By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act

“Brazil: DNA Africa” is a series of five hour-long documentaries that traces the African roots of Afro-Brazilians, as well as investigate the important contributions Africans made in the construction of Brazil as we know it today.

From DNA tests done on 150 African descendants of five Brazilian states with the most African descendants (Bahia, Maranhao, Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, and Rio de Janeiro), the project aims to help identify the ethnic origins of these Brazilians.

The series will show how the arrival of millions of Africans over the course of centuries had a strong influence on the arts, religion, cuisine and the formation of Brazilian people.

“Above all, slaves lost their names and their identity. With these DNA tests, they can re-establish the connection,” says Carlos Alberto Jr, the writer and director of “Brazil: DNA Africa.”

Slavery was abolished 127 years ago in Brazil, an institution that gave birth to a black and mixed population that today accounts for more than half of the country’s population. “Brazil: DNA Africa” has opened the door to tracing each identity trail back to its roots.

The tests were done by a company called African Ancestry, which is available to just about anyone (with a database of more than 30,000 indigenous Africans, the company says it can trace many original ethnic groups).

The Black Women of Brazil blog published a more in-depth piece on this; here’s an excerpt: “For decades, Brazil has developed its reputation as one of the most racially diverse countries in the world. After centuries of mixing between descendants of Africans, Europeans and Native Brazilians, the phenotypes of many Brazilians are often unique to Latin America’s largest nation. And although Latin America in general is associated with all sorts of racial mixtures, Brazil, while far from being the only nation that imported Africans to work in situations of enforced labor, is unique in the sheer numbers of Africans that arrived on its shores. Brazil received about 9 times more Africans than its northern neighbor, the United States. The cultural and racial mixture of the original three racial groups of Brazil was of such a widespread and intense nature that famed anthropologist Gilberto Freyre wrote that: ‘Every Brazilian, even the light-skinned fair one, carries about with him on his soul, when not on soul and body alike…the shadow, or at least the birthmark of the native or the black.’ For many Brazilians, this mixture has often lead to a confusion in terms of racial identity. When combined with centuries of deeply-ingrained negative connotations associated with blacks and Indians and it is understandable as to why others often avoid claiming identities as African descendants altogether. In the past few decades, Afro-Brazilian activists have made great strides in helping Brazilians of visible African descent proudly assume identities as either negros (blacks), or afrodescendentes.”

You can read the rest here.

The cross-continental documentary effort is executive produced by Monica Monteiro.

Much of the press on this that I found isn’t in English, making it difficult to gather further information (Google’s translate application isn’t exactly the best); the Black Women in Brazil blog really is the only English piece I found. But I’ve sent a message to the filmmakers (via the project’s Facebook page), asking for more information about the documentary series – especially whether it’ll travel (as I expect it will). So when I know more, so will you.

In the meantime, watch a preview below, which thankfully does come with English subtitles: