18th Century Nimba Goddess statue found in RS

First work of art of African descent found in the Americas

25/09/2018 - 09h07
18th Century Nimba Goddess statue

Photos: Camila Cunha

On Sep 26, a historical finding will be available to the entire community at the hall of the Main Library of PUCRS. It is a statue of a Nimba Goddess that has been found in Santo Ângelo. Its identity has been confirmed by the coordinator of the Multidisciplinary Group in African-Brazilian and Indigenous Culture (Neabi) of the School of Humanities of PUCRSDr Édison Hüttner.

Édison claims that the wood work was produced between the 18th and 19th centuries by African-Brazilians who were conversant with the art, sculpture and rituals of the Baga/Nalu peoples, from West Africa (Guinea, Guinea-Bissau). Huttner adds that this is the first sculpture of such genre to be found in the Americas. “This finding shows us the existence of authentic religious rituals among African-Brazilians”, says he, as he mentioned that secret rituals would be against the government’s regulations and that they would only be performed by males.

The statue was found by a fisherman in the 80s, in Ijuí River, after a severe drought. In 2016, the owner of the material, Getúlio Soares Lima, during Hüttner’s visit to Santo Ângelo, earned him an authorization to bring it to PUCRS and conduct his studies. The sculpture’s origin was only confirmed after two years of painstaking study that involved Eder Hüttner, his brother, and Klaus Hilbert, the coordinator of the University’s Laboratory of Archaeology. The statue was even subject to a tomography at the Brain Institute of Rio Grande do Sul (BraIns).

Fun facts about Nimba Goddess

  • The sculpture is 46.4 cm long and weighs 3.70 kg. The researchers claim that it was confined to a place where it would be worshiped;
  • Studies have shown that it was sculptured in a sole tree trunk by an African-Brazilian artists who was familiar with the tradition of the Baga or Nalu peoples of Guinea, Guinea Bissau, in West Africa;
  • The Nimba Goddess was worshiped by the Simo Secret Society, at the festivities for growing and harvesting African rice (Oryza Gulaberrima). This rice has been grown in the states of Maranhão and Bahia;
  • Nimba is considered to be the goddess of fertility and means “big soul”;
  • Each Nimba is a unique work of art, whose characteristics show originality, the artist’s ability and its context. Therefore, a Nimba is not an authentic reproduction of another Nimba.

Its origins

18th Century Nimba Goddess statue Researchers speculate on several hypotheses to which the statue might have arrived to the Ijuí river. Here are some of them:

  • In 1756, the Portuguese army spent eight months in Santo Ângelo, holding 190 slaves captive;
  • In 1765, a group of Africans from Guinea arrived in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, from the state of Bahia;
  • Later, in 1784, around 13,000 slaves from Guinea were sent to Buenos Aires in support of the trade treaties involving the Iberian countries;
  • In 1814 there were 250 Africans in the Sete Povos das Missões – a historic region that formed the Jesuit Reductions;
  • During the Revolução Farroupilha, a Republican uprising that occurred in southern Brazil in 1835, a quilombo – a settlement for escaped slaves – was settled at Villa de Cruz Alta, in Rio Grande do Sul. Back then, the Missões region, including Santo Ângelo (RS), was part of Cruz Alta. There were many quilombos all over Rio Grande do Sul – with slaves from Guinea.

About the exhibit

The statue will be at the main hall of the Main Library of PUCRS, from Sep 26 to Oct 30. The event begins on Sep 26, at 6:30 PM. It is at no charge and Edison Hüttner, Eder Hüttner and Klaus Hilbert will serve as curators.


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