The Difference Orunmila Makes: The Past As Project In An Afro-Brazilian Struggle

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This dissertation explores how the Centro Cultural Orunmila[Orunmila Cultural Center] struggles for the substantive valuing of Afro-Brazilian culture and knowledge as a means to address contemporary racial inequality. Located in the city of Ribeirao Preto, in the interior of the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil, the Orunmila Center's cultural work and politics mobilizes a critical historical perspective and AfroBrazilian forms of embodied knowledge and learning as key sites and sources for the struggle to decolonize social relations and achieve racial equality. In this process, they claim representation in the spheres of education, institutional politics, and culture to push the substance and practice of citizenship beyond the circumscribed inclusion afforded through Brazilian racial democracy, ideologies of miscegenation (i.e. racial and cultural mixture), and contemporary apolitical multiculturalisms. Orunmilamembers strive to transcend addressing inequality through access to and inclusion into an already defined system -- educational, economic, political, and cultural. Instead, they reclaim the importance of culture in struggle to challenge and transform the unequal histories of power and race that structure dominant understandings of what knowledge counts in the making of modernity and development. Their work addresses how capitalist development and the colonial legacy re-articulate racial hierarchies and rule in ways that continue to marginalize and exclude Afro-descendant peoples. The OrunmilaCenter engages in a range of efforts including cultural workshops, lectures and presentations, anti-racist activism, and policy-advocacy. The chapters of this study look in detail at the philosophy and action underlying Orunmila's work, especially how they mobilize ancestralidade, or ancestral knowledge/wisdom and lived experience to construct the Afro-descendant past as a project for contemporary social transformation. The chapters also analyze their struggle to construct and implement a municipal education project and their use of the Afro-Brazilian cultural form of Afoxe as a means of protest and anti-racist advocacy in the annual carnaval parade. In these efforts, Orunmilamembers politicize black culture and difference as sites of epistemological critique that shape other ways of understanding history, progress, value, and collectivity.

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