n the dank heat the drumming starts, beating life into the dark night air. Three alabés (drummers) in brilliant red shirts and stark white pants are perched at the head of the room and belt out a rhythm on their tall, conga-style drums. They’re calling the orixás (gods). In front of the alabés stands the babalorixá, the priest who leads the night. He begins chanting. He is answered by a chorus of women. Barefoot ladies in bulging hooped skirts float in – their long colourful necklaces swaying against white lace blouses, keeping time with graceful, swinging hips; their hair bundled in white turbans against black skin. Repeating the lines of the priest, and in step with the sonorous beat of the sacred drums, they weave into a growing circle in front of the babalorixá, dancing counter clockwise around a tall centerpiece of axes. Arms gesture in unison indicating to which orixá they are currently singing: hands float over imaginary waves for Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea; they cover one ear for Oiá, the goddess of the river who cut off her ear to make her husband love her more than his other wives; or they fan themselves like conceited Oxum, the goddess of beauty, fertility and sweet waters. This night, the second to last of the Candomblé year — the ancient religion transported to Brazil from Africa centuries ago — is the night for the iabás (female gods) to gather together and celebrate. They do this by possessing the bodies of the “children” (the dancing ladies) who have just begun the interminable ritual. They chant and prance to the booming percussion as the air ripens, hot and thick. Finally, when each of the orixás have been honoured with psalms, the babalorixá leads the hymn calling for the possessions to take place. All at once the ladies fold in half, eyes closed, derrieres extended, ululating in unearthly voices, pixilated, entranced.
Helpers rush to their aid, removing their waist bands and retying them around their chests to hold in the spirits. The possessed begin dancing disorderly, fervently. Each is led out of the chapel and returns in the Candomblé costume of the particular god that is possessing her. On and on the spirits
dance. There are several terreiros (Candomblé temple grounds) where one can watch such a ritual. They used to be hidden away in the forest surrounding Salvador where the slaves from Nigeria would practice their religion out of the watchful eyes of the
Published on Jun 24, 2016
Welcome to Issue Four of the quarterly FWT Magazine. It gives us great pleasure to bring you another issue, this one themed “Latin America &...