Photos
Photo by Kiratiana Freelon.

This Photo Story Walks Us Through Brazil's Beautiful Yemanjá Festival

Millions of Brazilians and practitioners of Umbandá and Candomblé honor the Yoruba goddess of saltwater in the days before the new year in Rio.

In Brazil, the goddess of saltwater, Yemanjá, is always represented by a woman wrapped in blue, flowing robes and long hair. Millions of people celebrate Yemanjá on February 2, or the Catholic holiday of the Day of Our Lady of the Seafarers. But in Rio, the Yemanjá festival happens in the days before New Year's Day when practitioners of Umbandá and Candomblé honor this goddess.


Umbandá is a Brazilian religion that blends African traditions with Roman Catholicism, Spiritism, and Indigenous American beliefs. Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion that has roots in the Yoruba, Fon and Bantu beliefs brought to Brazil by enslaved Africans. On December 29, Umbandá and Candomblé followers unite in a religious procession that starts in the Afro-Brazilian neighborhood of Madureira and proceeds to Copacabana beach where religious followers, dressed in white and blue, throw flowers into the ocean.

This religious tradition gave rise to Rio de Janeiro's popular New Year's Eve festival. Every year, millions of people dressed in white flock to Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach for a city-sponsored New Year's Eve festival filled with fireworks and famous Brazilian musicians. Following tradition, many present white flowers as an offering to Yemanjá, drink champagne and jump seven waves at midnight.

But Rio de Janeiro's city beaches weren't always a New Year's Eve draw for well-heeled locals and tourists. In the 70s, the well-to-do Cariocas in Rio de Janeiro's Zona Sul area fled the city during New Year's Eve. The beaches were left to Umbandá practitioners, who could peacefully do their religious rites and give their offerings of white flowers to Yemanjá right up until midnight. By the early 90s, that had changed. The city's leaders began to embrace New Year's Eve as a potential tourists attraction and Umbandá and Candomblé practitioners began coming to Copacabana beach a few days before the New Year's event to avoid the crowds.

The religious tradition became more organized in 2001 when the Mercadão do Madureira became an official sponsor of the religious procession. This market is located in Madureira, a poorer but more vibrant area of Rio de Janeiro that rarely attracts tourists. Few people know that the festival starts in Madureira's Mercadão, a local market that is considered to be the best place for Candomblistas and Umbandistas to buy special herbs, clothes, and figurines for their religious practice. In 2001, a fire destroyed this traditional market but it was rebuilt within a year. A local store owner decided to give thanks by creating an event in which a 2-meter replica of Yemanjá would be carried from Madureira to Copacabana beach. Today this festival attracts more than 10,000 people in Rio and its considered one of the most traditional ways to celebrate the New Year.

Click through the slideshow below to walk through the Yemanjá festival's celebrations.

Photo by Kiratiana Freelon.

A 2-meter tall replica of Yemanjá stands outside of the market. Festival organizers are preparing her to be carried to Copacabana beach, 45 minutes away.

popular

Stop What You're Doing Right Now and Watch Falz's New Video 'This Is Nigeria'

The Nigerian rapper tackles his country's social ills in his very own answer to Childish Gambino's "This Is America."

Nigerian rapper, Falz has been known to use his sharp brand of humor to address social ills in his country. Today he's taken it a step further with the release of a new song and video entitled "This is Nigeria" and the outcome is an audacious, decidedly necessary critique of Nigerian society inspired by Childish Gambino's viral video "This is America."

Falz opens the song with a voice over of his father the lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, discussing the consequences of rampant corruption and exploitation, before adding his own cutting criticism: "This is Nigeria, look how I'm living now, look how I'm living now. Everybody be criminal," he rhymes as chaos ensues all around him.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Photo courtesy of Nike

The Secret Behind Nike's New Naija Football Kits are Nigerians Themselves

The story behind the bold new uniforms the Super Eagles will be wearing at this year's World Cup.

Partner content from Nike

The new Nigeria football kits are not even out yet, but they're already causing pandemonium with Nigerian press reporting that there have been already 3 million worldwide orders. And it's easy to see why—the designs are daring with a bold nod to Nigerian culture that is very in vogue right now. In addition, UK Grime MCs with Nigerian roots, Skepta and Tinie Tempah have already been photographed in the new jerseys causing a surge of social media chatter about the new look.

But while rock star endorsements and an edgy new design will certainly bring attention, there's no doubt that the real bulk of the demand is due to what is ramping up to be a significant moment in the history of Nigerian football—the 2018 World Cup.



If you don't already know, Nigeria is entering this year's World Cup in Russia with some of the most exciting young players we've seen in years. With youthful talent like Wilfred Ndidi, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho—all 21—and veteran Olympic captain Jon Obi Mikel ready to take the field in Moscow all eyes are on Nigeria to advance out of Group D and challenge the world for a chance at the cup.

The plan here is to outdo the teams previous international achievement, the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal in men's football which is commemorated on the home kit with a badge recolored in the colors of the '96 gold medal-winning "Dream Team."

The home kit also pays subtle homage to Nigeria's '94 shirt— the first Nigerian team to qualify for the tournament—with its eagle wing-inspired black-and-white sleeve and green torso. But if the allusion to the pasty is subtle, the new supercharged patterns are anything but.

The look of the kit feels particularly in touch with what's going on in youth fashion both in Nigeria and the world and that's no accident. Much of the collection comes in bold print, both floral and Ankara-inspired chevrons, ideas that we've seen entering street wear collections and on the runway in recent years. That's because African and Nigerian style has become a big deal internationally of late. And not just in style, the country's huge cultural industries from Nollywood to Afrobeats have announced themselves on the world stage. This cultural ascendance is reflected in the design.


Courtesy of Nike

"With Nigeria, we wanted to tap into the attitude of the nation," notes Dan Farron, Nike Football Design Director. "We built this kit and collection based on the players' full identities." Along with other members of the Nike Football design group, Farron dug into learning more about Nigeria's players, "We started to see trends in attitude and energy connecting the athletes to music, fashion and more. They are part of a resoundingly cool culture."

In fact OkayAfrica has covered the team's love for music before—even dedicating an edition of the African in Your Earbuds mixtape to John Obi Mikel, Alex Iwobi & Kelechi Iheanacho's favorite songs to get hyped up before a game. When we asked the charismatic trio, they gave us list that included many of the huge Nigerian artists that we love, like Tekno, Wizkid, Yemi Alade and Nigerian-American rapper Wale and also, perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, Celine Dion.

Nigerian culture has gone global partly through its infectious energy but also because of its vibrant diaspora populations that bring it with them wherever they land. Lagos-born Alex Iwobi whose goal in the 73rd minute to qualified Nigeria for this summer's tournament spent most of his life in London but still reps Naija to the fullest.

"I grew up in England, but Nigeria is my homeland," he says. "When I scored that goal, the players were dancing, the fans were playing trumpets and bringing drums…there was just so much passion and energy. It is always an honor to wear the white and green. To compete this summer is not just our dream, it is also the dream of our fans. Together, we all represent Naija."

This similar energy can be felt in Nigerian communities from Brooklyn to Peckham and even in China. Naija culture is truly global and no doubt the fans will embody the Naija spirit wherever they will be watching the games this summer.

If you're wondering, Nike isn't simply hopping on the Nigeria bandwagon. The apparel company has been sponsoring the Nigerian football since 2015, supplying kits to all nine of the Nigeria Football Federation teams at every level, including the men's and women's senior teams, men's and women's under-20 teams, men's and women's under-17 teams, men's and women's Olympic teams, and the men's beach football team.

So while the kit is available for purchase worldwide June 1, just know that you'll be competing with millions to get your own official shirts for the World Cup. If you are in New York, find the kit for sale exclusively at Nike's 21 Mercer store.

And please join OkayAfrica and Nike on June 2nd for Naija Worldwide as we celebrate Team Nigeria's journey to Russia in style.

News

Listen to Adekunle Gold's New Album 'About 30'

Adekunle Gold's highly-anticipated sophomore album is here.

Adekunle Gold's much-anticipated sophomore album, About 30, has arrived.

The 14-track album boasts features from Seun Kuti, Flavor and British-Nigerian soul singer Jacob Banks, who appears on a remix to the popular lead single "Ire." The album sees the artist flexing immense versatility and range as he delivers emotional ballads, folk-Inspired cuts sung in Yoruba, and a few highlife-tinged summer jams.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.