One of the most memorable moments that I experienced during the trip to my homeland, Brazil earlier this year, was unexpectedly stumbling upon a ceremony known as Festival of Lemanja. It was at a locals’ beach adjacent to Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) that I saw a large group of mostly Afro-Brazilians gathered under a tarp by the water. At this ceremony, white is worn, tribal drums are played, offerings are made to the goddess of the sea, Lemanja (pronounced ye-mon-JAH).
According to Culture Trip, she is “a central deity in the Candomblé religion. She watches over sailors and fishermen and controls their catches. She is very powerful, and is concerned with every aspect of womanhood, fertility and family; she is also the protector of children. She often is depicted as a mermaid and is always dressed in either white or blue.”
This chance encounter introduced me to the religion known as Candomblé, and the secret life of Brazilians who have chosen to pass down the faith of Brazilian slaves. It originated in the most African city outside of Africa, Salvador, the capital of Bahia. Candomblé is a fascinating phenomenon! I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a close friend about it, Felipe Brito, who was born and grew up in Salvador, but is currently based in São Paulo.
Followers throw a flower into the ocean, and make a wish. As they make their wish, they step over the waves seven times, reflecting on blessings with gratitude. It is believed that if the tide takes your flower away, Lemanja has accepted your gift and will grant your wish. If the flower washes back, your gift has been rejected and your wish denied.
Lemanja is just one of the many gods, or entities called Orixás. Followers may choose one or more to worship. Candomblé is in a sense, similar to Greek Methology.
Though not everyone in Salvador practices Candomblé, everyone is aware of its presence and practices. Once perceived as evil and persecuted by the Catholic church, it is now being embraced. As Felipe tells me, “it doesn’t matter if you believe in it or not, it’s a cultural thing, and it’s beautiful.” Along with Lemanja, there are other gods, or “entities” which you can channel for guidance and prosperity, using good energy, known as “axé”. But like all religions, there is potential for evil doing, if someone wants to do evil.
Disclaimer: Felipe’s family raised him as a Catholic and he offers an expert outsider’s perspective. I hope to be able to share an insider’s perspective on Candomblé soon! Please feel free to connect with me and let me know if you are interested in more coverage on this topic, and any curiosities you may have.