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.

The shops in Mercadão Madureira sell religious materials to practice umbandá and candomblé.

popular

Janet Jackson Returns With Afrobeats-Inspired Song & Video 'Made For Now' Featuring Daddy Yankee

The icon's latest is a nod to the sound, fashion and culture of the diaspora.

Ms. Jackson is back.

The iconic artist returns with her first single since the release of her 2015 album Unbreakable, and it's a timely nod to the "made for now" influence of afrobeats fashion, sound and culture.

On "Made For Now," which features Puerto Rican reggaeton titan Daddy Yankee, Janet Jackson does what she's done successfully so many times throughout her decades-long career: provide an infectious, party-worthy tune that's fun and undeniably easy to dance to. "If you're living for the moment, don't stop," Jackson sings atop production which fuses dancehall, reggaeton and afrobeats.

The New York-shot music video is just as lively, filled with eye-catching diasporic influences, from the wax-print ensembles and beads both Janet and her dancers wear to the choreographed afrobeats-tinged dance numbers, even hitting the Shoki at one point in the video. The train of dancers travel throughout the streets of Brooklyn, taking over apartment buildings and rooftops with spirited moves.

It's obvious that Jackson has been studying and drawing inspiration from the culture for some time now. She even hit the Akwaaba dance, popularized by Mr Eazi, during her Icon Award performance at this year's Billboard Music Awards.

The bouncing video, directed by Dave Meyers, features contributions from a number of creatives from Africa and the diaspora who were involved in the creation of the video, including designer Claude Lavie Kameni and choreographer Omari Mizrahi. Ghanaian health guru, Coach Cass pointed out some of the many dancers involved in the production on Instagram, who hail from Ghana, Nigeria, Trinidad, Grenada and the US.

Ahead of the video's release, it garnered attention on social media when Jackson was spotted filming in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, wearing what many thought was a questionable fashion ensemble. The outfit in question only makes a small appearance in the video, and we're glad to see that Janet's other looks appear, at least slightly, more coordinated.

Watch the music video for "Made for Now" below. The singer is set to perform the song with Daddy Yankee live for the first time tonight on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, so be ready!

Audio

You Need to Hear Juls' New Single 'Saa Ara'


New hip-hop and highlife grooves from the celebrated UK-based Ghanaian producer.

By merging the diverse influence of growing up in Accra and East London, Juls has managed to cultivate a hybrid afrobeats style that has set him apart from the rest.

For his latest single, "Saa Ara," he teams up with award-winning rapper Kwesi Arthur and gifted lyricist Akan.

The brilliant fusion of vintage highlife instrumentals and booming hip-hop beats, along with Kwesi Arthur's lively chorus and Akan's fiery delivery gives the song a very spiritual and classical feel.

Soothe your soul this weekend with these tasteful sounds from Juls.

Listen to "Saa Ara" by Juls featuring Kwesi Arthur and Akan below.

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief

FIFA Refuses To Meet with Nigeria's Sports Minister as Ghana Takes Steps to Avoid Ban

This could jeopardize Nigeria's qualifier against Seychelles in September, while the Ghanaian government has pledged not to dissolve its football association.

In lieu of the ultimatums Nigeria and Ghana's football associations faced from FIFA, one country is on its way to dodge the threat of being banned, while the other is not going down without a fight.

FIFA has refused a proposed meeting with Nigeria's sports minister, Solomon Dalung, to discuss problems in the country's football federation, BBC Sport reports. They say their leadership and the FIFA president is unwilling to meet during the proposed time period.

FIFA is giving the NFF until August 20 for Chris Giwa, who was acknowledged by the courts as the president of the federation, to leave the NFF offices.

Giwa's lawyer Ardzard Habilla asserts that FIFA can't ban Nigeria as the federation's issues need to be sorted out internally by the country's judiciary.

Habilla questions, "Do we take it that FIFA laws are superior to the judgment of the highest court in our land—the Supreme Court, and has FIFA elevated itself before the constitution of Nigeria?"

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.