One of the fast-growing Brazilian religions, a mix of African traditions and Catholicism, Umbanda is frequently misunderstood and despised. Check this selection of documentaries that shed some light – maybe not enough – on one of the pillars of Brazilian religiosity.
1- Brazilian Spirituality, a basic intro from Global Village Travel Guide:
The biological clock is ticking and Prince Charming is a no-show? You spent Valentine’s day with your Mom? No problem! Try one of these classic Brazilian spells (we call them simpatias) and then go shop for your wedding gown.
Buy a small statue of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of single women. Remove Baby Jesus from his arms and tell the saint you won’t return the baby unless you get a boyfriend. You can reinforce your position, keeping Anthony upside down, so he will understand you are not kidding.
If you consider yourself very ugly, choose a leaf of espada de São Jorge (a sword-like plant commonly used in Afro-Brazilian cults). Cut it into three pieces and throw them in boiling water for three hours. After the water cools down, wash your face with it, praying to Saint George and asking him to convert the “dragon” into a beauty.
Buy a new sharp knife and stick it into a banana tree on June 12th at midnight (Saint Anthony’s day is on the 13th). The liquid that will drip from the plant’s wound will form the first letter of the name of your future husband. The mother of a friend did this. She was very upset that K appeared – it is rarely used in Brazilian names. Years later she married a visiting German, Kurt.
Tonight, along the Brazilian coast, several hundred thousand people will pay their respects to Iemanjá, the queen of the seas, the beautiful orixá (deity) of candomblé, one of the main Afro-Brazilian religions. Brought to the country by the slaves of yoruba tradition, the cult of Iemanjá (or Yemanja or Janaína) can also be seen in other countries, such as neighboring Uruguay (shown in the pictures displayed here) and Cuba.
On Iemanjá Day, February 2nd, the devouts dress in white and bring to the beach all sorts of gifts for the orishá, such as mirrors and perfume (she is known for her vanity). She also receives flowers and certain dishes, such as fish, rice and a sweet milk pudding. The offerings are displayed on the sand or taken by boats further into the sea. The next morning, everything is washed back to the sand. People may also jump over seven waves and receive, over their head, a bunch of popcorn, in the candomblé tradition. In Rio, though, the celebration happens around New Year’s day.
Iemanjá‘s figure is somehow related to the cult of Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes (Our Lady of the Navigators) – a representation of Virgin Mary that is celebrated in the same day. Several orixás have “correspondent” Catholic saints because, during the slavery period, Africans were not allowed to practice their religions and had to find creative ways to keep their faith. Intertwining candomblé and Catholicism was their only option.
In the last day of 2009, a gift to rock your New Year Party: a list of cool podcasts of Brazilian music. Sure, the hosts do a lot of talking, but waiting for the songs definitely pays off.
Caipirinha Appreciation Society – Produced for the University of London’s Open Air Radio, it offers “wonderfully under-exposed Brazilian music of all styles, regions and time-periods”. One of their latest podcasts presents artists influenced by Afro-Brazilian cults, such as umbanda and candomblé.
Coquetel Molotov – The best of 2009 offered by Radio Universitária AM, of Recife (state of Pernambuco). Caetano Veloso, Erasmo Carlos, Banda Gentileza, Céu, Lulina and Zé Cafofinho, among many others.
Farofa Moderna – Jazz, samba, frevo – only the best of Brazilian instrumental music hosted by the MTV portal. The latest podcast includes Airto Moreira, Bocato, Hermeto Pascoal and Sivuca.
It was high time capoeira were represented in the big screen in all its glory. A movie just released tells the story of Besouro (The Beetle), a true myth among those who practice the Afro-Brazilian martial art/ballet. The director João Daniel Tikhomiroff had a high budget for Brazilian standards – US$ 7 million -, spent in a production that embellishes an art that is, to begin with, extremely beautiful. Several actors are true capoeiristas and their fight scenes were coreographed by Huen Chiu Ku, that previously worked in “The Matrix”, “The Tiger and the Dragon” and “Kill Bill”.
The film is based on the book “Feijoada no Paraíso“, written by Marco Carvalho, a novel based on the life of the fighter, who lived in Bahia in the 20’s. The movie portraits the racial conflicts in the country, that had freed the slaves only three decades before. Besouro was known for his ability to fly and his corpo fechado – a supernatural protection obtained through candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion. He also challenged the powerful landowners that had, and still have, lots of power in the region.
Ailton Carmo, the 22-year-old baiano that plays Besouro, never acted before, but has been practicing capoeira for most of his life. In a recent interview he remembers that, when he was 9, he watched an American movie called “Only the Strong” (Esporte Sangrento) that depicted a capoeirista (played by Mark Dacascos). He says he told his mother: “Mainha, one day I will represent my culture”. I wish Ailton and the film a happy international career.