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
Courtesy of Cimarrón Productions

Cimarrón Is the Women-Led Film Production Company Empowering Afro-Colombians to Tell Their Own Stories

The "first Afro-Colombian film production company," is teaching filmmaking in Colombia's black communities in order to combat the lack of representation.

When filmmaker, activist, and cultural agent Heny Cuesta first started her career in Colombia, she noticed a severe lack of black creators in the industry. Cuesta, an Afro-Colombian originally from Cali, was the only Black woman in a room full of mestizo directors at a panel discussion at the International Film Festival in Cartagena de Indias (FICCI) in 2013.

"None of the filmmakers were black, but they were talking about ethnic content despite the fact that they didn't know the territory," says Cuesta. That scene shocked her, but it reflected the low number of movies directed by black directors in Colombia. In 2018, Colombia's film industry premiered 37 feature films and only one of them –Candelaria– was directed by a black director. It received many international awards.

The lack of blackness in Colombia's film industry goes far beyond studios, film festivals and production companies. Afro-Colombians make up almost 20 percent of the population but historically have had few opportunities to access education. Most black Colombians, who come from cities and towns along the Pacific and the Caribbean coasts, have been neglected and isolated due to a lack of infrastructure, as well as a lack of education and job opportunities.

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

This Black Hairstyle Collective Is Embracing the Beauty of Natural Hair in Colombia

Chontudas wants to strengthen natural hair knowledge among young black girls in Colombia.

In 2012, a champeta duo from Santa Marta, a Caribbean town in Colombia, dedicated their song "Pelo Malo" to all women that have a "bad," "weird" or "disorganized" hair. The song suggested that all these women have to use "liser" – a product to straighten their hair to make it look cool. The song neatly illustrates the stigma of wearing natural hair in Afro-Colombian communities. But these offensive categories don't represent the growing movement of Afro-Colombian women who are embracing their natural hair and all of its beautiful complexity.

During the American Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the 60s and 70s, there was a revolt in favor of wearing natural hair. The second wave of the natural hair movement has reached a global audience through social media and Colombia is not an exception. It's been five years since Mallé Beleño, an educator, and other black women created a hair collective called Chontudas—the name refers to a kind of palm tree whose presence evokes the hair of black women. The group was initially founded to discuss how to wear natural black hairstyles as well as to spread ancestral traditional hair knowledge.

This collective came to life as a Facebook group with 70 black women in 2014. Since then, it has become a place to share the experiences of making the transition to natural hair, and a place to showcase a more diverse standard of beauty as well as a place to trade hair care advice.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Image courtesy of Riveriswild

#BuyBlack: The 8 Black-Owned Brands To Shop For On Black Friday

It's that time of year again, here is OkayAfrica's 2019 gift guide for you to #BuyBlack this Friday.

You know we're near the end of 2019 once the holiday season comes back around. Thanksgiving is upon us and the bargain shopping and gift-giving is set to commence thereafter. While this American "holiday" being questionable in of itself, Black Friday is a prime occasion to highlight, support and spend exclusively with black-owned businesses.

Just like we mentioned last year, let's keep the 'for us, by us' energy going. Even beyond the hustle and bustle of Black Friday, tap into the businesses that continue to contribute to wealth-building, development and employment in Black communities around the world.

Here is OkayAfrica's curated shortlist of black-owned brands to take note of this Black Friday, including some standout home decor, fashion, skincare and beauty brands you should know.

Take a look below.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
'Queen & Slim' soundtrack cover.

Burna Boy Samples Fela's 'Shakara' on New Track, 'My Money, My Baby' From 'Queen & Slim' Soundtrack

The film's official soundtrack also features tracks from Lauryn Hill, Blood Orange, Megan Thee Stallion and more.

The official soundtrack for Queen & Slim has arrived, and it features a standout solo track from none other than Burna Boy.

"My Money, My Baby" is a heavily Afrobeat-tinged track that features a prominent sample of Fela Kuti's 1972 song "Shakara." The pulsating track also sees the singer, channeling Fela's signature talk-style of singing and repetition. Check it out below.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.