Salvador and the Bahia Coast Feature
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A Bit of History
In 1549 Tomé de Sousa was appointed Brazil's first governor-general, with orders to establish the colony's capital in Bahia. The deep waters at the mouth of Baía de Todos os Santos (All Saint's Bay) and the nearby hills, which provided a commanding view of the region and protection in case of attack by pirates, indicated a favorable site. Within a few decades the city of Salvador had become one of the most important ports in the southern hemisphere, and remained so until the 18th century. In 1763 the capital was moved to Rio de Janeiro, and the city lost part of its economic importance and prestige.
Due to its continental dimensions, Brazil's diverse culture is sometimes a mosaic, more often a blend of European, African, and indigenous backgrounds. But in Bahia the historical and cultural influence is predominately African. The demeanor of the large African-Brazilian population (comprising more than 70% of the population), the rhythms with mesmerizing percussion line, the scents on the streets of Salvador immediately evoke the other side of the Atlantic.
Until slavery ended officially in 1888, it's estimated that more than 4 million slaves were brought to Brazil from Africa, and the port of Salvador was a major center of the slave trade. By contrast, only around 600,000 slaves where brought to the United States. This large African slave population and generally lenient attitude of Portuguese masters and the Catholic Church led to greater preservation of African customs there than in other countries. The indigenous tribes, forced to work with the Portuguese to harvest pau-brasil trees, either fled inland to escape slavery or were integrated into the European and African cultures.
Today Bahia faces several challenges. As Brazil's fourth-largest state, it's struggling to juggle population growth and the economic boom that started 50 years ago when oil was found in its territory. The race is on to preserve its way of life and its landscapes, especially the remaining patches of Atlantic Rain Forest, coral reefs, mangroves, and interior sierras.
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