introduction
‘‘Mama Africa is a single mother who has to prepare baby
bottles every day, besides wrapping gifts for a living at Casas
Bahia [a Brazilian retail chain].’’ This famous verse by Bra-
zilian singer and songwriter Chico César portrays Africa in a
way that is quite di√erent from its dominant representations
in Brazilian popular culture. His words are not in tune with
the prevalent festive discourses, and they call for contempla-
tion rather than celebration. Chico’s Mama Africa is an elo-
quent expression of this book’s argument: reinventions of
Africa have been tremendously important for black commu-
nities in the diaspora and have frequently spurred black re-
sistance, but they have simultaneously helped corroborate
preestablished notions of blackness. Although they have
functioned as sources of inspiration, the myths of African-
ness produced in the Americas have also served to wear out
Africa by reducing it to a limited set of images. As Chico’s
song tells us, ‘‘Mama Africa has many other things to do
besides taking care of the baby; she has blisters on her feet,
she needs peace, and she doesn’t want to play anymore.’’
Mama Africa’s baby symbolizes the descendants of en-
slaved Africans who were dragged from their homeland,
who have continuously imagined and reinvented Africa
from afar. They have kept Africa alive in songs, legends,
foods, dance forms, and, above all, myths. Unlike prevalent
notions that associate myths with falsehood or deceiving
narratives fabricated to mask reality, my use of the term myth
is not in any way meant to diminish the power of the belief
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