Samba Saturday: Slavery History in Brazil

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My family in Pelourinho, the historic center of Salvador, Bahia in Brazil.

Last night, my family and I explored Pelourinho, the historic center of Salvador, Bahia in Brazil. This part of the town is named for the whipping post where slaves were punished during colonial times. The post is visible on the far right of the above photo. I was an exchange student in Brazil in the 1980s and have observed how much parallel history my native and adopted countries share. Both the USA and Brazil were discovered around the same time, colonized by European powerhouses and used slavery to capitalize the rich American crops and natural resources.

The Africans enslaved in Brazil left an indelible mark on the country from the music and dancing of samba to feijoada stew. While the USA also has similar soul food, derived from slaves like beans and rice and gumbo, and a mardi gras in New Orleans similar to Brazil´s African- influenced Carnaval, our celebration of this culture is mostly regional. Brazil´s is national.

When we took this picture, I thought that it might seem weird that we were smiling at a place where slaves were whipped and punished. But Pelourinho  is now a very joyous place full of music, dancing, laughter and remembrance of Brazil´s full history.  That´s something to smile about.

Samba and feijoada say, “Brazil” to me.  What says, “America” to you?

Follow Friday: Oil Spill on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oF0Ke_x8vH4]

My head’s been too congested all week to track many of my fellow genealogy bloggers, but reports of the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have preoccupied my foggy brain.

About a week ago, an oil rig exploded in the Gulf some 50 miles from Louisiana’s shoreline leaving 11 workers missing and presumed dead.  A broken pipe attached to the rig fell into the ocean and has been leaking thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico ever since.

That part of Louisiana contains some 40 percent of the nation’s wetlands and is spawning grounds for countless fish and birds according to the New York Times.  Fisherman must be concerned for their livelihood and residents must be worried about the black smoke cloud that controlled burning, one possible remedy to get rid of the oil would leave in the atmosphere.  As the reports kept getting worse with each passing day, I couldn’t help but worry that  swimming might eventually be effected too.

One of my fondest summer memories is driving with my paternal grandfather and cousins from Grandpa’s home in New Orleans to his old stomping ground in Ocean Springs, Mississippi on the Gulf Coast and spending an afternoon playing in the Gulf’s surf.  Grandpa mostly watched from the beach, but you could see the sheer delight on his face as his grandchildren played in the Gulf, his Gulf.  We cousins were children of three of his four sons.  Two of those sons were along for the afternoon.  It was almost a Ford family reunion.  To my memory, the only thing whiter than Grandpa’s big smile was that beach.  I’m always surprised to look at pictures from that day and discover that the sand was more gray than white.  But in my memory of that perfect day, the water, the shore, my family were all pristine.

I hope the team of engineers and scientists from BP, Exxon and other oil companies in conjunction with the government can come up with a solution to stop the spill and save the wildlife it’s threatening. (It’s the ecosystem and not swimmers that is currently threatened by this spill).

In the meanwhile, my thoughts are with the families of those missing workers and all of you now affected by this disaster.

If you live in that area, has anything similar happened before? How was it handled and how did it effect you?

Sentimental Sunday: Family Griot, Uncle Henry Ford

My uncle, Henry Ford and me in the late 1970s. He was undoubtedly telling me a good story.

When I was finally ready to start digging into my paternal family’s history about 15 years ago, I went to our family griot, my uncle, Henry Ford.  Born and raised in New Orleans when his family moved there from Ocean Springs, Mississippi in the early 40s, Uncle Henry filled in some details on my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart and my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton.  He showed me around his Nola stomping grounds from the best spot for a po’ boy sandwich to his most beloved attraction, the Audubon Zoo.  Then we drove through the deep Mississippi pines until we reached the other side of the gulf in Ocean Springs. There, he introduced me to family friends from my grandparents’ time living there and even showed me the spot where my great-grandfather, the Reverend James Ford had preached.

Henry’s enthusiasm for our history helped fan the flames of my budding ancestry ardor.  Now, I hope to bring that genealogy love full circle and give him some modicum of the joy he showed me for our shared history.

This weekend, my dear Uncle Henry’s foot was amputated and I’m sure his spirits could use a boost.

Back in December, his house in the 9th ward of New Orleans burned down and he suffered injuries in the fire further complicated by his diabetes.  The house had survived Katrina and a number of previous storms during the 60 plus years my uncle, dad and the rest of their family lived there.  When my grandmother, Lillie Mae Ford died last August, she left the house to Henry.  It was his last connection to her.

I’d guess Uncle Henry’s never been far from New Orleans for very long nor from his mother.  Now in the space of a few short months, he’s lost both mother and home. There’s no replacing either, but at least we still have our family stories.  I hope whatever new pieces of our family history we find will bring him some joy and comfort.

Mardi Gras: Solace in a Celebration

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xexh7mMfLGk&feature=player_embedded]Today, the Senior Youth group at my church led the service and New Orleans and Mardi Gras were the theme.

When our youth “minister” delivered her sermon, she pointed out how much this city has survived like Hurricane Katrina and the wave of Haitian immigrants who sought refuge in New Orleans after the Haiti Revolution of 1804 and that weathering all these challenges has made its people strong. But another tragic period in Nola history came to my mind because I’ve been reading about it in my great great great-grandfather’s letters: The Yellow Fever epidemic of 1853.

The first official Mardi Gras parade was held just 16 years before the 1853 epidemic in New Orleans. Yellow fever would continue to be a major health problem until the early 1900s when scientists finally figured out that mosquitoes (and not immigrants) were the lethal carriers of the disease. I wonder if Fat Tuesday parades carried on in the Crescent City in 1854 the way they did the year after Hurricane Katrina. I wonder if those celebrations were a bright spot, something to look forward to for a city that had lost an estimated ten percent of its inhabitants to a disease that made people cough up black blood.

Just a few days before he died of yellow fever in August of 1853, my third great-grandfather wrote, “Our city continues to labour under the affecting malady… some of the most touching incidents that I have ever heard of have been witnessed, too painful to relate.” The great spirit and dignity of his fellow New Orleanians seemed to give him solace in his final days. This reminded me of the solace I found in our flag after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 and the family picnic we had for my brother before he left for an 18 month tour of duty in Iraq.  Like many Americans, I hung a flag on my front porch after the attacks and just looking at it temporarily absorbed the incomprehensible tragedy that occurred just 12 miles away in New York City and further south in Washington D.C.

What symbols, celebrations, or traditions are a solace for you?

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