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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Candomblé-Supplemental post

This is a "supplemental" post because I will post again today to share what we did as a group today.  However, a few of us had an interesting experience that I wanted to share from last night.

The majority of Brazil is Catholic.  However, even their normal catholic rituals are different than those we normally see in the US. There is a "significant overlay" of Afro-Brazilian religions with catholic practice in Brazil.  For example, the Orishás (gods or spirits) of Candomblé are combined with the Saints.  When we saw the statues of the Orishás at the home of Jorge Amado in downtown Ilheus, Marcelo and Fabricio, the terrific faculty from UESC who have graciously been our guides while we are here, were discussing with each other which of the Orishás were theirs.  I interpreted this to be that they select one for themselves much like our children do for confirmation (but I cannot claim to be an expert).

One of our great hosts (Marcelo) offered to take us (Kate, Kiera, Mitch, Hank, and I) to a religious ceremony of Candomblé last night.  I will admit that many of us were slightly nervous and not sure what to expect.  I don't know about anyone else, but I was picturing something dark with lots of candles and deities. This ceremony was far from that.  

As soon as we got out of the car we could hear the drums.   We followed Marcelo's friend into a building where the ceremony was being held.  There was a hallway that opened up to a large open room with white tile floor.  As we walked down the hallway I noticed an altar with a bowl of popcorn set in front of it as an offering.  We entered the large room and sat in couches covered in red sheets that lined the outside of the room.  At the front of the room was an altar.  Placed on the floor in from of the altar there were many vases with white and red flowers. The altar was essentially a stage, raised about two feet off the ground, with a short white fence.  The fence had sashes draped across it and tied into bows.  On the stage were three boys/men with three different-sized conga drums tirelessly playing the upbeat music for the ceremony.  Under the stage there were dolls and other toys strewn about.  The entire ceiling was decorated with white and red streamers and there was a mural of Orishás along one wall.

Women in white dresses danced and sang to the beat of the drums, following the lead of a woman who was obviously the high priestess.  There was a hierarchy even between the other women, as could be observed by their actions when it came time to pray to the different Orishás.  Women of lower stature were required to lay on the floor and kiss the hands and bow to the women who were above them in "rank."  Occasionally the women would yell and shake with the spirits that had incorporated their bodies.  In the beginning, the Spiritual Mother covered herself with a type of powder, and then walked around the entire room, starting with the other priestesses, and gave some of the powder to everyone else.  Then she did the same with a canister of burning incense.  I believe these were both her way of cleansing our spirits.

Most of the ceremony included the women dancing and singing a song to Obaluaiye (also known as Omolu, which, if I remember correctly, was Fabricio's "saint"), and praying to all of the deities.  This particular ceremony was dedicated to this Orisha and was for healing or health.  One of the women was overcome by his spirit and displayed his dance, which is hunched over, as if in pain, imitating suffering and shaking with fever.  The Spiritual Mother was also overcome by the spirit of Obaluaiye, and in the end she blessed those who asked her for blessing.

At one point in the ceremony the priestesses presented offerings of popcorn and a sweet soup made of coconut and corn.  Offerings (or perhaps blessings) were first made to the corners of each room by throwing handfulls of popcorn.  Then the Spiritual Mother seemed to bless each of the priestesses by throwing popcorn at them.  Then everyone present was offered a large handful of popcorn with large pieces of coconut in it, and we were instructed to eat it.  They then offered everyone a cup of the sweet soup (two different times).  We were told, later, that this is a way to get children and others involved in the ceremony beyond the chantings and actions of the priestesses.  

At the end (nearly 2.5 hours later) the Spiritual Mother greeted us with a large smile.  She told us if she had known we were coming she would have prepared a meal for us (it seems the tradition of welcoming people with food is universal).  She enjoyed being able to tell us more about her religion and the ceremony.  I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to observe such a beautiful and fascinating ceremony.  While the undertaking of the ritual is in stark contrast to the normal christian church service, I would have to say that many parallels could also be observed.  To me, it helps to reinforce my belief that we as a human race are not as different as so many people see at first glance.  If all in the world could see this, it would be the first step to that ever-mythical (and sometimes cynical) idea of "world peace."  

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