Candomblé na Cachoeira

Cachoeira Travel Blog

 › entry 6 of 13 › view all entries

Cachoeira was quite an experience. We had to take two buses to get there and it took about about 5 hours. I fell asleep a few times and awoke abruptly to Natalie shaking me and saying “Were here!” I quickly gathered my things and jumped off the bus with her. The bus left us standing in a grimy plaza that looked like there was some kind of flea market going on where they sold everything from underwear to cell phone adaptors. With absolutely no idea where we were, what to expect, or where we were going, we set off down the street. We walked for a while with our bags in the blazing sun and heat before we realized that we needed to ask some directions and find the office of tourism. So we asked a police officer (who, by the way, in Brasil, are very intimidating since they look like they’re in the army and carry all kinds of guns • the police in the bank are the worst with giant guns). We found our way to the main plaza, which really wasn’t a main plaza. On our way, we were greeted by a precession of mourners carrying a casket down the middle of the street and were passed up by people on mules. At this point, I’m wondering why we ever thought that this town, which isn’t a tourist town, was a good place to do a weekend trip to. As we looked aimlessly around for a tourist office that was closed, we were greeted by Jose Antonio who offered to be our guide. Instinctively I responded with the automatic “Não obrigada” (no thank you), until Natalie stopped me and told me we needed one to see a Candomblé ceremony. So we took Jose up on his offer. He helped us find Tia Rosas hostel and told us that he would pick us up that night for Candomblé at 9:30.


Cachoeira was one of the first “free” slave towns. It was a place that slaves escaped to and were taken care of by a sisterhood of nuns who were famous for giving slaves proper burials. So, as you can imagine, everyone in the town was black. I didn’t think Salvador was so diverse until we were walking around that tiny town and everyone stared at me and my blond haired blue eyed friend like we just stepped out of a spaceship and our skin was actually green. The town was quaint, and the people, although poor, did not seem dangerous. It was actually a relaxing feeling to get away from the city and we spent the late afternoon drinking cerveja on the bank of the river. There really wasn’t much to see in the town since most things were closed on the weekend. We had pizza for dinner and took a nap before the ceremony, still tired from a late Friday night and the travel. By the time Jose came to get us, we were even more tired than before. The nap was just enough sleep to make us yearn for more, with absolutely no satisfaction.


We followed our guide through the city and out the side and up a hill through a favela and climbed an even steeper hill until we reached a tiny little lonely house placed on top. The house was painted baby blue and white and was decorated with hanging straw and dim lighting. There were benches all along the side of the walls of the main room which could have been a living room, but was designated for Candomblé ceremonies. From the ceiling hung a million white strips of fabric, there were drums in the corner, a few chairs on the side, strings of popcorn and a branch of some plant on the walls, along with two sign across the room from eachother saying Men and Women. We waited around for a long time. People came and went, but there was little to no action until midnight. By this time, the women were dressed in their traditional clothing and the place filled up very quickly. We sat on the side designated for Mulher, not knowing what to expect. The drums began and the women came out dressed in tons of fabric and with skirts that stuck out so far that they must have been wearing a big wire under it. They all had rags on their heads, and the older women’s were more decorated. As the music started, they danced around in a circle, at the center was a star shape in a circle and a pile of popcorn. As time passed, a few of the younger girls went around the room, lied down on each of their sides, then their stomach and kissed the ground. They would get up and do this again in another corner of the room. After this, the older women would touch their back and pat their head, and the younger would kiss their hand and rise. This process went on for quite a long time until they decided to have a break about an hour later.


The next phase is when it really got weird, when I was able to distinguish who were the Orixas (gods) and who were not. As they danced around, the oldest women of all, when into a trance. She bent over really low (which was really low because the women couldn’t have been taller than 4 feet) and began to shake like she just got electrocuted. Then she would scream, lean back, and people would catch her. As this went on, they covered her head with a white cloth and escorted her out of the room. Following this, other women would go into trance, shake and scream and loose their headpieces. After all were escorted out, one of the Orixas came back in alone. She went around the room and danced hard, good African dance, and would shake and go into trance in different areas of the room. This continued for about 15 minutes until another Orixa came out and did about the same thing. By this time, it was way past 2am and I asked our guide how long this would go. He assessed the situation, counted the Orixas (there were 7) and said it could go on until 6 am. At this, Natalie and I decided we had enough and snuck out of there on the next break.


Upon returning to the hostel, we were so exhausted that I didn’t even care that my bed was more of a wooden plank than a bed, or that a cockroach ran over Natalie’s foot on the way back from the bathroom (the room cost about $7 a night). However, by morning, I was ready to say goodbye to Tia Rosa, Candomblé and that strange town. Tia Rosa did have her great granddaughter, Bruna, with her, who was one of the cutest girls ive ever seen. She was 3 years old, but actually mentally 7 months, and the sweetest, happiest girl ever. Natalie and I played with her and took pictures of her smiling face until we were ready to catch the bus back to Salvador. 5 hours later, I felt a warm feeling of comfort at the sight of this big city. I never thought Id say it, but I couldn’t wait for a cold shower and that squeaky bed. Salvador actually felt a bit luxurious after Cachoeira.


On other news, I have had an interview for volunteer work here and should start working with ADESOL soon. Not sure what Ill be doing, but I guess I will find out. Last night I went out in Pelourinho and went Salsa dancing with my Portuguese teacher, Tatiana. I had so much fun! I danced all night, at Geronimo (a free concert on Tuesdays), following the drums through the streets, then until 3am in the salsa club where I met up with Tatiana. To say the least, class was a bit slower today. I just ran into one of the Brasilian girls I met at the intercambio and might be going to the beach with her this weekend, or I am going surfing with some friends for a 2 day surf course. As for now, I am going to take a nap before dance class.  


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