De Sa, Celina

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  • Publication
    Becoming Diasporically African: The Cultural Politics Of West African Capoeira
    (2018-01-01) De Sa, Celina
    Capoeira—a combat game developed by enslaved Afro-Brazilians for mental and physical liberation—has become an icon of Brazilian cultural history and national pride, as well as a symbol of African cultural contributions to the country, despite centuries of social scorn. The African continent is one of the most recent areas to discover this African-based fighting form, and for West Africans in particular, capoeira has entered their lives as a point of focus in their emergent consciousness of the historical relationships between West Africa and Brazil that began with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. By focusing on a network of capoeira schools (based primarily in Senegal, the Gambia, Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin), this dissertation examines how West African capoeiristas use the practice of capoeira as a way of 1) reimagining their social worlds in relation to the constraints of postcolonial citizenship and intense intra-continental migrations, and 2) redefining the boundaries of the so-called “African diaspora." Brazil has been resituated as the site of historical and creative “raw materials” from which West Africans draw to reconfigure their social belonging (Brown 2005). This project, therefore, investigates a black diasporic perspective from Africa outwards that is colored by internal diasporas and their cultural manifestations. In that light I argue that dominant popular and scholarly narratives of the African diaspora are structured in a way that not only privileges the diaspora—imparting it with complex histories and social processes—while marginalizing Africa. These narratives prevent contemporary Africans and diasporic blacks from being considered contemporaries, as African contexts are either ignored or relegated to a historical, symbolic past. Despite this elision of African contribution, participation or innovation within diasporic paradigms and practices, youth in urban West Africa mobilize diasporic forms of performance, history and symbolism, not only to write themselves into the diaspora as equal participants and interlocutors, but also as a mechanism of (re)defining their own sense of continental, racial, historical and global belonging. In doing so, they reimagine their social worlds to be transnational in ways that challenge the limitations imposed upon them by postcolonial nationalism, global neoliberal marginalization, and global structures of race.