Russell G. Hamilton

With respect to the first part of this article's title, Gabriela is the formidable female protagonist of Jorge Amado's celebrated novel Gabriela, Cravo e Canela. This novel, first published in 1958, has been translated into more than fifteen languages, and its English-language version, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, made the New York Times best-seller list for nearly a year. Moreover, the novel was adapted to the small screen as a TV series, as well as to the silver screen. In the role of Gabriela, Sônia Braga, a prototypical Brazilian morena, a term used to designate a mixed-race woman, became a sensation in the 1975 telenovela (soap opera). Braga later received international acclaim when she starred opposite Marcello Mastroianni in the 1985 film adaptation of the novel.

When Amado's novel first appeared in print, Gabriela became the latest in a long line of enchanting female mulatto characters in Brazilian literature. To a greater or lesser degree, all of these fictional females, the mixed-race offspring of African and European or of Brazilian Indian and Caucasian parentage, are most often depicted as physically and otherwise appealing literary characters. Whether in literature and other modes of cultural expression, or in real and imagined social existence, exotic, mysterious, coquettish, and sensual women of color, most especially mulatas (mulatto women), constitute both the subjects and objects of a nativistic and, indeed, pan-Luso-Brazilian cult. This cult of the mulataencantada (enchanted mulatto woman) has been codified as a romanticized component of Brazil's national identity and popular culture. Although less likely to occur as blatantly today, in this era of increased black consciousness, the cult of the enchanted mulatto, and mulatto enchantress, has manifested itself in the popular press. To cite an example from the relatively recent past, in 1966, Realidade (Reality), a popular Brazilian magazine, featured, in its April issue, "Ensaio em Côr Mulata" 'Essay Colored Mulatto Woman.' The lead-in for this pre-Black Consciousness Movement photo-essay reads: "preto mais branco—em qualquer proporção—dá mulher bonita" 'black and white—in whatever proportion—produce a pretty woman' (94). Accompanying the seven full- and half-page photos of mixed-race women, are literary testimonials, including the following lines of verse by Vinicius de Morais, a highly esteemed poet and lyricist from Rio de Janeiro: [End Page 181]

Eu amo a mulata brasileira: e a carioca com especialidade. A mim me dá vontade de celebrá-las na poesia mais rasgada do samba mais delirante, mais sem peias.

I love the Brazilian mulatto woman: and most especially the carioca [i.e., native of the city of Rio de Janeiro] I feel compelled to celebrate them in the most lavish poetry of the most delirious, most unbridled samba.


Also accompanying the photos is the following testimonial poem by Joaquim Ferreira, a successful Rio bar owner:

A mulata é a maior obra de Portugal.Muita gente diz por aí que português é burro, mas vamos e venhamos, inventar a mulata é tão importante como inventar a penicilina ou mandar um foguete à Lua. E a mulata inventada pelo português tem um jeitinho que ninguém consegue imitar. Americanos, italianos e até suecos fazem tudo para conseguir um produto igual, mas nunca se aproximam do produto genuíno. A diferença está no jeito de olhar e andar. Por isso, sou jacobino: em matéria de mulata e bagaceira, viva Portugal!

The mulata is Portugal's greatest work of art. A lot of people out there say that the Portuguese are dumb, but let's face it, to invent the mulata is as important as inventing penicillin or sending a rocket to the Moon And the mulata invented by the Portuguese has a way about her that nobody succeeds in imitating. Americans, Italians, and even Swedes do all they can to put out a comparable product, but they don't get close to the genuine article. The difference is in the look and the way of walking. Therefore, I'm a Jacobine: When it comes to mulatas and grape brandy, Long Live Portugal...


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