Day of Xango (African Remembrance Day 2012)
Trip Start Jul 19, 2012
17Trip End Aug 03, 2012
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Where I stayed
Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá
What I did
Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá
Today is the first of August and the question on our mind was "What will we do for African Remembrance Day?" One of the things on our list that we had yet to achieve was a visit to a Candomble house, a Terreiro. We finally had confirmation that we would be visiting Ile Axe Opo Afonja, the Terreiro where Mae Stella1 of Oxossi is the Iyalorixa. Being the first Wednesday of the month, there would be a festival for Xnago with an offer of the AMALA (food for Xango). We would be able to visit their museum etc and if we were lucky we would also be able to meet Mother Stella in person.
So we headed for Cubela on the other side of the city, not quite knowing what to expect but feeling sure it would be a good experience and fitting for the day. Cubela is at a high elevation and somewhat cooler that other parts of Salvador. It is also endowed with much vegetation and so has something of a rural atmosphere.
As we entered the compound we stopped at the house of Xango to pay our respects. It was still early in the morning and there were quite a few people already moving around preparing for the day's festivities. We were introduced to, and exchanged greetings with, a number of key people and shown around the compound. The compound itself is a self-contained community with dwellings, utility buildings as well as ceremonial buildings and spaces.
Spread around different were the houses of each of the Orixas painted in their characteristic colors and with their names displayed on the outside. As we approached each of the houses we stopped to pay respect. There was a lot of vegetation used for medicinal and therapeutic as well as for ceremonial purposes (the blessing trees). The blessing trees were usually recognizable by the cloth tied around their trunk and the clay pot or calabash at the root containing offering. At one end of the compound is a forest of considerable size and we were told that it originally stretched for several miles in one direction but that much of the land had been donated for the establishment of a nearby community.
The compound also hosts a school for children of the families of the Terreiro as well as from the wider community
After the tour of the compound it was time for cleansing and blessings. After the cleansing ceremony we were taken to meet one of the revered elders of the Terreiro, Mae Detinha De Xango who performed the blessing rituals.
We left Mae Detinha’s house in time for the start of the main festival ceremony and noticed that the number of people in the compound had increased significantly and that most of them were now gathered around the house of Xango and making their way inside. As we stood at the entrance waiting for Mae Stella and other elders to enter, there were several well-dressed men also making their entrance. One in particular was identified to us as a deputy mayor of the city and a senior official of Ilê Axé Opô Afonj.
The ceremony itself revolved around the shrine of Xango and the court of the Iyalorixa. Each participant files into the main room in Xango’s house where Mae Stella was seated surrounded by the other officials either seated or standing in a semicircle. Participants prostate themselves in front of the shrine of Xango and pray for whatever they wish before greeting and paying their respects to Mae Stella and the other officials
Our guide made it possible for us to have a special, brief audience with Mae Stella.
When we stepped out of the house, the school was in recess and there were children milling around the yard playing. It was particularly interesting to see familiar games including one group of girls skipping. We were given a tour of the museum consisting of artifacts, pictures and documents detailing the over 100 year’s history of the Terreiro, the founder Mãe Aninha and subsequent Iyalorixas up to the current Mae Stella.
Once again the day’s event exceeded our expectation. We had intended to visit the Terreiro as observers to catch a glimpse of something and possible meet the key proponents of the religion, instead we ended up as participants in the living African religion that is not only practiced for ceremonial purposed but defines the life of its practitioners
1 Mae Stella is one of the most respected Iyalorixa. Candomblé was prohibited in Brazil for centuries up to 1945, and thereafter in Bahia a license was required, the same that was required by nightclubs and gambling establishments. After a personal appeal by Mãe Stella of Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá to the governor of Bahia, this requirement was lifted leading to the proliferation of the religion. Mae Stella has been at the forefront of a movement to reverse the process of syncretism and to separate Candomble form its Catholic influences. In 1983 Mae Stella declared in an article in a leading magazine that Candomble is a religion in its own right.