A group of men take up long bamboo canes and take their turn to circle the leaf Axe. They bob up and down, singing and calling, striking their canes to the floor to keep the Spirits of the Dead at bay.
A goat is brought to the centre of the circle from a side room. She wears a white and red cloth across her back, covered in axe symbols. …..A sacrifice?
I feel sick and wish I hadn’t eaten the pre-ceremony welcome of coffee and salgados.
Questions, struggles rise up in my mind regarding my own beliefs, morals and being predominantly vegetarian other than occasional fish, my comfort zones, …how open minded am I really…..?!!
A Feast Worthy of the Gods
Beyond the Axe centrepiece woven mats are lay out and a feast to honour the Orixa is set: three massive clay dishes of offal and chicken feet, live birds – the rooster, a dove…. More vessels of food and drink that I can’t discern…. The men pick up a vessel each or flapping bird and carry as they continue to circle the Axe.
Everyone singing now, calling, clapping. I glance a very old lady singing her heart out, she has a toothy grin. Her frame is tiny, she is in full white lace regalia. Another vision of beauty to me.
Lights flicker. Hanging bulbs. Film noir.
I naturally make these associations:
Singing out = Hymns
Place of worship, a long cool humble interior, corregated roof = The village halls I know from tea dances in rural Norfolk.
Waft of leaf and palm = evokes memory of Christmas tree pine
A cloaked figure appears from the side room
Literally a walking blanket of dark grey with a skull embroidered in red at the natural height of a face. The figure swaggers and sways in a dance. A spooky swaying square. The theatrical effect is incredible!
The feet are covered by trousers that hang to the floor. Again: simple illusion so this figure looks even more other wordly.
Our human protectors huddle together and crack their canes towards the ‘spirit’ as if defending themselves from a predatory animal.
A second figure comes into the room – a beautiful Darlik. Is this Egun ,the Orixa who communes with the Dead? He is clothed in a wonderful decorative garment: head dress, face covered with a fringe of swinging beads, long cloak of ties & godets – contrasting fabric, the outer of mirrored shapes and seashells reminding me of a Rajastani textile.
He swings and sways and grunts in a low non-threatening voice ….like Yoda! a vaguely human sound.
His costume carries with it a symbol.
As the Orixa approaches us, the audience, the men rabble around and use their canes to maintain a safe distance. One or two women sat next to Eun Jung and I whisper, and remind us not to risk looking up at him with a direct gaze! It’s so hard not to gaze directly at something you find beautiful. Like a dancing Christmas tree.
This is a marvelling mixture of theatre, threat and the awe of discovering a new species or alien.
The dancing, twirling, convulsions continue. This bird of paradise is in full movement, momentum and MAGIC are the result. When Egun finally leaves the room the session pauses to break.
I’m tired and bewitched. It’s 2a.m.
WOW! WOW! WOW!!! This – is – AMAZING!!
We eat a tasy supper of rice and vegetables. Everyone else, with chicken. The people here are warm and hospitable.
Cecile, Cristina and I talk over our impressions, our inspiration. Cecile tells me about Pierre Verger and Roger Bastide. Two French authors and anthropologist experts of Candomble.
The bamboo canes cast shadows against the wall.
Row of 13 chairs, each unique and regal in appearance. They are covered in folkloric detail. A long winding serpent, plants, flowers and symbols carved into their wooden surface. Some have metal detail, other upholstered with pretty textile. Most are old and very rustic, humble. They are magical.
I wander outside, against the advice given: now dead have been called up it’s unsafe to venture beyond the blessed retreat of the hall.
The night air is quite something.
Inside it’s humid and heavy, outside is fresh and calm.
Tall silhouetted palm trees and cicadas.
A huge glowing fire, embers floating up to the sky, crackles.
A huge tree stands by the fire and entrance to Ile Aye, like a Tree of Knowledge.
Ley lines / Nasca lines / a Power Place
The same red & white bunting from inside spans large areas outside, tied from tree to tree around the hall. As if the colourful orb is spider webbing out from that magical axe of leaves inside, a aura, a configuration on the earth big enough to be seen from space by spirits floating by.
I think of the Nasca lines in Peru. I imagine the colour, the channelled energy of the people, the ‘magic’ of this sacred interior extending and belting out rays of energy.
The final instalment of this Candomble ceremony begins with more surprises to come 🙂