July 13, 2006

Fieldwork in the city

A couple of weeks ago I bumped into a fellow anthropologist and friend who is also doing his research in Candomble here in Bahia, but in a very different setting. Unlike me here in urban Salvador, the capitol of the state, with its population of almost 3 million, he lives on top of a hill in semi-rural Cachoeira across from the people he works with. Seeing how he lives, and coming back to Salvador to try to figure out where to live in the city, really made me realize how different our fieldwork situations are. Unless I decide to work with people from only one temple, which is not what I have been planning to do the people I will be working with will be scattered all around the large city (and besides even the people who frequent one temple tend to travel to it from opposite ends of the city). So it seems that much of my time will be spent sitting on buses and the phone setting up meetings, or alternately moving from one neighborhood to another always trying to spend as much time with the people who live in the same neighborhood as I happen to be situated in at the moment. The first week and a half I was here I lived at a friend's mom's house in Paripe. She is initiated into Candomble and in result I had the opportunity to spend all my time there talking Candomble, but also, I didnt have much of a chance to do anything else. Paripe is located at the far end of Salvador, an hour's bus ride from the center. When you're there, you pretty much are there. In fact it wasnt until I managed to find a place in the center that I could really get down to contacting the other Candomble people I know here in Salvador.

But working in a city has its pros too. Most importantly of course because of my particular research interests on how and why people get involved in particular Candomble temples when faced with the broad variety provided by an urban context. But also simply because of the kind of life I can live here. Only this week there is a large DIASPORA conference in town that includes 7 African heads of state, Wangari Maathai, Stevie Wonder, Youssou N'Dour and many others as its guests, an African film festival, and plenty of concerts with people from all over the African diaspora performing. And on other weeks there are other fascinating things. And for once, unlike in Chicago where most of my time is spent in the library, I have the chance to enjoy these opportunities. Its wonderful to be going to the movies and the theatre again, training capoeira and reading fiction and even the newspaper in the mornings again. And of course just spending more time with friends too.
And in spite of these activities I have still been getting work on my research done too. For example I spent last weekend helping out and observing the preparations for a ceremony for Exu, known as a trickster messenger and mediator between humans and the orixa gods - probably one of the most impressive experiences I have had researching Candomble so far. I got to help out in cleaning the birds that were sacrificed for Exu and later on join in the sambas. I must have plucked the feathers off of at least 6 chicken last Saturday, so if I ever have to kill a chicken and prepare it for food at least I know how to. - And today I finally have my first interview scheduled for the afternoon, with many more to come in the next couple of weeks, before I plan to take some time off to do some traveling outside of Salvador. Things are going well, and life feels good.


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