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Barra Grande

A village in transformation and

the advent of capitalism

The municipality of Maraú - Bahia, is located within the APA (Environmental Protection Area) of the Maraú Peninsula, with a perimeter of 82 miles encompassing an area of approximately 53,000 acres. A coastal region south of the state capital of Salvador, known as the Costa do Dendê, the municipality is home to several towns including Taipu de Fora, Algodões, Campinhos, Taipu de Dentro and Barra Grande. Barra Grande sits at the tip of the peninsula. To one side stretches the Bay of Camamu, to the other the "open sea"  of the Atlantic Ocean. The town’s privileged location amongst such natural beauty has contributed to its recent emergence as a national and international tourist destination, attracting more and more visitors and people building second homes.

The local lore holds that the area was once home to a now extinct indigenous group called the Mayra. But in 1705, Italian Capuchin friars arrived in the region and settled there, building a chapel and beginning the work of Christianization and colonization in the region.

 

Older residents told us about a long ago coconut and palm oil farm, where local workers filled boats with oil to send to Opalma, a large factory located in the Bahian recôncavo. People worked on the farm and lived on artisanal fishing as their main food source.

Municipal boundaries Marau

Church located in the center of the village of Barra Grande - date unknown

Lia - Fisherwoman / First families of Barra Grande

Seu Aracy, one of the oldest residents of the community, says that the farm belonged to "Aunt Rosa," hence the name Fazenda Roseira. Aunt Rosa had no heirs, so she left her land to her nephews, but before that, she allowed  some of the nativo residents to build their taipa wood houses on her farm. One of Aunt Rosa’s nephews, Zezinho, inherited most of the land where the village of Barra Grande is located, and he decided to subdivide and start selling the land to the few vacationers who came to spend their summer holidays in the village. Even though it was still accessible only by boat, rich families from the cacau trade in the region began to build or rent summer houses in the village. Barra Grande gradually became a tourist destination. Luckily, when Zezinho divided the land, he adopted a policy which was inclusive of long-time nativo residents, offering them land at half price and allowing them to make payments over time. The village elders believe that this practice is what ensured the permanence of the nativo population despite the tourist boom and subsequent real estate speculation. The adult children of fisherwoman Eliacy, for example, own markets and stores in the center of the village. Such nativo ownership is quite common, demonstrating that despite the tourist boom in the region, long-time residents are still able to hold on to key businesses and real estate. Jacira, another nativa fisherwoman of the region, owns land on the village's main street, where she lives with her whole family, resisting the onslaught of big businessmen who are trying to buy up all the valuable land.

Old bridge

Another native elder told us that it is common for the new investors from outside to unite in order to tear down a house that does not align with the style of the surrounding houses. Generally, the differences between the houses are marked by social class. One represents the native lifestyle, the fishermen, or the family farmer,  reflecting a simple lifestyle. These are typically small houses, even when they sit on an expensive piece of land. Such homes are opposite those of the outsiders, who desire big houses with sophisticated architecture. Large homes are typically owned by residents of different regions in the country who use them as second homes or as real estate investments. The large tourist-oriented businesses that cater to the high-income public and have the most significant profit in the region are almost always owned by outsiders, not nativos.

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Luxury condominiums by the sea

Currently, the village is undergoing intense change and with the arrival of year round tourism, the nativo way of life has been transformed. The village has received celebrities and big businessmen from the southeast of the country and abroad, who have bought land, built mansions, and launched million dollar real estate projects. In addition, the economic crisis, inflation, and climate change, and many other recurring changes around the world in the last several decades, are also affecting the small village and its residents. The population increase in the village is dramatic, despite the fact that overland access to Barra Grande is extremely difficult because the only road, BA-030, is a dirt road, often impassable due to the rain and mud. The future of the road, and whether or not it should be paved, is itself a point of dispute between nativos and the new entrepreneurs working in the tourism sector. On the one hand, nativo residents want to improve their access to urban centers like Camamu, which is currently only possible on boats owned by private companies. Residents must pay R$70.00 for the trip just to do routine errands, such as going to the bank, shopping, and going to the post office. In addition, the need for urgent transport, such as in the case of medical emergencies, is also cited by nativos as a reason for paving the road. The big businessmen, on the other hand, are against paving the road, which they think would make the tourism more “popular” and less exclusive, in addition to increasing the environmental impact in the region.

Female artisanal fishing in Barra Grande

Raimunda fishing on the bridge

As we began to accompany the fisherwomen in their daily routines, we learned little by little about fishing and about the many relationships that shape the village. Fishing as a way of life, the women told us, is decreasing. It is threatened with extinction due to the growing advance of tourism in the region, the increase in real estate speculation, demographic changes, the establishment of new cultures in the village, new economic needs, and new forms of interaction with the outside world, such as digital platforms. It  was clear that in addition to these general struggles that fisherwomen face as nativos of the village fighting to maintain their traditional ways of life, they also face other battles, related to gender, within small-scale fishing itself.

Audio 01 - Loloca contando sobre antigamente
00:00 / 01:04

Small scale or artesanal fishing in Barra Grande is a family tradition. As the fisherwomen like to say, they were born into fishing. They grew up fishing. Their parents raised their families through fishing. In a lifestyle completely different from the current one, families caught their food daily and did not store it, as they had no refrigeration. The goal was not to accumulate significant excess, but rather to fish primarily for immediate consumption. What little that was left over was salted, preserved and sold or exchanged in Camamu, to obtain salt, flour, and sugar. It was a subsistence-based family economy, which did not aim at profit but rather at maintaining social well-being. This time is fondly remembered by all the fisherwomen as a time of abundance. A time when they were happy, nurtured by family life, and in a profound interaction with nature. Whether fishing at night with torches to catch lobster, recounting the flavors of their childhood recipes, jumping off the bridge with their brothers and cousins, or walking through the mangroves to catch crabs with their mothers, these women remember this past as a time of joy.  

 

“Antes era muito melhor, a gente tinha menos conforto,

não tinha geladeira, nem luz, nem nada dessas coisas de hoje,

mas era muito melhor!”

“Before, it was much better. We had less comfort; there was no fridge, no light, or any of those things you see today, but it was so much better!”

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Lobster galore

Their nostalgia is associated with other non-modern references. For these women, the advent of technology and access to different resources that generate “comfort,” such as refrigeration for storage, faster means of transport, televisions, and the internet, do not represent development in a positive sense. The past, even while full of limitations such as the impossibility of storing food, did not generate feelings of scarcity but, instead, feelings of abundance. You only took what was necessary, and that is why there was always something to take. Nowadays, they emphasize the drop in the number of octopuses, lobsters, and fish they can catch. Technology and tourism, they say, have transformed the fishing life.

Old boats that used to arrive full of Tainha

Today, they compete for space with boats that come from other regions to fish on the coast of the village. Even around  the space of the pier, where fishing with a boat is technically prohibited, visitors attempting to try their hand at fishing throw nets and tangle the women’s lines. Fisherwomen must compete with sportfishing divers outfitted in the latest technological equipment, who catch the biggest octopus in deeper waters before they even reach the corals. Nonetheless, these women resist, fight to defend the fishing way of life, and at the same time the space of women within artisanal fishing. Longing for an abundant era such as the one they experienced growing up, shaped by mutual aid and respectful family relationships, these women struggle to maintain their space in artisanal fishing, and their way of life in a globalized and increasingly capitalist world. Their main objective in fishing is not monetary. Commercialization can happen if there is an abundance in the catch, but the main objective is to feed their families and to maintain their connection with the activity that makes up their identity.

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Camboa and canoes

There are two main forms of female fishing in Barra Grande: small fish caught with a rod in the corals or on the pier – which they call the bridge – and octopus fishing which is done with bicheiros, also in the corals, which they call the arrecifes (reefs). Currently, they don't fish to sell their catch. But rather, they say, because they love it and because they want to maintain their way of life. Whereas in the past, the fishing of their grandparents and parents was a method to ensure food security for the whole family, currently, most of the women explain that they do not make a living from fishing.  They have other means, many of which are connected to tourism to the region. Some work in the service industry cleaning and cooking. Others have their own markets, shops and restaurants. However, earning their income through other work, they told us, does not change their identities.They are fisherwomen and shellfish gatherers first.

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Fisherwomen in the corals

Fishing for them is also a time to be together with their friends. In their words, it is therapy, an adventure, and a form of care. Every time they mention a species they fish, they mention their partners, children, and grandchildren who like that particular fish.  They share recipes and are visibly happy talking about their fishing practices and being able to bring joy to their family members by cooking their favorite dishes. Most everyone tells us that they fish to eat and feed their own. Not because  they can't buy other foods, but because of the affective connections they have with the fish, octopus, and lobsters and because of the ways in which fishing and eating their catch together creates deeper bonds with one another, and with their families.

Furthermore, they say, the fish caught on the bridge are small and of various species (chumberga, guaiúba, bodião, chicharro), and are not suitable for restaurants and hotels. Feeding the fishing growing culinary economy is mostly up to the men, who go out in boats, put on their gamboas, pull their nets in a technique called calão, and throw their nets to sell their fish to the tourist market.

The women’s small fish are mostly eaten at home, offered to children and neighbors, and sold to residents, who are willing to buy 1 kg of fish of various species to fry them or to make moqueca. Fishing is sharing– sharing time, sharing the catch. In general, the women always go fishing together, either on the reefs or on the bridge. They walk or cast a line together, laugh together, and share bait, jokes, fish, mutual aid, and even the money earned from fishing in some cases.

Fish in the samburá

Currently, as the president of the Maraú fishermen's colony informed me, there are around 100 fishermen registered in the RGP (Registro Geral da Pesca) in Barra Grande. 65% of these are women, a fact which attests to their strength and importance in the local fishing scene. Of the 10 fisherwomen we accompanied, only two were not registered members of the fishing association, a process which is referred to as colonization (or to become part of the fishing colony). One of them was in the process of preparing her documentation to join and the other had not joined because she was also employed as a teacher at the municipal school, making it unnecessary to join since she would already receive a pension. Of the 8 colonized, only 2 were active members of the colony, the other 6 were already retired but continued to fish.

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Raimunda on the bridge

Beyond activities in the open ocean, there are also other forms of fishing in the village that take place in the mangroves at the estuary of the Carapitangui River, inside Camamu Bay. Crabs, aratus, and lambretas are common types of shellfish collected by the families that live on the banks of the river. These are fished by hand, or with cans that serve as traps. Fishing in the mangroves, which was once widely practiced, is now mostly restricted to families on the banks of the river. The physical effort of this type of fishing, as well as the changes in laws that prohibit fishing during reproductive periods, make this type of fishing more difficult and increasingly less common in the region.

Fishing grounds in Barra Grande

Lia e Miracy
Loloca Bené e Marisa
Chica
Jacyra
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Técnicas
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