Bahian woman Suellen Massena finds success on the internet sharing proverbs of the Yorùbá people

Note from BBT: Anyone who has discovered black culture in Brazil, particularly in places such as Salvador, Bahia, will be familiar with the strong African influences, specifically those of the Yoruba. As Nigeria was an area from a large percentage of the enslaved Africans sent to Brazil came from, these Nigerian people brought with them their religious beliefs, their music and culinary skills. Acarajé, for example, is a traditional fried bean fritter that is eaten throughout Brazil, is most associated with the baianas, the Bahian women, who sell their dishes on “tabuleiro” vending boards, in the streets of Bahia. Acarajé is made of beans, salt and onion and then fried in dendê or palm oil. In African, acarajé is called akara while in Nigeria it is known as kosai.

A number of articles here at BBT discuss the status of African origin religions such as Candomblé and the orixás that its followers worship. Although the Africans may have disguised their worship of these deities by syncretizing them with Catholic saints, the strength of the religion remains vibrant, strong and regular part of the lives of perhaps millions of people, even as so many Brazilians will deny their adherences to the gods of the Yoruba people. Why do people deny their allegiance to African origin religions, you might ask?

Well, when I started writing this introduction, I hadn’t even thought about it until I saw someone’s IG post today. I knew there was something about the day January 21st that I wasn’t remembering. That’s when I saw a post on IG a post reminding me that today is actually the National Day of the Combat of Religious Intolerance. You see, Brazil has long demonized African influenced religions such as Candomblé and Umbanda to the point that, still today, followers and temples of these religions are constantly under threat of assault. The date was established in recognition of the Iyalorixá (Candomblé priestess) Mãe Gilda who died on January 21, 2000, after being the victim of emotional assaults due to religious intolerance.

Bust dedicated to Mãe Gilda in Itapuã, Bahia

Followers of African-origin religions in Brazil endure many emotional, psychcological and physical attacks to be able to practice their religious beliefs but that’s only one area of the Nigerian touch. The influence of the Yoruba people can also be noted in the music where it is common note the Yoruba language pop up in the songs of blocos afros and Bahian pop. The names of two of most celebrated blocos in Salvador, Bahia, Olodum and Ilê Aiyê took their names directly from the Yoruba dictionary. In the Yoruba language “Ilê” means “casa” or ‘house’ while “Aiyê” means “terra” or ‘land’. Olodum, on the other hand, means “God of the Gods”, or the “Supreme God”, Olodumaré, the creator of the universe in Yoruba mythology.

In the city of Salvador and state of Bahia, it is impossible not to note this mark on Bahian culture. One baiana, Suellen Massena, also a follower of the Candomblé, has found popularity via social networks by sharing what she is learning about Yoruba words and sayings. Check out an interview with her below courtesy of the Alma Preta website.

Suellen Massena

Suellen Massena finds success on the internet with proverbs in Yorùbá

Encouraged to produce content just to stay close to friends in quarantine, the model and costume designer still processes the success of the work and says she learns together with followers

By Roberta Camargo

“I think this will bring you a direction,” was the phrase that Suelen Massena heard from the yalorixá, Nilzete Cardoso, when she got as a gift the pocket book that became a guide, script and inspiration for the production of morning reels on Instagram. “I always walked with it up and down, it became a book of power, I opened it and traveled in proverbs,” says the model and costume designer.

At 29, Suelen (@suelen.massena in social networks), a native of Salvador-BA, lives in São Paulo, where she works as a content producer, model – a profession she shares with her two youngest sisters and twins – and costume designer. The inspiration for each video of up to 30 seconds, similar to TikTok, recently added to Instagram and reaching over 200,000 people per post, came from home: “My mother has a proverb for everything, so there is always a saying to summarize what she means and to emphasize this or that,” she explains.

The great dream of the “reels counselor”, as the young woman’s bio in Instagram shows, is to write a book and she confesses that creating familiarity with the video is very new in her routine: “I was always in this place of not talking. I wasn’t shy, I was silenced. I started to do the videos as a real exercise”.

In an interview with Alma Preta, the content producer spoke about the beginning of her trajectory with the internet, interests, achievements and the next steps.

Alma Preta: How did you start producing the content in Instagram?

One Friday, I was wearing white clothes and I opened the booklet on the page that said “Whoever wears white clothes doesn’t sit on grease” and then I recorded a reel. 40 thousand views, everyone asking for more. I started receiving messages from people saying how I calmed them, how I brought peace…I woke up very early and started posting these things that I was already doing outside of the pandemic. I realized that I was already doing these things of “translating”, because I read a sentence that already exists and give my interpretation of it.

Alma Preta: How is the content production flow for you?

I just read what makes sense to me. I’ve had it (the booklet) for 7 or 8 years and each time it makes sense in a different way. I take it, I read it, I interpret it, I translate it and it welcomes people a lot. I’m not teaching anyone, I’m learning together. I realized that people have difficulty to learn, to free themselves from ties. I’m not here to teach you, I’m here to learn together and let’s do it.

Alma Preta: Spirituality is a very present point in the things you say on the Internet, tell us a little more about it.

In my generation, I am the only one among my friends initiated in candomblé. I realized that I already did this translation because people had access to candomblé through me. We don’t see things the way they are, but most of these sayings were our ancestors who chewed this for us.

Alma Preta: You cited the pandemic as part of the production scenario of your content, why do you think this should be taken into consideration?

I think the context that we come from, pandemic, leaves us very needy. I have created content for the internet since I’ve been on the internet, I just assumed that now, since the beginning of the pandemic. I always do it as if I’m doing it for my friends and I always surprise myself when I see messages.

Alma Preta: What returns do you usually get from what you put on Instagram? How do you see this?

This is a reflection of my personal growth. Of a work of mine that I have been doing, so many black woman that have been telling me that she is inspired, that she feeds on it. Our mental health, our being well is already a political act. We can never be well and share this, so with each publication I exercise this right. I don’t want to deny myself the right of my humanity, to feel anger, to be sad, but I want to be happy. This society denies us (this). As much as I can share with people for us to look and see how royal we are, I will.

Alma Preta: How has your relationship with brands been?

I’ve already done some works for brands too. One that I was very surprised about was the Fenty campaign, I thought: “My God, I’m working for Rihanna!

Alma Preta: What are the plans for the future?

It was very hard for me to put myself in this place (of content producer), but I have the plan to make longer content. I only know how to talk about the things I experience. That’s why it’s difficult to classify the production of my content. I think the podcast is the one that embraces me the most.

Source: Alma Preta

About Marques Travae 3622 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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