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Brazil celebrates its African roots in cultural and business fair

posted 20 Dec 2010, 13:03 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 20 Dec 2010, 13:06 ]

Brazil hosts Latin America's biggest cultural fair dedicated to Africa.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL (DECEMBER 18, 2010) REUTERS - Brazil celebrated its African roots on Saturday (December 16) as Latin America's biggest Black Culture fair opened featuring concerts, documentaries, art works, and even an exhibit of black Barbie dolls.

The annual fair, which first took place in 2002, was also attended by hundreds of people who own businesses aimed at Afro-Brazilians.

The visitors were allowed to try on cosmetics and hair products developed especially for blacks.

Organizers said they received some 20,000 visitors, of whom 80 percent were black. They estimate some $1.3 million dollars worth of business deals were also closed over the weekend.

Adriana Barbosa, the fair's founder and organizer, said the event grew so quickly over the past years because Brazilians are becoming more interested in their African roots.

"Today we attract people of several ages and genders from all over Brazil. I think it (the fair) grew because of a natural demand. I think the population, the Brazilian population in general, is reaffirming its identity and its roots in African culture and want to receive information about it. So I think this fair grows together with people's will to affirm their identity," she said.

Afro-Brazilians make up nearly half of Brazil's population but relatively few have gained entry to the upper echelons of one of the world's most inequitable societies.

Most are mired in poverty, living in downtrodden neighborhoods on the outskirts of big cities. They earn considerably less than white people, few graduate from high school and very few blacks have cracked the upper ranks of business.

Igor Guedes, who travelled from Bahia to visit the fair, said the initiative should be expanded to other parts of the country.

"I feel there is a great need for the market for blacks to be expanded. This idea of having a fair with black businessmen who are given the chance to show off products aimed at a public of African descent, I think this idea should be more encouraged," he said.

One of the most visited areas of the fair was an exhibit of black Barbie dolls organized by Brazilian collector Carlos Keffer, who travels the world with his 4,000-Barbie collection.

The exhibit marks 30 years since the first black Barbie was launched in 1980. For decades, toymaker Mattel's dark-skinned dolls had white features. A more realistic collection was only released in 2009.

Keffer said the exhibit helps children of African descent to value their gender.

"The public loves it, the public loves it. Many people are taken by surprise because they don't know black (Barbie) dolls even exist, so people are very surprised by this. This is a very important exhibit for black children in terms of identity because it is important for the children to see themselves in these dolls," he said.

Afro-Brazilians have traditionally excelled in music and sports, often becoming ambassadors for Brazilian culture the world over, like soccer legend Pele. But very few have it to the upper classes through business endeavors.

According to government statistics Brazil's white population earned more than double than Afro-Brazilians in 2008.