Brazilians Pay Homage to Lemanja, Goddess of The Sea


With flower offerings and drums belting out African rhythms, thousands of people across Brazil paid respects Thursday to Iemanja, the goddess of the sea in the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomble.

The Iemanja festival is immensely popular across this vast, racially diverse country of 190 million, but especially in the northeast state of Bahia, the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture.

In Salvador, Bahia's capital also known as "Black Rome" because some 80 percent of its 2.5 million people are of African descent, the festival held on February 2 draws thousands of tourists every year.

Dressed in white with bright colorful necklaces, devotees gather on the city's Vermelha beach to board small fishing boats that take them out to sea to release offerings of white flowers.

Other gifts put in large baskets and set adrift include rice, but also perfume, jewelry, combs, lipstick and mirrors, as the goddess is said to be quite vain.

This year, Salvador fishermen also brought as gifts a mermaid statue inside a shell filled with 40 balls to simulate pearls.

Salvador's Iemanja festival in its current form was first celebrated in the Rio Vermelho district in 1923, when 25 fishermen who were practitioners of Candomble implored the goddess to end a shortage of fish in coastal waters.

In Rio, where the tradition is also very strong, hundreds of people marched through the city center carrying sumptuous baskets of white flowers to a ferry from which they dropped the offerings into Guanabara bay.

Devotees exchanged fruits and doused themselves with perfume for purification, in line with the Candomble rite.

Brought to Brazil in the 16th century by west African slaves, the cult of Iemanja, which is mainly steeped in Yoruba culture, is celebrated elsewhere across Latin America, including Cuba, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela and Panama.

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