Day of Xango (African Remembrance Day 2012)

Trip Start Jul 19, 2012
Trip End Aug 03, 2012

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Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá
What I did
Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá

Flag of Brazil  , State of Bahia,
Wednesday, August 1, 2012

As we get to the end of the holiday, the experience gets deeper.   We go on a trip to see for ourselves how Africans in Brazil are living and end up having an experience of a lifetime.  How many lifetime experiences can we have in a single lifetime?

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.     In addition to the usual academic curriculum, the school also teaches Yoruba.

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.    Here everyone regardless of age, color or social status worships the African God and perform the rituals.  There were special protocols to observe, one of the main one for the day being no black clothing.   At the end of the ceremony we all ate the specially prepared meal.

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.    Here, despite slavery and hundreds of years of persecution, African culture has not merely survived.  It has thrived, continued to exist and develop and is now a major force in one of the most populous countries in the world with people coming for all over the country and globally to witness and participate.       A most fitting tribute to African Remembrance day.

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.
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mayemi on

This is rhe most fitting and inspiring tribute to African remebrance day just so happy that you have both been blessed to be in a strong pan african relationship which embraces and promotes that which we are an " African people " The richness and authenticity of african culture still present, practiced, and respected in Brazil must be one of the most empowering life time experiences, this pilgrimage will and has done much to remind us all that we need to widen our horizons." Brazil here we come"

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