Candomblé is a religious practice which has been nationalized in the state of Bahia. Candomblé is a holistic system, which consists of culinary arts, the art of placement, healing with the help of colors, and visual talents like music, poetry, literature, and dance. With this religious practice, there are the Orishas, which is translated as “Gods,” but which would be more accurately translated as “saints.” “Candomblé posits a monotheistic supreme being -- usually referred to as Olodumaré -- with the orixás being called upon as intermediaries between earthbound humans and the all-powerful.” Candomblé originated in Africa, but made it’s way to Brazil with the help of African Priests who were, between 1549 and 1888, brought as slaves. When Candomblé became more exposed, it began to be called Batuque.
Iemanjá is the Goddess of both fresh and salt waters in the Brazilian religion of Candomblé, she is known as the mother of fishes. “She is the Queen of the Ocean, the patron deity of the fishermen and the survivors of shipwrecks, the feminine principle of creation and the spirit of moonlight.” According to Peter Fryer, “young brazilian woman of European descent will tell you: ‘Eu sou uma filha de Yemanjá’ (I am a daughter of Yemanjá’)..”Iemanjá’s womb is the giver of life, but at the same time it is also the place of eternal rest. She is the patronness of fertility, and the life-giver. Her figure is pictured as a mermaid, or that of a woman who is dressed in pearls and blue clothing. She is said to have been the queen of the witches and of everything which lives in the sea. She has rule over the powers of regeneration. She also acts as the family protector and the root of the nation. She has a compassionate healing force, thereby helping those in trouble. She also acts as the patron of women as a whole, and she deals with any problem relating to the sea. Her connection with the ocean, and waves, also ties in with her connection with the moon, she gives gifts which the moon goddess would typically provide.
Her dance movements represent the sea’s tumbling waves, these moves resemble the art of sewing nets, but also commonly represent a story line. Her ocean dancing represents the salty water cleansing the distressed soul, or a newborn. There is a lot of emphasis on the hands and the legs in Iemanja’s dance. The hands alternate with palms that are neither flat nor round. Then there is the shifting of weight from one knee to the other. Her dances can also be done with the help of a skirt, instead of the hands, or her fan, to represent ease. She usually dances with a silver and blue dress and something which resembles fishing net, to represent herself as both fetus and fish. Her metals are lead, and silver, and her colors are blue hues and whites. "The ensemble varies only slightly for different candombles and fundamentally consists of a silver-colored metal crown (often fringed with beads), bead necklace(s), blouse, skirt, fan, crown, sword, heavily starched inderskirts, silver-colored metal bracelets, armlets, and skirt bangles."
The fan(abebe) which is a silver-colored metal is another object which has a lot of symbolic meaning with Iemanja. It represents her beauty and her status as Oxala’s younger wife. With the swaying of the fan, back and forth, Iemanja has the power to bring peace and coolness to the universe. This motion of the fan, can also represent the fanning away of negative forces. Usually, twelve to sixteen strandednecklaces are worn in festivals, which contain silver that symbolizes the clarity of the surface of the water. This also represents Iemanja’s composed and principled moods. The saia, or skirt, Iemanja wears establishes it’s fullness from a couple or more petticoats, or anaguas. A unique starching technique was used to make these anaguas. It was handed down from mother to daughter by slaves but today it is only with the boundaries of candomble.
Iemanja was the daughter of Olokum. She later became the spouse of Olofim-Odudua, whom she had ten children with. All of these children were given names that were symbolic, and so they all became Orishas. For example, there was Oxumare, or the rainbow, and then there was Xango, or the storm.
Every February 2, in Salvador, Bahia, this Orisha is celebrated with a festival in which people offer her gifts to her shrine located at Rio Vermelho. Iemanjá is seen as a source of inspiration since water is what we all come from. Offerings that would please Iemanjá, could include shells, and seawater, anything related to the sea. Gifts typically include, flowers and feminine objects like perfume, lipstick, jewelry, and mirrors. These gifts are collected into baskets and local fishermen take them out to the sea. The celebration, then follows.
This idea of dancing to tell stories is one that will surely last a long impression with cultures all over the world. These practices were very unique, and at the same time very well thought out, that presently there are still many people learning the mysteries of the Orishas stories and dance techniques. Iemanja was considered the mother of the Orishas, with a sense of truth, since water is the most important thing the one needs to survive.
Fryer, Peter. Rhythms of Resistance: African Musical Heritage in Brazil.
London: Wesleyan University Press, 2000.