Sylvain Savolainen

Reporter / Photographer

Salvador de Bahia

Writer Jorge Amado’s working-class heroes

In 1549, Tome de Souza anchored in the Bay of All Saints and founded Salvador de Bahia, the first capital of Brazil. For centuries, the city prospered on sugar cane and slave trade, becoming the largest slave market ever. Drawing on the benefits of colonial trade, Salvador became one of the most radiant cities of the Americas.

Today, eventhough most of the city has been classified UNESCO World Heritage, and its carnival is the most appreciated in Brazil (before Rio de Janeiro), it's the humble people of Salvador who make the city a vibrant and poignant place, not the usual Brazilian stereotypes of soccer, beaches and pretty girls.

Even after Jorge Amado’s death, life in São Salvador de Bahia de Todos os Santos, the Bay of All Saints, is still like something out of a novel. Amado was the chronicler of the city he loved, and he wrote profusely about her. His books demonstrate a deeply rooted respect for the people and a fascination for the stories of their lives, rooted in violence but also full of laughter and sensuality. Besides an original presentation of Bahia, the feature is also a tribute to Jorge Amado. Street life and house interiors, sugar cane cutters, the impressive elevator which slices the city in two, separating the upper and the lower classes, the wealthy areas in the heights of the burg and the poor downtown, the boxers, bars, prostitutes and candomble, the Afro-Brazilian cult, the main religion in this country: these snapshots await the visitors who get off the beaten track. The voice of Jorge Amado, the people’s troubadour who lived in this city, was exiled and finally came back to die, still echoes in the streets, the atmosphere and the lives of the people of Salvador de Bahia.

The story is structured in such a way that almost every picture refers to a sentence, an extract, a place or a character in one of Jorge Amado’s books.

The boxer Balduino, protagonist of the book “Bahia of All Saints”, first published in 1935, is not dead. Mae Preta (which literally translates as the black mother), the prostitute with whom the author was befriended, has become an old, white-haired lady, and although she no longer really works the streets, she does take in abandoned children and still likes to strum on her guitar. The famous elevator still works, and continues to represent the social fracture dividing the country.