Balangandas catch your eye right away amid the tourist stuff that you have seen before. Something very new and intriguing. A beautiful shop in Salvador, owned by a Frenchman who has lived in Brazil for 30 years, has copies of balangandas in both fake silver and real silver. Originally, a slave woman would begin to create one by receiving a silver chain as a necklace. Then she would get an arc with two globes at each end, one representing Africa and the other Brazil. Then various charms would be added representing fruits in Brazil, a traditional musical instrument, a wooden arm and hand with the thumb between index and middle finger to represent luck, a gourd attached to a long handle used by men on horseback to scoop up water to drink from a stream, and more fruits. As it got heavier and the silver added up she usually wore the ornament pinned to her waistband.
Balangandas come from the time before slaves were freed by law. When a woman had gathered enough charms she could buy her freedom. And, how does she acquire these charms, you may ask? Well, they are given to her by her master for ‘favors given’. The story even goes so far as to say that slave women competed with each other for more beautiful balangandas with more charms of better quality silver.
Once free, these same women became the cooks of the street who celebrate their annual holiday on 25 November. While the story these pins tell is of a double slavery of sorts, you cannot help but admire the workmanship and beauty of the balangandas. It took years for a slave woman to gather enough charms, but they were a path to freedom.