São Paulo – The history of Arab immigration in Brazil is recorded in many aspects, including food. And within food, there is a universe of possibilities. To analyze these potential topics, Museu do Café in Santos investigates and hears immigrants from Arab countries on this bean.
For the oral history project Memórias do Café Árabe (Arab Coffee Memories), researchers Bruno Bortoloto and Pietro Amorin are listening people from these countries who now reside in Brazil. “The intention is to have more access to a culture we know little of, and specially see it from the Arab point of view, not our own Western perspective. Sometimes we see it in the wrong way,” said Bortoloto to ANBA.
The initiative started when, in 2016, the Santos museum board made contact with the Coffee Museum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “The idea is to give voice for those people. We noticed the Arabic coffee culture is under-studied even among baristas. You have only the way to make that coffee but don’t see the rites and traditions involved in it. It may be even a question of Brazilian taste,” said the researcher. The initial intention is to make an exhibition about the Arabic coffee both here and there. Dubai’s Coffe Museum executive director Khalid Al Mulla even donated some objects (picture above) to the Brazilian museum.
From this first outline until now, two years have passed. “We became interested in the topic and I searched if there was a bibliography on the theme. We discovered the Arab coffee was inscribed in 2015 as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. We found the inscription inventories in Oman, UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. There we saw there was something to investigate. The inventories from UAE are very comprehensive on the traditions, rites and objects they used to brew the coffee and point out the specific items from the Bedouin peoples,” told Bortoloto. UNESCO is the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Wondering how to investigate further in Brazil, the researchers started looking for an answer within the Arab community in Brazil. “We looked for emigrates, from the ones that arrived in the 60s and 70s to the current ones, from the most different backgrounds. So far, we’ve interviewed Lebanese and Syrian. And, based on the UNESCO document, we established some questions to know if the Arabic coffee is still present in their lives. How was it in you home country? And how are the rites of the Arab coffee here in Brazil? During the researches, we saw that much is talked about coffee in funeral, weddings, for example,” stressed Bortoloto.
This ongoing process started in 2017, and researchers are now screening for potential interviewees. The idea is making audio and texts available online in the future. For now, they interviewed six people. Among them, Syrian refugees that arrived between 2013 and 2015, and Lebanese.
Just like the language itself changes from an Arab country to another, the researcher explains the same happens to the utensils used to brew the coffee. In the Mediterranean side, the rakwe is used. In Gulf, the name given to the pot is dallah. Some of these objects, such as funjals or finjians (cups) and Altawa and Almehmas (roasting pan and stirrer) were donated by Dubai’s Coffee Museum executive director Khalid Al Mulla to the Brazilian museum and will be present at the exhibition. The expectation is for the show to happen until the end of the year with the selected material.
Translated by Guilherme Miranda