Candomble, Salvador da Bahia
We booked through a travel guide we met in Pelourinho to go to a ceremony. It cost us 40 Reais each.
We were picked up at about 9/10 pm in a mini bus and went around hotels to pick up other people. The ceremony was held in a community centre in a favela.
In the communal ceremonies of Candomblé, the orixas are summoned through ritual drumming, chanting, and dancing in terreiros or houses of Candomblé. Exu, the messenger spirit who intervenes between the believers and the orixas, is the first to be summoned by the drummers and dancers. Exu opens the way for the orixas to descend to the earth.
As the Candomblé ceremony gains momentum, orixas become manifest in particular initiates who enter stated of ecstatic trance, becoming mediums through which orixas perform ritual dances and make their presence known to the believers.
It was midnight when we left and the ceremony had not yet finished. It was very interesting to watch but I think it was perhaps a show put on for tourists... but nonetheless I can understand that because if it was real they wouldn't necessarily want a whole bunch of tourists observing and taking pictures.
The late Pierre Verger is a French ethno-photographer who spent many years of his life travelling to the region around Benin and Bahia of Brazil, where he later settled down and eventually passed away there.
I would leave it to you to access the relevant sites for more accurate information about Mr Pierre Verger... but the works of Mr Pierre Verger can only touch and humble you.
In Belo Horizonte, I visited an exhibition of his life.
As I went through the exhibits, I was in absolute awe. I was thorougly touched by his MAGIC. His brilliant works of art display spontaneity, rhythms, diverse expressions, lyrical compositions, play of light and shadow, of people, cities, cultures… yes, humanity… L-I-F-E!
I was especially moved by one of the exhibits showing the Faces of the World. In there, while staring at the various faces from Japan, China, Mexico, Guatemala, Benin, Togo, Peru, Italy, Brazil, Nigeria…, I found them all staring back at me with pride, joy, intensity, passion, shyness, surprise… I don’t know but I had tears welling up to my eyes each time I see the photos. I was just so touched by everyone I saw through his lens, that he allowed me to see through his eyes. And I felt very grateful to them, and to him, for letting me see all this.
He captured LIFE, these people… so different, yet all the same, living under the same sky, sharing the same earth, captured for eternity in these images.
His photos caught all essence of life, people at work, sleeping, performing rituals at Candombles, partying at Carnaval, sharing a hug, having a cigarette, peering shyly out of a window, leaning on each other, looking relaxed, cheering, shouting, playing music, smiling smiling smiling…
There is a Pierre Verger centre in Salvador, although the photos displayed were much lesser than the one (not permanent, I think) I saw in Belo Horizonte, but it is still very interesting to visit.
Do visit the official Pierre Verger website provided below.
When I was in Salvador in 2002, there were not many obvious Candomble tours offered. But this time round, in 2005, Candomble tours are now offered everywhere and there are touts approaching tourists as well.
Candomblé is a religion with African origins and worships a number of gods or spirits, derived from African deities.
During the ceremony, several dancers would gather in the centre of the courtyard and make small movements with their hands and feet and dance to the various beats of the drums. This carries on for quite a while and the crowd attending the ceremony usually joins in, clapping and singing in the Yoruba (or other) language with fervour.
At one point, some of these dancers would fall into a trance, being 'possessed' by one of the different 'orixas' (deities). These would be dressed in special costumes (really gorgeous costumes... so this is the best part to watch) and carry implements representing these 'orixas'. They will usually go on to perform more dances symbolic of the 'orixas' attributes, like hopping on one leg, spinning around, etc...
The whole session can last several hours, ending around mid-night. Some food may be served along the way.
As this is a religious ceremony, please respect all the rules, like no photography, NOT to dress in the wrong colour (usually advised by the tour company), stand up when everyone does, etc...
A thoroughly enchanting experience as it truly takes you to another world that you might otherwise not see.
Best to go after vising the Museu Afro-Brasileiro so that you can get to know the 'orixas' beforehand and appreciate the costumes and implements used by the entranced dancers.
Museu Afro-Brasileiro contains exhibits displaying the cultural influences from Africa to Brazil. Unfortunately, the exhibits' explanations are written only in Portuguese but don't let that stop you.
The exhibits include many items representing the various African gods, called 'orixas', as well. And there were also photographs depicting the items in use, or during Candomble ceremonies. There are many differences from the origins of the 'orixas' in Africa to how they were adapted here in Brazil.
The exhibits show the costumes and implements used by the various 'orixas' and is quite informative for you to 'understand' a bit more of what you see if you are going to a Candomble ceremony.
There is also an exhibit of 27 wooden panels carved by Argentine artist Hector Julio Paride Benabo, called the Carybe which showed the various 'orixas', their special representative implements and animals. Very stylistic and artistically done.