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Bahia Acarajé Women (baiana do acarajé)

BahianAcarajé Women or Bahian Women with aBoard, especially on the streets of Salvador and other cities of Bahia, they are traditionally accompanied by their boards of acarajé, vatapá, dried shrimp, in addition to abará, lelê, ‘bolo de estudante’ (student cake) andwhite and black coconut bars.

Bahia Acarajé Women (baiana do acarajé)

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Last update: 24/11/2016

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

[...] Sometimes we feel orphaned because we work alonewith our board, from sun to sun, exposed to cold, heat and even violence. But we are black and persevering women: if we do not sell today, we will sell tomorrow. We have been a symbol of resistance since slavery. [...]

Maria Lêda Marques, president of the Association of BahianAcarajé and Porridge Women (ABAM).

The commercialisation of acarajé, according to several researchers, had its origin in the Brazilian colonial period, when the slaves of gain, rent or gainers who worked on the streets for their masters–went through the city selling goods like porridge, fried fish, acarajé, ‘abará’ and cakes in their trays, particularly in cities like Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Recife.

In the nineteenth century, most white women exercised only domestic activities. When they were forced to supplement the family budget, they embroidered, sewed and made sweets and other delicacies to be sold in the streets on theboardsof theslaves of gain, which usually formed groups according to ethnicity in the cities centres, using some corners that were called “cantos” (junctions).

The gain slaves were obliged to pay a certain amount to their owners and keep whatever was left. This street trading provided a livelihood for the families ofmany of these slaves, and even in some cases, thepayment of their own freedom by using the profits to which they were entitled.
The craft also contributed to the creation of religious andCandomblébrotherhoods. Large number of ‘daughters of saints’ began to sell acarajé to fulfil religious obligations, which had to be renewed periodically.

Even after the end of slavery, the sale of acarajé continued as an important source of income for many Afro-Brazilian women, also becoming a major source of funds for the Candomblé communities through the work of its‘daughters of saints’.

Their costumes, originating fromNago-Yoruba ethnic groupsaccording to some researchers and fromDahomey for others, have not undergone many transformations: skirts, cotton gowns, ‘panos da costa’ (a piece of cloth, usually rectangular, white or in two colours, used on the shoulders and having as main function to distinguish the position of women in African-Brazilian communities), turbans, strings of beads and other ornaments such as necklaces in the colours of their deities, bracelets and ‘balangandãs’ (trinkets with the indispensable amulet).

This dressing style was peculiar to black and mulatto women, only being used by poor white women regarded as “unlucky”. Nevertheless, Princess Isabel was dressed like a black Bahianwoman for a costume ball held in London on 7February 1865, causing surprise and several comments in the Brazilian Court.

Known as the Baianas de Acarajé(BahianAcarajé Women) or Baianas de Tabuleiro(Bahian Women with aBoard), especially on the streets of Salvador and other cities of Bahia, they are traditionally accompanied by their boards of acarajé, vatapá, dried shrimp, in addition to abará, lelê, fried ‘passarinha’(the spleen of the ox, also known as German liver), ‘bolo de estudante’ (student cake) andwhite and black coconut bars.

Originally simple, made of wood, the boards have become more sophisticated, coated with glass and expensive tools. One of the innovations currently promoted by Bahia government agencies is its standardisation. The neighbourhoodsof Bonfim, Pelourinho, Barra, Ondina, Rio Vermelho, Itapuãand Piatã, among others, are the most characteristic points of the Bahianacarajé women in the city of Salvador.

Despite being sold in the “profane”context, acarajé is considered the most sacred food of Bahia, and should not be dissociated from the Candomblé, despite the current large competition between bars and restaurants that sell it as fast-food.

Some Bahianacarajé women, however, believe that acarajé is a food for the deities Iansã and Xangô,however its sale should not be restricted to members of Candomblé, and can be sold by people of other religions, as long asthey maintain the required respect to traditions.

Being a Bahianacarajéinvolves a lot of daily work. They get up early to buy the ingredients, which must be of good quality and at an affordable price, and confront problems in terms of location for their boards as well as an arduous process of exposure to sun, rain and violence.

In order to safeguard the craft of Bahianacarajé women, preserving their African roots, tradition and culture, the Association of BahianAcarajéand Porridge Women (ABAM)was established on 11April 1992.

ABAM’s work is geared towards the professional activity, promoting food hygiene courses and financial management to help its members to better manage their profits.

Ofício das Baianas de Acarajé(BahianAcarajéWomen’s Craft)became an immaterial cultural patrimony of Brazil in August 2005. The inventory that dealt with the case was conducted by the National Centre for Folklore and Popular Culture.

The register includes the production rituals of acarajé in Salvador, Bahia: its fillings; the storage and use of the board;the place where the Bahian women set up for sale;its marketing and use of the traditional outfit, as well as all knowledge and practices production and marketing of the so-called from ‘Bahian women foods’made with palm oil, besides coconut sweets, cakes and porridges.

The National Day of Bahian Women, established by Law No. 12,206 on19 January 2010, is celebrated on 25November,with the commemorative activities starting on the 20th, the National Day of Black Consciousness.

Recife, november 17, 2010.
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012.
(Update: november 22, 2016).

sources consulted

BAIANAS do acarajé. Disponível em: . Acesso em: 27 dez. 2010.

CANTARINO, Carolina. Baianas do acarajé: uma história de resistência. Disponível em: . Acesso em: 27 dez. 2010. Artigo originariamente publicado na Patrimônio – Revista Eletrônica do Iphan (ISSN: 1809-3965).

DAVID, Maria Lenilda. A baiana do acarajé: imagens do real e do ideal. Revista da Biblioteca Mário de Andrade, São Paulo, v. 57, p. 147-155, jan./dez. 1999.

NASCIMENTO, Francesca Rêgo: SERPA, Angelo. A geografia das redes de produção e consumo do acarajé em Salvador: estratégias e conflitos na territorialização das baianas empresárias no bairro do Rio Vermelho. Cutlrua Vozes, ano 95, v. 95, n. 2, p.129-145, mar./abr. 2001.


how to quote this text

Source:  GASPAR, Lúcia. Baianas de Acarajé. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009