Paint It Black or Red: Serious Play in Brazil's Northeast




This article analyzes a popular, folkloric dance drama in the small city, Laranjeiras, a thriving slave port for its first three centuries. Lambe-sujo e Caboclinho, dating to the 19th century, depicts the practice of missionized Indigenous people engaged to capture and return fugitive slaves. Participants paint themselves either black or red and parade through the streets, leading to a mock battle, ending in defeat of the fugitive slaves. This article employs ethnographic data and historical research to consider the use of performance, which enhances heightened consciousness of racial oppression, reinforced by Afro-Brazilian social movements, and makes the event serious fun. Residents of this overwhelmingly Black city are rethinking responses to racial oppression in today's Brazil through a cultural performance with the flexibility to serve as a window onto the past that opens onto the future. The article contributes to the fields of cultural anthropology, folklore studies, and critical race studies.

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