Sabado 28 June
I became acquainted with some inspiring and hospitable visiting artists in residence on the island of Itaparica. Much to my extreme luck they invited me to join them at an all-night and very special Candomble ceremony.
The name itself means ‘dance in honour of the gods’ with music and dance being important parts of Candomblé ceremonies.”
-Quoting from http://www.akalatundedotcom.wordpress.com
Today in Bahia, the heart of Afro-Brasilian culture, Candomble is practiced with great reverence, pride and even secrecy (to nurture away from the vampiric tendency of tourism). As an anthropology geek I felt enormously privileged to gain access to this occasion.
Here’s what Happened According to my Diary:
“I have an afternoon siesta and then take an evening boat to Itaparica. The journey is a joy. Early evening, cool breeze, a quiet boat with a few locals. I take this time to think and reflect. As we get closer to Itaparica I can the see the pretty church illuminated like a beacon.
I arrive on the island and take some time to soak up the busy life of the praca by the large old church. Families and children everywhere. I love the outdoor play and social mingling in this country. I sit down next to a voluptuous Mae and her little boy having a cuddle and wish I could join them in this affection.
Food stalls, moto taxi, playground is buzzing. Lights, movement, dogs.
I imagine the Christians, colonisers and even further back, the Indians and their impression of this place on first arriving. When did time begin here? I am yet another visitor, my feet padding on to the shore, a new arrival. One of billions over the course of time.
I haggle and finally agree on a taxi ride to Instituto Sacatar – sleepy rural dirt track roads, such a different vibe here, horse in the street, red earth, a tropical version of where I grew up. Humility, peace, a natural place.
We (Eun Jung, Guillermo, Cecile, Jon, Niki and Cristina) go to the meeting house together by VW Combi van. I arrive a little late and only just catch them in the dusk light.
We arrive at the Ile Aye Tumtum Olokotum hall
‘Ile Aye’ = ‘House of Life’.
It’s simple building with a corrugated iron roof surrounded by tall palm trees. As we approach the narrow dirt rack to the hall I see women in Bahian white headwrap, lace and cotton walking ahead; a sign that something’s afoot.
I try to imagine for a moment the frame of mind of a local Camdomble follower in the lead up to a ceremony. I only have childhood Church to compare it with…feeling bored with a resigned sense of obligation. But this is a faith that has survived the test of time…displacement…cruelty. It’s a time capsule. A fundamental root. A family. I sense excitement!
Red Axes and White Cotton
We go inside the hall full of local people in their Candomble best. Women, men and children of all ages, amazing colourful clothes, arms and legs covered in respect, floral prints of every variation in lucious fabrics I feel I could be at a wedding. There’s a pleasant hub-bub. We are welcomed as guests and as women, given long skirts to wear.
There are red axe shaped decorations and big palm branches on the walls…, ..lots of long red and white bunting hangs from the entire ceiling. We wander further up to find a place to sit and see the most wonderful axe shape of fresh green leaves there on the concrete floor. An altar? It’s about 3 metres square.
The kitchen, just off the area of worship, is busy.
Communicating with Spirits
We are introduced to the priest and he explains, “when the ceremony begins Spirits of the Dead are invited into this sanctified place. As newcomers this can leave our own spirit vulnerable to possession and so, we are instructed:
“Don’t look at or touch Egun. Don’t speak to him. Don’t use your cell phone”
As a second course of protection he guides us to wash our eyes three times from a small dish of water. He wears a bright red voluimous tunic + white floppy hat. He looks amazing.
We admit a great sense of anticipation.
Eun Jung notices a rooster in the corner bound and moving helplessly.
Teenage boys practise drumming beforehand, warming up. Hip clothes – skinny jeans and baseball cap on top of their heads. In contrast to other men and young lads in regal traditional African garb. They are handsome and striking. Their drums wrapped in beautiful pink patterned fabric bows and of three different sizes.
And so Part One of the ceremony began.
The door of the hall is locked to keep the spirits inside and everyone safe.
The congregation is divided according to gender with men and women sitting in two separate camps.
The priest sings and calls out. Different sequences of rhythms. The drums are very loud. Metal percussion instruments. A band of boys and men.
As the singing and drumming begin a group of about thirty women get up and circle the axe of leaves. They sway, dance in simple symbolic movements and sing their hearts out. They sing and clap around the AXE.
One of the dancers wears a Hello Kitty t-shirt with her long floral skirt. This makes me smile. 21st century Candomble.
Step forward, step back, arms swaying. Turn and repeat. Hips and elbows swaying to and fro to the rhythm.
Ankle length skirts, like 18C Bronte sisters meets Tropicalia. A shimmying wave, pulse of floral prints with ribbon trim at the bottom.
A man arrives wearing a cool cream crochet beret, French style, beatnik. He’s also wearing a white and silver embroidered tunic, white trousers and matching white brogue slip-ons. Such a dandy!! He about 60 years old. As he bellows out a song with everyone else I notice his two front teeth are missing which only adds to his charm.
The Dandy is full of humour and play. Calling out to specific women who smile and sing back a response.
Several sequences are danced and sung out, calling up the Spirits of the Dead. …Different rhythms, different songs….. Part One comes to a close as the women convoy down the hall in a grand finale free flowing dancing queue and then back up to circle around the axe leaf altar.
Catholicism and Candomble
Small Orixa statues in the corner? A candle is lit to acknowledge them. I look later to discover that they are Catholic saints.
It’s midnight when Part Two begins…..