The following article is a contribution by our associate Elisa Spampinato and tells of her experience along the Rota da Liberdade in Brazil. To read the full-length account, please visit Elisa’s blog.

The Rota da Liberdade or Route to Freedom Project is a collaborative and participative community-based tourism project located in the historical district of Santiago de Iguape, 50km from Salvador, Bahia, north-eastern Brazil. It all started in 2005 with a social project supported by the federal government, called Agente Cultura Viva (Live Culture Agent in English), which was directed at young adults and aimed to gather information about local history. It then organically developed into a truly community-based tourism project with local Quilombos women assuming its leadership.

Rota da Liberdade welcome sign
The welcome sign placed at the entrance of the only road that leads to the Quilombos Kaonge and Dende. Photo courtesy of Elisa Spampinato

What is the Route to Freedom Project?

Tourists who visit the Route to Freedom Project are offered three tours which enable them to experience the daily life of the Quilombos communities and to learn about their rich culture and history. Six Quilombos communities participate in the project, sharing how they harvest oysters, produce cassava flour, dendé (palm oil), and a traditional syrup made of local herbs. Tourists can also learn more about the fascinating Quilombos culture and its unique history through the stories told by Juveni Jovelino.

Juveni was the first primary and secondary school teacher of the community, responsible for the education of local Quilombos children, and is now the spiritual leader of the Quilombos of Cachoeira. As the spiritual leader of the community – a duty which she inherited from her father – Juveni runs the Umbanda Terreiro, which is the heart of the Afro-Brazilian religion, where all the rituals and spiritual celebrations take place.

Women and man in traditional dress from the Rota da Liberdade project
Local women and man of the Kaonge Quilombo.

Why is the Route to Freedom Project important for local people, and in particular local women?

The Quilombos are the settlements established by former slaves who escaped the unimaginable conditions on the region’s sugar plantations, and have become the representative space of resistance, fight and freedom for Africans and their descendants in the country. The fight for freedom is embedded in the history of the Brazilian Quilombos, and this community-based tourism project represents just a contemporary example of this pursuit.

Dona Valdé from the Rota da Liberdade project
Dona Valdé separating the raw fruits from the Palm tree, starting the manifacturing process of the Palm Oil (Dendé Oil) in the Kaonge Quilombo. Photo courtesy of Elisa Spampinato

The Ethnic Tourism Centre – Rota da Liberdade – directly employs 20 people, and involves many others through the community’s nucleos produtivos or production hubs, which include the restaurant, a handicrafts centre and the barber shop, which are all run by women. Furthermore, the Quilombo Kaonge leads the oyster production in the State of Bahia and is managed by thirty-five local families, represented by thirty-three women (as marisqueras). The Quilombos women are at the heart of running activities for tourists, which is not only a major contributor to the local economy as a whole, but gives individual women greater financial independence.

The local women have not only used tourism as a tool toward the socio-economic development of their communities but as an instrument of conserving their ancestral culture, heritage and the local environment. The sharing of their unique culture and history gives the Quilombos pride, and builds their self-esteem and emotional well-being.

Jucilene Viana, an associate of the Route to Freedom Project has a message to women all around the world:

Hello women, I am Jucileine Viana Quilombola do Kaonge – Cachoeira, Bahia I am a farmer, teacher, artisan, oyster producer, local tourism leader, general coordinator of Maria Felipa Quilombos communities’ women’s Association. I want to tell you that our place is wherever we want. That united and collectively we can conquer whatever we desire. We are mothers, wives, queens of the home, we are everything, we are of the world, it is only a matter of wanting it and believing in it. Work gives us autonomy, it makes us strong and empowered, we gain freedom and we are happy!

For more information about the Rota da Liberdade you can visit their Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube channels.

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