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Photo by Kiratiana Freelon.

In Photos: The Ooni of Ife Visits Brazil

He came with an entourage of more than 80 people and wherever he went, Black Brazilians followed his every move.

This August, OkayAfrica shines a light on the connections between Africa and the Latin-American world. Whether it's the music, politics or intellectual traditions, Africans have long been at the forefront of Latino culture, but they haven't always gotten the recognition. We explore the history of Afro-Latino identity and its connection to the motherland.

The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, the Ojaja II, the spiritual leader the Yoruba people and one of the most important personalities from Nigeria, recently visited Brazil on a 10-day tour of the country. He delivered a message of strength and equality to all Afro-descendants in Brazil and reminded them of their noble origins.


He is the 51st leader of the Ile-Ife kingdom—which is considered the ancestral home of all Yoruba people throughout the world. The Ooni of Ife said that Afro-Brazilians descend from kings, queens, princes, and princesses and that the black people were not slaves but enslaved.

Fifty percent of Brazil's 215 million people are Afro-descendants. More than 4 million captured Africans arrived in Brazil before the 19th century and a significant number were of Yoruba ethnicity. The Yoruba culture is the most evident in Brazil's Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé, where the Yoruba orisha deities are worshipped.

"Afro-Brazilians are excited to receive the Ooni of Ife because Yoruba is one of the cultures that was planted in Brazil when our ancestors were enslaved," Luanda Nascimento, an Afro-Brazilian who attended several of the Ooni of Ife events in Rio de Janeiro, says. "It's very significant that a king who represents the Yoruba people in Africa leaves his country to come to Brazil and declare Salvador the Yoruba capital of the Americas."

Salvador is considered to be Brazil's blackest city and while there, the Ooni declared the Salvador and Ile-Ife twin cities.

For Afro-Brazilian religion worshippers, the Ooni's visit came at a time when they are experiencing the worst religious intolerance in decades. Many religious temples in Rio de Janeiro have been destroyed in the last year in an attempt to drive them out of the community. The Ooni of Ife is Christian and he personally received Afro-Brazilian religious leaders in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador. He also said that religious intolerance is unacceptable and that followers of different religions seek God in different ways, but that everyone has the same destiny.

"The Ooni of Ife is also coming at a time when our Afro-Brazilian religious centers are being physically attacked. This is the reason we are so excited," Nascimento added.

Nigerian expatriates in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo also came to see the Ooni.

"He's a very big king," Olá Femi, a Nigerian of Yoruba descent who has lived in Rio de Janeiro for five years, says. "He is very respected at home."

But even the non-adherents of Afro-Brazilian religions clamored to see the Ooni when he visited Salvador, Bahia, and Rio de Janeiro. The visit gave young Afro-Brazilians the opportunity to strengthen their connection to their African ancestry. Thousands of young people dressed in outfits of African cloth at a celebration to commemorate the Ooni's visit.

Take a look at photos from his trip below.

Brazilian women recreated a Candomblé religious ceremony in a performance for the Ooni of Ife. Photo by Kiratiana Freelon.

The Ooni of Ife exits the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro as a popcorn vendor looks on.Photo by Kiratiana Freelon.

The Ooni and his entourage stand in front of the Zumbi statute in Rio de Janeiro. Zumbi is considered the greatest Afro-Brazilian leader to have ever lived. Zumbi was a leader of a Maroon community in 17th century Brazil.Photo by Kiratiana Freelon.

Wherever the Ooni of Ifé went, his musicians preceded him. Photo by Kiratiana Freelon.

The Ooni also traveled with an entourage that consisted of women. These women danced to a traditional Candomblé song. Photo by Kiratiana Freelon.

Two Candomblé worshippers came to see the Ooni of Ife when he visited the Valongo Wharf. The Valongo wharf is the port that received the most captured Africans in the world.

Photo by Kiratiana Freelon.

The Jongo dancing group of Pinheiral in Rio de Janeiro performed for the Ooni of Ifé. Jongo is a dance that enslaved Africans created on the plantations of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The rhythms come from Africa. Photo by Kiratiana Freelon.

The Ooni and his entourage stand in front of the Christ Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. Photo Credit - Agencia Brasil.

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Collage by Ta'Ron Joyner

I Would Rather Breathe Than Think Outside the Box

South African artists were already working for little to no pay, but the pandemic has unleashed a flood of exploitative work requests right when we need money the most.

This essay is part of OkayAfrica's SA Reframed series, featuring personal writing from some of South Africa's best young writers edited by Verashni Pillay.

On the radio the other day, I heard a small business owner of a costume design company being interviewed and asked how they have managed to:

a. Reinvent themselves during this period, and

b. Think outside the box while doing so.

Their conversation made me think about how I have not managed to wrap my head around any sort of future, or reinvention outside any kind of box—beyond the one that wraps itself around my immediate reality. When the lockdown was announced, three friends and I withdrew to a remote area where internet access was dubious and, most times, simply not available. I would need to walk a bit of a distance to locate a spot under a tree or up a mountain to be connected for thirty minutes, or so.

Then I would do a basic comb through my emails and respond to work or requests that were already underway pre-lockdown. I only responded to new requests that either afforded me the opportunity to earn an income or those that allowed me to be productive on my own terms.

I was tired, lowkey grateful for the global pause, and no longer interested in the overly productive, overloaded nature of my previous normal. Something about the forced halt made me realise that I was on the edge of everything—myself included. I turned down anything that required me to join the endless online festivals, zoom panel discussions, Instagram takeovers and live readings. I refused all opportunities that needed me to grapple with any sort of forced normalcy. The ones that offered data or airtime or solidarity as compensation or assumed that I had gone pro bono. I needed a moment. I needed the space and time to re-bargain with the point of it all.

The pause was both useful and scary. It brought to the surface fears and revelations about the shortfalls of our industry and how creatives are positioned within the productivity machinery and economy of South Africa, or rather all the ways we fall outside of it.

As Minister of employment and labour Thulas Nxesi mentioned in a briefing two months ago, "On the issue of freelance workers—unfortunately with the current legislation they fall outside. Maybe what we are going to do is that after this we will have to re-look at it in terms of our legislative amendments and start a debate about that." Why are there laws that have gone unchallenged? Who should be challenging them? Why are artists hearing, out loud for the first time, of convenient loopholes that render us outside of an economy that taxes us like everyone else, and consumes us and our work. Yet, in times of crisis, this same economy engages with our art and our productivity and our products, but still deems us on the margin, outside, and non-essential. If we are not assisted financially, how can we be productive, how can we acquire the resources to produce? How can we apply our minds to anything else outside of survival and scrambling to stay afloat.

Pandemics do not mean that artists have gone pro bono

When you approach an artist with the assumption that they have gone pro bono during this time, when you draft an email to request a collaboration, a commission, a participation, a productivity of any kind, please bear in mind that artists are up against an unconcerned and corrupt government that has failed to provide aid and assistance to their sector during this time.

Theatre critic Sara Holdren says "Art is hard and most of it fails—either in small ways or catastrophic ones." In South Africa, the process of making art is hard, sure, but more than that, the conditions and the context in which we make work fails us in catastrophic ways that will require more than a debate and amended legislation. It will need, for starters, a minister who cares about the arts and understands its soul and mechanisms. This pause has brought about more questions and concerns for me than inspiration to reinvent or think outside the box. I have questions about the box itself and why I feel asphyxiated and trapped by its design.

I would rather breathe than think outside of the box

This pandemic has made me question what my career, livelihood and stability have been built on; what has been propping them up all this time, and what has been allowing me to appear valued and valuable in this economy? What does and will the spectrum of value look like in a normal that has been disrupted and now sits in a near distant future that may or may not be near?

Then I find myself vacillating between hope and concern. My hope is that when the pandemic is no longer with us, artists can have a come-to-jesus conversation about what has contributed and exacerbated this attitude and disrespect toward our practice and industry, I hope we can challenge the legislations that we have been dared to challenge, I hope we can be productive in ways that serve us and make sense for our well-being, that we will be paid our worth and that our society will realize that without the artist producing, there will be no art, or music, or films, or books and things that have kept people entertained and creatively nourished during this time.

My concern is that the "free"content artists are currently creating and the free access to art or performances, will not make this realisation possible, and that this kind of access, that was already undervalued and exploited, will be irreversible. The exploitation dialogue is tiring. Being treated as non-essential is tiring and terrifying too, and while most of the world can slowly start going back to work, most artists will probably have to hang tight until 2021, maybe even 2022.

While artists deal with a hoax of an arts and culture department that is dead to us and a minister who tweets more than he does his job, in an ideal world, I wish that artists could afford to indulge uncertainty, and fear, and pause, in ways that allow them to heed the call made by Nicholas Berger in his piece The Forgotten Art of Assembly [Or, Why Theatre Makers Should Stop Making] "We must lean into this pain. We must feel the grief. We must mourn. Mourn the loss of work, the loss of jobs, the loss of money, the loss of life. Mourn the temporary loss of an art form that demands assembly. Lean into the grief. Lean in. Lean in. Lean in. We must remind ourselves that mourning is a human act, not a digital one."

Koleka Putuma is an award-winning poet, playwright and theatre director. Her bestselling debut collection of poems Collective Amnesia is in its 10th print run and her play No Easter Sunday for Queers Sunday for Queers won several awards.

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