The Festival of Iemanjá – The Queen of the Ocean

Women clad in traditional clothes look out over the ocean - Photo Eloi Corrêa - Agecom Bahia

The festival in Salvador, in honour of the orixá of the salt water, on February 2., is the largest in the country. Orixás (orishas) are the deities worshiped by the Yoruba people of Africa and brought to Brazil by African slaves. Devotees of Candomblé, Baianos of all faiths and tourists formed long lines near the beach of Rio Vermelho (Red River), to offer gifts like flowers, soap, perfumes, mirrors, dolls and even jewellery.

The goddess known as Iemanjá 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. Of course the Catholic Church tried to undermine the negro faith and created the catholic Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes (Our Lady of the Seafaring), which happens to be celebrated at the same day as the orixá Iemanjá of the African Mythology.

Devotee carries an offering of white rosas for the Queen of the Sea - Photo Glauco Araújo -G1

Every February 2nd, thousands of people line up at dawn to leave their offerings at Iemanjá’s shrine in Rio Vermelho. It is an 80 year old tradition.

The offerings are arranged in wicker baskets and thrown into the ocean during the day, a ritual that ends with a maritime procession that leaves the beach of Rio Vermelho in mid-afternoon. According to tradition, if the baskets sink, it is a sign that the deity has accepted the gifts.

Statues of Iemanjá and coloured collars are sold in Rio Vermelho - Photo Glauco Araújo -G1

The most common offerings are perfume and flowers - Photo Eloi Corrêa - Agecom Bahia

The ambulant, informal economy during the festivities, sell a flower for BRL 1 (USD 0,85) and three for BRL 5.00. Perfumes are sold at BRL 10.00 and mini Iemanjás for half. Boatmen charge BRL 15 to BRL 20, to bring devotees to sea to leave their offerings there.

Firecrackers and fireworks mark the started of the festival at dawn on Wednesday. Candomblé groups with drums and offerings occupied parts of the beach, while pais e mães-de-santo (priest and priestesses) offered the traditional bath with medicinal and spiritual leaves.

Thousands meet on the beach of Rio Vermelho - Photo Eloi Corrêa - Agecom Bahia

According to Marcos Souza, aka Branco, president of the Colônia de Pescadores Z-1, responsible for the organization, the festival is expected to gather half a million people throughout the day. “In 2010, according to the police, there were 460,000 people, that number should increase this year”, he said.

Offerings prepared by devotees in the honour of Iemanjá - Photo Glauco Araújo -G1

Other numbers give an idea of the dimension of the Festival of the Queen of the Ocean in Salvador, 1,082 police officers and fire-fighters moved around, 149 chemical toilets were available, as well as a mobile health clinic with ten beds.

Baianas during the festivities in honour of Iemanjá - Photo Glauco Araújo -G1

The profane side of worshipping is guaranteed by percussion bands that animate the streets of the bohemian neighbourhood of Rio Vermelho during the festival. Feijoadas (black bean dishes) are another hallmark of the celebration. Street vendors do a good business during this day.

Photo Eloi Corrêa - Agecom Bahia