I find an amazing place to live on Morrão Sereia.
This name means ‘Mermaid Hill’ and Yemanja graffiti is everywhere. She’s the Orixa of the sea and the protector of fishermen. In fact, as an extremely old port, Yemanja’s name and image is woven into the very mindset of Salvador…..in shop signage, advertising, hotel names, street names.
A series of serendipitous events lead me to meet Suzy who has a spare room to rent. I’m taken to a magical place right on the seashore where the waves crash right below the concrete patio. Her house is like a brightly coloured cave.
Life on the Morrao is unique. A labyrinth of alleys and tumbledown dwellings; windows and doorways at all different levels, narrow winding steps. These former fishermens’ cottages are part of an urban enclave completely disguised from the main road, like a tropical Narnia; a combination of favela, termite hill and jewel with mosaic, decorative tile and coloured glass here and there.
I joke one evening expressing my pleasure at discovering the doorway to this camouflaged world. Salvador is an intense city and this place provides some much needed respite. Suzy goes on to tell me about the Quilombos: fugitive slaves who formed a secret community here centuries before and in other secluded places like the Morrão.
Picture of Zumbi monument
Ayahuasca ‘plant medicine’
One evening I am invited to take part in an Ayahuasca ceremony. I’ve heard much about this hallucinogenic brew or ‘plant medicine’ and I’m really curious. I don’t intend to ‘imbibe’ but the invitation still stands and I join eight others at a nearby hovel, beautifully cosy inside.
Etiquette is shared and the ritual begins. Our host addresses us with words of devotion of the medicine that will take each of us on a personal journey to commune with the spirits of nature herself. He pours a measure per person and we take it in turn to enter the circle and drink – in my case, a half measure.
Members of our circle play drums, flute, tambourine. They are amazing accomplished local musicians. We all sing ‘hinarios’ from a little hymn book of Santo Daime songs.
This is a relaxing colourful and charming place to be.
The lyrics leap off the page. They are bursting with beauty and describe with humility an adoration of the natural world. The language is simple and overall easy to understand; I feel a surge of inspiration and make discreet notes.
After another measure of the sacred brew I only feel content and relaxed, no strong affects. Others are ‘flying’ interspersed with visits to the banheiro to purge.
Weeks later, when I reach a peaceful rural retreat near Itacare, I paint some of these rich and poetic words. They’ve been living in my imagination since that long evening, roots have grown and they blossom into some paintings:
Santo Daime is a religion founded in the 1930s by Mestre Raimundo Irineu Serra, the son of former slaves. It was during work on rubber plantation that he came into contact with people who taught him how to use Ayahuasca. In these early experiences he encountered the Virgin Mary (the Queen of the Forest) and began receiving spiritual guidance which developed into organised worship Santo Daime.
What evolved was a fascinating amalgamation of religious and spiritual threads: a Christian core is combined with other elements, such as an emphasis on self awareness and personal development, an Animist appreciation of nature, such as the Sun, Moon and Stars, as well as the totemic symbol of the ‘beija flor’, the hummingbird. Links with Shamanism can also be made.