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Sunday, 28 April 2013

Beads and Prayers: a Candomblé Ceremony in Brazil - Page 2

Written by Libba Hockley
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      A percussion band follows us everywhere we go through the Candomblé community. A group of men, each holding a different instrument, leads us through the dirt paths with soiled bare feet, smiling and singing in the late morning heat. One of the female leaders gives us straw hats to wear just like the ones that cover their heads. Multicolored ribbons with the words “Lembrança do senhor do bonfim da Bahia” which means “In remembrance of the savior of Bahia” hang from the hats’ rims, waving in the breeze and coloring this village. Our crowns of ribbon blend in with the community, and from afar I imagine it looks as though we—a group of North American graduate students—are a part of them. Children giggle through weathered cheeks and old eyes as they wrap around a white wooden porch staring at our foreign faces. One child looks up at me; I hesitate to hold her gaze at first, but find myself trying to see into her soul.

      We travel from mud hut to mud hut, following the music and black toes of Bahian children, feeling the dirt floors beneath our feet, smelling the earth dens they call home. They lead us through the religious ritual of one of the first African saints, São Rocque (St. Rocky), stopping at each home to ask for food and spices in order to complete the Final Feast of the Saints. At each small room, the parade of people crams in, beating their hearts into the mud floors, clapping and singing the words of their history.  

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      I glance above me at the low ceiling and see large streaks of light peering in through broken clay tiles. I think about what it’s like on a rainy day, how much water must pour in, how they stay dry, and if it matters. They are living with the earth, connected with the dirt, the rain, the sun and the clay mud. In a way, I can’t help but envy this closeness with the rain, with the land. When it rains at home, I shut the doors and windows to my house and curl up on my couch, dry and warm, so far from the mud.  

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      The locals of the community then lead us to the nearby village of Calembá where other mud huts stand in the dry, baking sun. We watch a woman mush dendê kernels, sloshing her wrinkled wrists back and forth in the stringy pulp. Liquid the color of rusty gold sprays the crowd as she sings and spins in circles around the pot. Bahian land is filled with dendê palm trees. She picks the dendê kernels from a nearby tree, then smashes, boils and strains the juices. Out comes dendê, or palm oil. She pours the oil into old plastic Pepsi bottles and sells them to nearby villages or to any passersby.

      We stand in the casa de farinha (flour house) where we watch a man and woman of the Caonge village take manioc tubers and process them by hand into flour. Manioc is a staple food in Brazilian society, somewhat equivalent to North America’s wheat. It grows in the ground as a tuber. Then is picked, peeled, shredded, pressed, sifted and roasted until it becomes a thin dry powder, ready to use in a plethora of Brazilian dishes from porridge to stews to baked goods. Its starchy nutrient-dense properties provide for all Brazilians, feeding them from the bountiful earth of their country.

      The band then leads us to the apothecary, or “rezadeira” (healer) of the community. We enter a small dark hut.  Broken chunks of dry mud make up the floor, smoothed out by the many soles that have crossed it. We stand in a circle behind the hut, surrounding a tiny, old woman as she twists and smashes the herbs of her garden. She is making a flu medicine guaranteed to battle any bug. Her biceps flex like the arms of a young man as she folds and presses on damp, green leaves. Her eyes peer deep and heavy, supported by dark shiny wrinkles that tighten as she smiles at us. Our eyes hang on to her every move. She tells us that her sons never once needed a doctor.

      After giving us bottles of the apothecary’s flu medicine, the women lead us to a large table nearby set atop with colorful dishes. A delicious feast prepared for the Saints lies before us, a high honor to receive in the community. Clay bowls of fish, rice, beans, oysters, crab, okra and manioc stretch the length of the tables. I eat as though I’m in the comfort of my family, surrounded by strangers whom I’ve just met hours before. I wash it all down with freshly squeezed guava juice, a definite at every Bahian meal. The food tastes as though it has come straight out of the ground or sea, doused with spices and generosity, and served in bowls of earth.    

(Page 2 of 4)
Last modified on Wednesday, 01 May 2013

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