Note from BBT: Of course, millions of Brazilians know what today is. The date of February 2nd is recognized throughout the culture with even songs speaking of the importance of today’s festivities. It is the annual celebration of the Goddess and Queen of the Sea, the African orixá (orisha) Iemanjá. The image and mythology of the orixás is indeed a fascinating topic to me as I believe these thoughts and beliefs about these spiritual entities hold a key to the liberation of the African mind.
In Brazil, the psyche of African descendants and nearly every cultural expression of African origin has been whitened in some way, shape or form. To this day, for millions of Brazilians of African descent, the African-origin religion of the candomblé is frowned upon with aspects of the spiritual system even being seen as demonic in some way.
In today’s times, many in the Afro-Brazilian community call for empowerment, representation and the true emancipation of the black Brazilians, including those who don’t even know that they are black.. But in my view, without a return to the source, such emancipation can never happen because the souls of the people have been so thoroughly whitened that even those that consider themselves conscious or ‘woke’ to some degree are endoctrinated to worship their oppressors in one way or another.
The culture and the history of the orixás and the celebration of one of the most important of these African gods is widely available and, as we know the force and influence of these gods in the Haitian Revolution, they represent another ‘root’ to which the African descendant must re-connect.
Below is a brief report on the celebration of the Goddess of the Sea, Iemanjá.
Queen of all waters: know the history of the orixá Iemanjá
iBahia talked with anthropologist Vilson Caetano to understand the history of the orixá and understand why Salvador has become a place of devotion to Iemanjá
By Carlos Bahia
Tuesday, February 2, marks one of the most important days of the year for many Bahians: the famous Day of Iemanjá. Even without the possibility of a party in the street because of the covid-19 pandemic, each devotee will make his/her thanks and show the adoration to the queen of the sea and the history of Iemanjá helps to understand why there is so much devotion to the orixá.
Those who think that Iemanjá is “only” the queen of the sea are mistaken. “Iemanjá and Oxalá form the mythical couple of creation. One believes that Oxalá is a potter. He shapes our bodies and Iemanjá takes care of our heads. That is why she is also invoked as the Orí, the owner of the heads. And it is in the head, in the Orí, that our destiny, our path or the possibilities to act and make choices in the world are found. She is invoked as a Great Mother,” explains the doctor in anthropology, UFBA professor and Babalorixá (priest) Vilson Caetano. He also says that Dona das Águas (Lady of the Waters) is also called Dona Janaína, Iara, Princess of Aiocá, Iara, Kaia and several other names.
For the specialist, Iemanjá can also be considered the mother of the diaspora. “Her cult is spread all over America where Yoruba Africans landed,” she says. The worship of the orixá can also be found in the region where today is Nigeria, through the egbás (southern group of the country) and also in the region of Abeokuta, in the southwest.
Connection with Salvador
The history of Iemanjá with the capital of Bahia began a long time ago, especially with the arrival of African peoples at the time of colonization. The geographic location of Salvador helps to explain the strong connection acquired with Iemanjá.
“Dona das Águas, also called Dona Janaína, Iara, Princesa de Aiocá, Iara, Kaia and so many other names was soon worshiped in a city where fountains, rivers, waterfalls abounded and soon after its foundation around the seventeenth century it earned a Dam,” says the anthropologist.
“As the city of Salvador is by the sea, or also a city of waters, because it depended on the waters to survive, the cult of the Queen of the Sea, who in fact is Queen of all Waters, was present from an early on. For the African presence, for the presence of the Moors through the Portuguese, for the presence of the original peoples who also had their divinity that took care of the waters,” he explains.
Salvador became the stage for the celebration from an extinct Ijexá nation candomblé terreiro (temple) called Língua de Vaca, located where the Bahia Technical Police Department is currently located in the neighborhood of Garcia. This also helps to explain the devotion to the orixá Oxum.
“Oxum is the greatest deity of the Ijexá people and along the Dique do Tororó several Ijexá families have established themselves, among them that of Júlia Bugan, founder of the terreiro Ijexá Língua de Vaca. It was from Aunt Julia’s house that the first people to go to the Rio Vermelho, which until the 1950’s, when her successor Emília de Xangô died, were carried in procession through the middle of the street, to the sound of small atabaques (drums) also played by women called ilu or assembled,” says the professor.
Gifts of Iemanjá
One of the most remarkable rituals of February 2nd is the delivery of gifts to the Queen of the Sea. For Vilson, the gift is an offering, which in turn is an exchange. “It is an exchange of what we need to live. The gift is a thank you. Once a year, one does not work and goes to the sea to give thanks. In the African continent this is still done today,” he says.
The babalorixá alerts to the problem that the presence of plastic in the offerings brought. Besides the environmental impacts, the material should not be offered to the orixá. “Plastic and its derivatives and glass are not gifts. I usually say that we should offer only what the fish eat because Iemanjá is enchanted by the fish. She is a large fish,” he summarizes.
Nevertheless, the party is the largest of African origin in the city of Salvador, according to Vilson. The term is not even very nice to the teacher. I prefer Iemanjá’s gift, because it’s a gift”, he summarizes.
*under orientation of reporter Isadora Sodré