more about Candomblé Ceremony

Salvador da Bahia Travel Blog

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Salvador is the African hub of Brasil. We´re being serenaded by the reggae rhythyms until well into the night. Our accomodation is in an area known as Pelhourino, which I think means "Land without sleep and many hard beds." Seriously, my bed is the slatted sort with a mattress made up of have a dozen sheets of two ply on top. It´s like sleeping on a mossy picket fence. Factory in Bob Marleys voice coming in my (Shut) window at decibel levels usually reserved for fighter aircraft on full afterburner, and you can imagine that my feelings may not include "Love" but rather have more in common with "Homocide".

Despite this, Salvador is actually a lot of fun. The food is awesome, lots of African spices, and funky clothes. Massive churches with more gold leaf on them than I´ve ever seen. Eventually, we decide to attend a candomblé ceremony.

This attraction is kind of like a mass. The candomblé religion is from Africa, though it now incorporates some catholic features at the start of the mass. We rock up expecting the usual show on rails, but the driver assures us that this is authentic, and that people will be possessed, and that we should be careful. I note his conviction but my inner cynicism holds me back fom fully beleiving that an African Orixa (Ori-sha, kind of like a god, but more like a patron saint.) will come down and say hi.

We enter the courtyard at the back of the house and remove our shoes, and go into a room filled with white and some images of Xangó the messenger from god. Xangó is the Orixa of messages, paths and homes, but he has a fork, is red and black and a huge cock protudes from his groin. Apart from that last part, he seems a lot like a guy that the nuns in Primary school told me to avoid, and I´m not talking Randall the paedophile that worked next door.

Apparantly Xango is often confused with Satan, but they´re completely different. At least that´s what they´re telling me. I think. It´s either that or they´re smiling while they tell us how tasty we look.

"They" are the congregation. A family of about a dozen or so women aged between 15 and 45, but mostly about 30. The door at the rear of the room is to the house, where family members seem to come and go at will, joining and leaving. All up there are probably about 30 people involved in this ceremony, all lead by the father, a stocky bald guy with intense eyes.

The first part of the ceremony is a lot like modern mass, except it´s conducted while face down on the floor. We sit down instead and spectate, men two one side, women to the other. By men, I mean myself and an english guy. Our guide has hightailed it because "I no like.... Too strong spirits in there..." he noted as he locked the mini bus Door. I start to worry for my immortal soul, but soon decide that I can handle whatever happens. I do not know where this opinion comes from, but after several sleepless nights, my delusions seem to be becoming part of my reality. Either that or I AM really invincinble. I guess we´ll find out.

After the usual murmered prayers, and a bit of kneeling and standing, the elder man puts some water on a central tile of marble, and they sort of shuffle around it. I´m reminded of Kylie Minogues Locomotion, and look around for her. No luck.

Suddenly, one of the women emits a high pitched squeal, and writhes on the floor. she starts moving around in circles and shreiking, her fellow worshippers helpfully herd her around the central stone, but make no effore to pick her up. Apparantly this is expected and a part of the ceremony. I notice that she has pissed herself, and suspect that this is the real reason no one is helping her.

After a lot more chanting, the drums come in, along with the matriach of the family. A woman so old that I´m pretty sure her chin whiskers have whiskers. People bow to her and hug her, and then do the same to the old guy leading the mass, then also the altar and the doorstep (To allow the spirits in).

After a while, all the women have done the "Possessed Dance" where they spin for a time and shreik. They hug me a couple of times in the process. It´s not so bad.

The climax is when the leader goes into a trance. He is now possessed by Xango. He throws his cigar around (Representing Earth) and drinks warm beer (Representing Water, Crops and bad taste in beer consumption) Pretty soon he´s moving around like a pissed off orilla, jumping and leaping. I get the giggles, and the English guy next to me suggests that it´s probably not a good idea. I know this, but it´s a fatal case of the giggles, and they won´t go away. I imaging Xango spearing me with a fork and suddenly find it´s not so funny, but then my mind decides that if I add a few pineapple rings, some capsicum and a good marinade, a Josh-kabob could be amusing. Even my own subconcious is trying to get me immolated by an african spirit. I´m screwed.

Pretty soon Xango starts "Purifying" people. He shakes their fingers vigorously, skaing their entire arms, and then tossing them from side to side. The little kids are being manhandled pretty heavily, but no one seems to notice. If that was my kid, I´d break Xangos fork off in his arse, but it´s no big deal really I suppose.

This continues fora bout 45 minutes where everyone trys to snap my fingers from my arms, and wipes me down to rid evil spirits from me. IMagine a gentle flowing back massage and then hit fast forward, and you´ll see what it looks like.

As this winds down, it´s time to go. Xango is holding peoples head as they leave, but only breifly, until he comes to me. Yep, for some reason he holds me up and opens his eyes so wide I can see the whites the whole way around, and the barest pin pricks of pupils, despite the fact it´s 11:30 pm. I stare back at him silently until he lets me go. I do not know why I did this, but it just seemed like the thing to do. Something in me did not want to back down. Logically, I should have been shitting bricks. Go figure.

So we leave and head to the bus. The guide unlocks the door and lets us in and high tails it out of there.

On a side note, I have made a bit of fun about this ceremony, but it was actually quite intense. I was stirring and primal, but somehow I just didn´t click with it. For whatever reason, I have no doubt that what we saw was people in honest worship, and not a "show" put on for tourists, but it just seems to me that it´s more of self hypnosis and faith than actual spirit possession, but hey, what do I really know. This religion is 40,000 years old after all.

Besides that Cass is still scared about it all.

-- josh --

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