Thursday, February 2, 2012

February Second - The Festival of Yemanjá

Every year on February Second, some million or more people in the Brazilian city of Salvador, Bahia, walk in procession through the streets of the Rio Vermelho district of that city, all dressed in white, making their way down to the seashore and the small house that's said to be the home of Yemanjá, a powerful goddess (Orixá) in the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé. Yemanjá is the essence of motherhood, the protector of children, fishermen and sailors, and most importantly, she is the sea itself. When the celebrants reach the shore Yemanjá's they pass their baskets laden with gifts for the goddess to fishermen to take out to sea and leave them on the waters as offerings to the Orixá. Gifts for Yemanjá often include images of the goddess, flowers and objects of female vanity (perfume, jewelry, combs, lipsticks, mirrors). Later in the day, the festival of Yemanjá becomes a massive street party which carries on into the night.

In the synchristic tradition that blends the Orixás who traveled to Brazil with African slaves with the saints and holy figures of Christianity who arrived with the Portuguese,  Yemanjá is identified with certain aspects of the Virgin Mary, and February Second in the Roman Catholic calendar is the day of Our Lady of Navigators (Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes). The celebrants at Salvador's festival honor one divinity in two personages, the African Yemanjá and the Christian Our Lady, without thoughts of separation or difference between the two.

Gifts for Yemanjá
As with all the gods and goddess of the Candomblé tradition, Yemanjá is associated with certain foods, and these foods are offered to her on her special day as well as eaten by her devotees at the street festival that follows the ceremonical activities of the day. Yemanjá's colors, like the Virgin Mary's, are white and blue - obvious choices for a Rainha do Mar (Queen of the Sea). An Orixá's favorite foods are often visually connected with his or her image and chosen colors, Yemanjá's special food are white, or very light in color (there are very few foods that are truly blue). Yemanjá prefers sweet foods, making such dishes as honeyed rice and sweet corn puddings essential parts of her festival. She is said to be particularly fond of a sweet coconut-flavored milk jelly called manjar branco (the word is a cognate of the French-English word blancmange). She also enjoys puffed rice, and this snack is everywhere at her festival.

The following YouTube video was filmed in Salvador on February 02, 2011 during the festival of Yemanjá. The soundtrack is Brazilian singer Baden Powell singing his composition Canto de Yemanjá.

Tomorrow, Flavors of Brazil will publish a recipe for Yemanjá's manjar branco.


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