By Sarah Corbett
The Balangalan. Brazil.
The number of enslaved African people who were trafficked to Brazil during the Atlantic Slave trave was higher than any other country. 12 million Africans were forcibly brought to the New World, approximately 5.5 million were brought to Brazil between 1540 and the 1860s.
Brazil profited from the unpaid labour of these people, and the colonial settlers also exploited these people to gain wealth. The enslaved people were key to the sugar industry, mining, cattle ranching, coffee and food production.
Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery.
In the 18th and 19th century women held in slavery in Brazil were forbidden from wearing adornment, this included forms of clothing which could be considered luxurious and all jewellery.
Female slaves who managed to buy their freedom because of their loyal work, created a unique and powerful piece of jewellery. An object of symbolism and adornment which always kept their wealth safely with them. Silver charms would be added over time to the piece, thus gathering wealth and status.
That Jewel was the Balandangan.
Essentially a hanger of silver adorned with two birds. A hinged and serrated lower edge supports varied large charms. These large charms symbolise abundance in the form of fruits, joy in the form of musical instruments, luck in the form of a fig, and protection in the from of Figa (Hands).
These pieces of adornment were a powerful response to slavery, they celebrate freedom, and individuality, they are a visual symbol of the power and identity of the wearer. They are unique to the women of African descent living in the North-eastern part of Brazil, especially Bahia and Salvador.