Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Brazilian Countryside

Today I had the pleasure of going with my husband, his mother and her sister to an inland area of Bahia called Lamarão (which literally means "big mud") in the county of Camaçari. Ever since the U.S. election I've felt especially disgusted with the world as I know it, and have sought time and places to reflect on how people can live and really investigate the various ways people are living right now. Pretty much since moving to Salvador over 6 months ago I've had a hard time with city life here. I've never actually lived in the heart of a big city, so my discontent might be linked to my own non-urban preferences. But Salvador presents particular challenges and environmental concerns that have been making me feel anxious and sometimes ill (emotionally, physically or both). I often feel like I cannot find a place to escape cars and traffic, knowing there are more efficient means of transportation. The water we use in the city is desalinated, and even filtered has an unpleasant taste and sometimes causes stomach problems. I witness daily the smells and sights of massive open sewage rivers that flow untreated directly into the ocean at various points throughout the city. I see people entering that same ocean as if there were no care in the world. Every day I have to throw away all of my trash in the same bin outside, which provides no recycling options (I've learned that some people buy large amounts of particular materials, so have started hoarding them in my own house, but I know nobody else who takes the time to do something like this). I see restaurants serving excessive varieties and quantities of meat as a form of luxury and leisure, and people worshipping or addicted to products from U.S. companies and chains like McDonalds and Coca-Cola (which owns alarming amounts of the fresh water sources in Brazil, and throughout the world). Through my near 6 year engagement with Bahia, I've seen multiple rivers shrink drastically or disappear altogether. I've heard terrible stories of intoxicated fish and water, fishermen out of work, communities going hungry and moving to the city, of rivers filled in for development overnight with no notice, of land invasions from private companies and land developers in previously sustainable and autonomous communities.

Although Brazil has many of the most fertile places in the world, what I most often see is destruction and exploitation of land and people to get at those resources. It's a plunge export economy (always has been). It's run by crooks, with allies in the U.S. (I don't have the energy to give a summary of Brazilian politics right now, but trust me the corruption, bribery and unethical behavior is hard to fathom even in a post-Trump world). I've been reflecting on the immense importance of the struggle at Standing Rock, reading about Trump's energy and land policies, considering how simple and effective it is for those with power (guns, money, laws, organization, administration, etc.) to transform landscapes, lives, and futures. The short-sightedness of an oil or coal-based energy system that fuels the global production of low quality, simple products by multi-national companies who have no regard for the environment is highly alarming. I know there are other ways to live, and I know that many people in the world today are still able to live mostly independent of these corporate, urban traps in perhaps small, but important ways. We cannot lose sight of those forms of life and have to learn from them.

So today we went to the countryside. Leaving the city always allows me to breath a bit better. I feel encouraged by the forests that still exist, by the water that still flows. Going with my mother-in-law, her sister and my 27 year-old husband allowed me to get their perspectives on the changes in the region. It also helped me reflect on how memories are tied to places, and how oral histories can be told to reconstruct certain versions of the world that seem currently lost or inaccessible. This is the same method I've used in interviewing Candomblé leaders and members, and it has given me access to past experiences that humans are particularly apt at recalling and describing in ways that allow for the mind to imagine a different version of the world. I believe this form of history-telling is useful both for understanding the past, and building the future (and know that many other cultures have cultivated and continue this practice). Their first comment upon our arrival to the region was their horror at the dried river. I could have predicted this as the general trend in Bahia and Brazil, but their responses and descriptions of the way things used to be still gave me anxiety and dread. They explained that the entire valley used to be filled with water, and that they would go swimming under the bridge we drove over, where now I could barely identify a stream. The bridge, however, was exactly the same precarious structure as decades ago, and they all shook their heads condemning the mayor for not doing something about it.

My husband reflecting on the dry river valley where he used to play

We arrived at one of their old friends' house and once again we could breath easy. Despite not talking for years (no cell service there), Jorge and Kátia embraced all of us and immediately started feeding us organic fruits and vegetables from their humble, but dynamic garden. People have been living "sustainably" by the river for hundreds of years, and do not rely on supermarkets or packaged, industrial food to survive. All of their water is free and natural from the nearby water source. When I asked about the river, Jorge seemed unconcerned. He simply stated that it had been a dry year, and it gave me some hope that the river would come back and some dam or company wouldn't privatize or pollute it all. Despite this years' dryness, we visited on a rainy day. It felt like a sign of hope and resilience, and Jorge's tranquility eased my anxieties.

Jorge and Kátia's garden

One thing I've come to know in Brazil is that the people who have the least share the most. I've pushed myself to be more generous in so many aspects of my life because I admire immensely this trait, and know it's the right way to be. I often find that people with money are obsessed with keeping it and being "fair", evaluating what others have and what they can contribute (I am totally guilty of this). But often when I arrive in the most simple, humble places, I am met with the most selflessness and generosity. By the end of our time roaming around, picking fruits and knocking them down from tall trees, I learned that although people encircle their land with fences and property titles, the plants reproduce themselves and spread in uncontrollable ways; branches spread and fruits fall where they may. We went around collecting the spring's bounty. There are so many different fruits here that I had never encountered before getting to know Brazil (and I am constantly learning of new ones). We picked them from the trees, or off the ground and sucked on them. I savored their unique, sometimes sour or tart flavors, and considered a world where people were happy with just this, rather than rushing to pour sugar into everything (and Bahia is the heart of sugar culture because of the long history of slavery and sugar production). Some of the things we ate and came home with include cocoa (the fruit, not just the bean), mangoes, papayas, mint, kale, cilantro, and cherry tomatoes. Jorge was also willing to give us seedlings of trees and plants for us to plant. My husband and I happily accepted, hopeful that we too could continue the legacy of that particular plant and all it has to offer. I believe that gardening in Brazil is the most practical way to escape from much of the above problems, especially because most everything grows here with very little maintenance or input. The fact that the majority of people now live in cities and have been so distanced from this practice is a shame and cause for alarm, but not an irreversible problem. The resilience of plants and their reproductive power cannot be underestimated. In a world of Monsanto and corn-based everything, of privatized water and plastic wrap, today I felt encouraged that the natural world knows how to survive in ways we are often too short-sighted or distracted to respect and cultivate. I know that this realization isn't revolutionary for most, and that so many people have been working to get back to the land, to incentivize urban gardening, organic and sustainable production and consumption. However, my exposure to that culture (especially in California) has often been what we might call "bougie" and largely inaccessible. In Brazil I see people hungry for the lifestyle the U.S. has to offer. People are often jealous or in awe at the fact that I speak English, have many apple products, and assume that I live like in the movies. I fear that many places in the world wish to follow in the U.S.'s footsteps, and forget to look internally at the solutions they have to problems the U.S. largely created. I know that U.S. investment, capital and technology are seductive and often profitable for a few who have the decision-making powers, but I also know that in so many situations they are destructive, indulgent and unnecessary. I am inspired by those who are not seduced, who know how to live on their own terms and who are hopeful. Going forward, I believe they will be my role models.

My mother-in-law and her sister playing as we pick herbs and fruits

Ingredients for tonight's dinner and tomorrow's juice (we brought home many other things too, all free!)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Children's Day

October 12 is "children's day" in Brazil, a national holiday. I find it so uniquely beautiful and Brazilian to have an entire day devoted to children having fun, and parents partying along with them. This year it fell on a Wednesday and without missing a beat the city turned into one big party -- the beaches were crowded, children jumping in the ocean and doing capoeira on the sand, the plazas were filled with music and drinking, everywhere I went children were playing and laughing, eating sweets and smiling. I said to a few little girls on our street "Happy Children's Day!" and they replied with the biggest smile and in unison exclaimed, "Thank yooou!!!". It was just adorable. Later in the day I asked another boy if he was "enjoying his day" and he instantly replied, "I am having SO much fun". I haven't spent a Christmas here, but it almost seems better than that. Groups and organizations give out free food, candy and toys to children everywhere, and in surprising abundance given the usual scarcity in Brazil, especially these days. I felt like it would truly be wrong to skimp on this particular day, in which kids deserve to forget any problems they have at home or in their lives, and just run around crazy on the streets, hyped on sugar. It felt a lot like Halloween, but without the creepy costumes. 

Terreiros celebrate Children's Day as well, and they do so with a special child spirit, called "erês". There's a short ceremony for the erês, accompanied by the usual drumming and circular formation for them to arrive, and the possessed people dance and act child-like, erratic, fussy, giddy, both upset and jubilant. I went to a ceremony in a peripheral neighborhood of Salvador, and when we arrived in the back streets everybody was partying in bars, near cars, in front of their houses, on the street. We ran into a group of people who were drunk and oblivious to moving to let us pass by and go down the steep hill to the terreiro, but when they finally noticed us (despite the bright headlights shining on them for a minute or so) they let us pass with drunken smiles. When we arrived at the entrance of the terreiro, children were sprinting down the stairs and a tired mother lagged behind. They were playing some sort of tag game, running up and down the stairs as us adults slowly made our way down. The barracão (main ritual room) was filled with children and their parents, the majority of whom appeared to be from the nearby neighborhood. When we arrived the priest and members of the house were giving out tons of toys from huge sacs (like Santa Clause?), children were running around the barracão, mothers were holding onto the excess toys, seated and watching their kids receive and play. All of this is for free; the terreiro asks nothing in return. I noticed that the toys were mostly plastic, and the dolls mostly white. The kids were undeniably happy, and I saw very little fighting.

It was clear that these children rarely get toys, probably because their parents rarely have enough money to buy them. It was confirmed by other party-goers that the party for Children's Day is always like this at that particular terreiro, and the decorations of balloons, dolls, the variety of gifts, sweets and huge plates of food made it clear that the terreiro is a place of abundance. In order to properly serve the gods, the terreiro needs resources at its disposal. Food can never be scarce. So I get the impression that those who are really in need appreciate the terreiro for its ability to not only function, but to have enough leftover to give to others (whether the gods, visitors, scholars or the surrounding community). In this way, Candomblé is selfless in its material resources, or at least those houses that have enough to invite other people and publicize their event. Today made it clear to me that terreiros serve as charity organizations, and perhaps of course, as so do other types of churches and religious institutions. 

At some moments during the party the drums played, the erê's danced and it turned into a candomblé ceremony. But the change of pace seemed irrelevant for anyone there, especially the children. I wondered what it would be like to grow up in that kind of environment, to watch spirits dancing, to clap for them, to eat in their honor and to not think anything of it. At one point I saw someone I had previously met at that terreiro and I gave her a little hand wave, but I think she was incorporated as an erê. She appeared to have smeared lipstick over her mouth, her hair was wild, curly and undone. To reply to my wave she gave me a silly grin, realizing that she knew me, and exclaimed "oooh, it's her!". But as she was finishing, the drums played and she suddenly keeled over and her shoulders twitched and shivered as happens when the spirit feels the need to dance and be part of the ritual. A woman egged her into the barracão to join the ceremony, and I left feeling happily greeted by a somewhat drunk and giddy erê. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Angolan Nation

Much has been happening in Brazil over the past month. The Olympics went down just fine, Brazil didn't win many medals but at least got some redemption from the 2014 World Cup 7-1 fiasco against Germany. The President was impeached by the conservative Senate, and the repercussions of this are still unclear. All bank workers have been on strike since the impeachment as a refusal to work with the current President Michel Temer. I repeat, no bank activity besides what can be done online and with ATMs is possible in Brazil right now. The Bank unions have stopped the country's business, and many other protests and political manifestations are making a big fuss. Some groups call for general elections, and most simply demand that the current president is kicked out, because he wasn't democratically elected.

Despite this turmoil I've been doing a lot of work over the past month and wanted to write a synthesis of my current thoughts and findings. I have been influenced by local scholars and have benefited from several meetings and events. Keep in mind these claims are all preliminary. Citations are available upon request.


Candomblé is an umbrella term, used to describe generally a field of religions practiced in Brazil with African origins. Anybody who has critically thought about Africa and its history knows that “Africa” as a continental denomination obscures much of the complexity and internal differences within such an extensive and diverse region of the world. These differences are manifest in Brazil through different “nations” of Candomblé, which correspond to a historically delineated ethnic group. These ethnic groups were particularly relevant during the long era of the slave trade, when traders and colonial officials recorded the known origins of enslaved peoples from Africa, who were transported and arrived in Brazil. Such documents of their lives and journey still exist, and have been used by generations of historians to better understand the differences among the slave population, and their possible origins. These documents include ship logs, bills of sale, baptismal records, marriage records, wills, and funeral records, among others.

However, trusting colonial officials, slave traders, owners and their documentation is risky business for historians. How are we to verify the recorder’s knowledge of an enslaved person’s background? Most of the time the two parties didn’t speak the same language, or were able to communicate little, and the power differential was so stark in favor of the slave trader or slave owner, that an interest in getting a slave’s story straight and verifying background information was questionable at best. Notoriously slave traders, who were not exclusively European, fudged numbers and information in their favor, to boast their own status and success. Despite these fallbacks, much documentation remains to verify the numerous origins and ethnic groups of Africans brought to Brazil, as well as other places in the Americas (most notably the Caribbean, Colombia, and the United States).

The African ethnic groups present in Brazil were often broken down into meta-groups based on huge regions of Africa, also obscuring much important difference. At times, more specific names were used to identify a more precise tribal or linguistic affiliation. Among the meta-groups used to represent African populations in Brazil were “Mina”, “Nago” and “Ijexá”, referring to those from the Mina Coast and Yoruba territories, “Jeje” from Dahomey and the Bight of Benin, “Angola” and “Congo” from large areas of Central-West Africa, including the ports of Luanda and Benguela, which were the biggest and most lucrative for the Portuguese Empire. Often these names were given to slaves who were sold and transported from a particular port, which only represents the final stage in their journey of enslavement on the African continent. Many enslaved people were captured in the interior of the continent by slave raiders or as victims of war, sold several times along the way and sometimes transported between various ports on the coast of West Africa before shipping to the Americas. Such histories and life backgrounds are often obscured or unknown in the remaining documentation.

The Nagô, Jeje, Angola and Ijexá are also examples of the various “nations” that established candomblé traditions, principally in Bahia, as a form of preserving their religious practice, ethnic language and cultural rites. The term “nation” is used as a way of delineating ethnic heritage in the African diaspora, sometimes associated with a particular territory established in Brazil, such as a terreiro (religious site). These particular national delineations often gained more importance in the American context, reconfiguring previous ethnic divisions based on a shared history of struggle in a new context. These nations were especially relevant in the formation of creolized languages, facilitating a shared cultural practice and organization, at times as a subversion of the dominating slave order. The importance of religion as a space of social organization and preservation of traditions is notable historically, and continues to the present. Over the past month I’ve been investigating the importance of national divisions within current Candomblé houses in Salvador.

Much information is known about the Yoruba and the “Nago”, or “Ketu” nations of Candomblé in Bahia. Several historical leaders and founders of these candomblés in the 19th century were born in present-day Nigeria and Benin, and travelled between Africa and Brazil during the periods in which they founded terreiros in Bahia. Because of this proximity and contact with the homeland, these houses often claim to know their African origins specifically and use it as a form of cultural capital and prestige. Many of the leaders were free Africans, and some owned slaves as a way of aggregating community members and family, a common practice familiar in the African context preceding the American form of racialized slavery. Much detailed historical work has been done on these houses and their connections to West Africa, and they have received great attention by the state, activists, both national and international, and through the media as cultural symbols of resistance and perseverance in the face of slavery and racism.

Such Ketu houses are precisely those that have attracted international scholars, artists and other intellectuals since the early 20th century. They are the most well known and historical information about them is most accessible. They have been recognized legally by the Brazilian state as “cultural heritage sites”, preserved as National Patrimony and protected like a park, monument or historic Catholic Church. This gain was the result of protest and struggle only since the 1980s, when religious members and intellectual allies campaigned the federal government to formally recognize the African heritage of Brazil and preserve its cultural value against land encroachments, invasions, hate crimes, etc. Since then, other houses, mostly in the Ketu nation, but a few from others as well, have gained similar recognition at the city, state and federal levels.

The scholarship on Candomblé has often overlooked or downgraded the importance and contribution of the “Angolan” nation of Candomblé, despite its prevalence within Salvador, Bahia and many connections to houses in Rio de Janeiro. Ruth Landes and Edison Carneiro, the two scholars I know best, wrote slanderous claims in the 1940s about the Angolan priests and their houses as corrupted forms of Candomblé practice, often perpetuating attitudes from Ketu members and leaders. Such claims are often based on the Angolan houses’ use of Brazilian native spirits called “caboclos”, seen by Yoruba-centrists as a form of mixing African and Amerindian religious practices. Other comments also concerned the general comportment of Angolan leaders and the form of “dancing” (spirit possession) during their ceremonies. These sorts of internal prejudices divided the Candomblé community and created conflicts about proper ritual practice and cultural tradition, and continue in certain ways today.

I’ve participated in seminars, religious events, read on the topic and interviewed two Angolan leaders to get a better sense of the Angolan nation and its current status within Bahian Candomblés today. Much of my interest came from the fact that much less is written about this ethnic heritage of Candomblé, and those scholars I have studied and wish to build upon presented what appear to be unbalanced views of the Angolan nation, years ago. Another important consideration is the volume of people enslaved in the Angolan region of Africa and transported directly to Brazil for centuries as a trade policy of the Portuguese Empire. I have heard on several occasions from Angolan leaders and members that their nation arrived first in Brazil, and that their nation laid the base for African religiosity and cultural influence in Brazilian culture. I want to know if it’s possible to do a similar historical reconstruction for this nation and its central houses. There are several reasons why this may not be true, being that the early history of Candomblé has few sources and the Angolan peoples had less familiarity with written languages than the 19th Century Yoruba. I am just initiating this phase of my research, so the following are general ideas and impressions based on a limited data set and interactions in the field thus far.

From my observation of public ceremonies as an outsider with no internal ritual knowledge, I have distinguished little difference between the “festas” and the divinities worshipped of the Ketu and Angolan houses. Although the gods are called “nkisis” (sometimes spelled “inquices”) instead of orixás, they seem to exhibit similar qualities, act similarly during ceremonies, and use similar symbols and dress. For example, “Kavungo” in the Angolan nation is the spirit associated with sickness; its food is popcorn, it wears a long straw headdress that obscures the face, it is celebrated in August. I went to a ceremony for Kavungo in an Angolan house, and also witnessed several other ceremonies for the orixá Omolú, also celebrated in August, in various Ketu houses and traditions. They similarly use popcorn in their rituals, including popcorn baths as a form of ritual purification, and the visual presentation of Omolú looked nearly identical to what I saw in an Angolan house.

The main difference between the nations is the use of ritual language. Rather than Yoruba, Angolan houses use a mix of languages with Bantu origins (Bantu peoples being a major linguistic group in Central-West Africa, also a broad and obscuring term). Their chants and ritual activities are in an entirely different language, invoking different spirits and a historical past linked to a different land. I take this difference very seriously, as preserving African language, however creolized, resonates with the history of struggle I previously mentioned, and is a feat only attained within the specific ritual context of Candomblé (as far as I know or have encountered in the literature and my experience in Brazil). One Angolan house I went to until recently offered Quimbundo classes as a further means of preserving the language in Brazil, to counter the accessibility and promotion of the Yoruba language in various Brazilian settings (for example, as a public course offering sponsored by a center at the local University).

Language is particularly important in the ritual context of Candomblé, because the secrets and traditions of the nation are learned only through the oral transmission of rites in that language, which are revealed during initiation. Among other things, this means that I cannot identify the many specific differences between the practices of candomblé nations without initiating myself, and I do not intend to do so. It’s also near impossible, or at least disrespectful and disingenuous, to initiate in more than one nation of Candomblé. My research goals are different, and as of now I’m focused on oral histories and tracing the trajectories of key leaders, especially two women, from the Angolan nation. According to their oral tradition, a few houses descend back at least to a man who was supposedly from Luanda in the mid-19th Century. Although enslaved Africans had been arriving in Brazil from Luanda and other regions of Angola since the late 16th century, it is improbable that I will be able to find any sources, either oral or written, that can link such figures to current practices of Candomblé.

I am currently fixated on the influence of one Brazilian-born female leader, who in the late 19th through the early 20th century initiated many members of the Angolan nation. Her “children” established influential houses that continue today. Through this work I can create what I have been calling “spiritual genealogies” or family trees based on initiation. This analogy works particularly well in Candomblé, as people relate to each other based on familial metaphors (something similar to the “Father” figure of the Catholic Church). Studying this woman is particularly interesting as a re-evaluation of Ruth Landes’ work, because she claimed that the Angolan nation was run by mostly by men—a majority of whom were homosexual. Her theory of matriarchy in Candomblé was largely limited to the few Ketu houses she studied. Expanding the frame of Afro-Brazilian religions and gendered leadership seems promising, to question previous theories and conclusions as well as produce new data and information previously overlooked, at least by academics. I have located some people to begin an oral history project, focused on this women and other related figures in the history of the Angolan nation of Candomblé, which has many links to houses in Rio de Janeiro as well.

With these intentions I am going to work in a few prominent Angolan houses in Bahia over the next few months. At least in one house I have found that the leader, a long time public advocate for Angolan Candomblé and a scholar in the history of Bantu language and culture, has a personal archive with materials of his activities and research throughout his life. He informed me that it’s completely unorganized and deteriorating, so I hope to help organize and preserve some of the essential documents as a way of permitting access to my research and giving back to them as well. I’ve been part of several conversations among Candomblé leaders about the preservation of memory and the construction of archives, memorials and museums within terreiros. Historically, knowledge within Candomblé is passed orally and through ritual transmission. However, the role of scholars in helping document prominent leaders and houses in the history of Bahian Candomblé is unquestionable and highly valuable. Often scholars provide legitimacy and prestige to houses wishing to affirm their particular tradition and practice. I suppose I can offer a similar service for the Angolan nation, with the hope of not meddling too much in the politics of national divisions. I already feel pulled on certain sides, which are sometimes racialized. The Angolan nation observably has more white members and leaders, which presents a threat to the Afro-centric discourse of Candomblé as an anti-racist project and form of resistance to a dominant white order. I think the question of white cooptation and leadership of black religion is worth asking, but I also think it's important to challenge the boundary between black and white as distinct and isolated racial groups. Especially in Brazil, racial mixture often presents itself in various ways besides skin color. For example, one leader of the Angolan nation pointed to his skin color but denied his whiteness, citing his last name as a Catholic name given to black Brazilians as a form of assimilation. Other physical characteristics, such as hair color and texture, nose shape and size, family affiliations, etc. reaffirm black identity in the absence of black pigment. (Not to mention that many historical accounts confirm that Europeans and white Brazilians have been attending Candomblé ceremonies and using ritual healers since the early phases of colonization, not to mention in Africa).  What I've observed in Angolan houses is that many Brazilians of European descent recognize their African heritage and grapple with history of slavery as an important part of their identity. 

In general, the discourse of the Angolan nation appears more inclusive, recognizing connections to native populations and embracing those with spiritual, rather than familial (or blood), ties to the Angolan nation. Angolan leaders claim clearly and loudly that their religion is Brazilian, not African (another big difference from the Ketu nation). The white members of the houses worship and recognize and celebrate an African past to Brazil that is often denied by the certain politicians, public education and other religious institutions. I see terreiros as centers of history learning and making, valuing the preservation of knowledge, continuing the practice of a certain people and recognizing the bright side to a dark past, which is explicitly and politically linked to the history of slavery. Whether or not this history is accurate or empirical is a question only relevant for skeptics and certain positivist academics. I hope to articulate in the future the value and particularities of this Angolan history-making (something scholars have already done in great detail for the Ketu-Yoruba lineages, which tend to have a more Afro-centric view).

I often hear people in Candomblé say, “you do not choose the religion, the religion choses you”. In this way, it is open for everyone, and although this is true in the Ketu nation as well, the Angolan nation appears to present a particularly white-slanted leadership.

These are my initial observations, however, and I look forward to evolving these ideas with new experiences and research.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Olympics

Since Brazil is in the international spotlight this month, I thought it appropriate to explain what I understand of the situation and see around me. I haven't been following the U.S. media coverage of the Olympics much, but I've heard it's really bad and several people have been asking me what's going on.

This image was circulating on Facebook during the World Cup, and it is equally relevant now. Another grafiti artist in Rio made the following:

First of all, I live in Salvador, and the Olympics are taking place in Rio de Janeiro, which is over 1,000 miles away. I haven't heard much about the Olympics affecting things here, although a few soccer games are happening at the Fonte Nova stadium in Salvador, recently renovated for the 2014 World Cup. Second of all, we all need to understand that Brazil is undergoing a subversive coup within the national government. The democratically elected president in 2013 is now forcibly "away" (afastada) from the government - she is suspended and not allowed to rule for a 90-day period. In May the Senate voted to continue with an impeachment trial, and while that is happening, Vice President Michel Temer from the PMDB party has stepped up and is serving as president. He has already suspended social programs and changed key ministers in the government (like the President's cabinet) and immediately de-funded education. The party largely responsible for this impeachment is PMDB, which stands for the Party of the Democratic Movement in Brazil. But make no mistakes, they use the term "democracy" as a cover-up for their conservative policies, which revolve around free trade, tax cuts for corporations and international investment. They are anti-union, anti-welfare, anti-gay, anti-women, and racist. A lot of their discourses resonate with those of Trump supporters. The party is largely made up of wealthy white men from the Southern, more industrial and wealthy regions of Brazil. In fact, the entire government of Brazil is majority male and white. Although President Dilma Rouseff's election in 2011 was a historic and progressive moment for national politics, it was largely achieved because of the success of the previous president, Luiz Lula Inácio da Silva, who ruled from 2003-2011. Both Lula and Dilma are from PT - The Worker's Party- which is the first national party in Brazil, democratically elected, to hold power for such a long time and actually redistribute wealth, provide welfare, fund cultural and educational projects, create institutional space for social and racial issues including affirmative action, rights for indigenous communities, etc. 

PMDB and its supporters claim that their impeachment process is democratic and lawful. They claim to follow the procedures outlined in the 1988 constitution (note how young Brazil's constitution is, and how new their democracy is, emerging from a dictatorship in 1985). However, their claims for impeachment revolve around what they are calling a "failure of responsibility", a very vague term, referencing mostly her use of funds without Congress' approval for social welfare programs. This "failure of responsibility" only became relevant when Brazil was facing an economic downturn, and many claim that PMDB simply wants to take power to alter the economic policies in order to save the economy in the way the dictatorship and previous conservative rulers have done, by increasing exports, cutting social services and incentivizing privatization and foreign investment. This is partially why U.S. media and corporations might be interested in supporting the impeachment and portraying Brazil as such a mess, in need of new leadership. Although corruption is endemic in all ruling political parties in Brazil (and perhaps the whole world?), pointing to PT as more corrupt than PMDB simply makes no sense. Both have been charged with money laundering, though each throws that fact in the other's face as proof of something worthwhile. Some more radical parties are calling for new elections, rejecting both parties and their rulers (because Brazil actually has a multi-party system). Dilma will be officially tried on August 26, and that decision will determine the future of the country's leadership. Many are afraid, many are protesting, though these things may not be publicized, for political reasons I assume.

There are a lot more details to this story, which is complicated, and at least a year in the making. If you want more information about current issues in Brazil, I suggest the following to start: 
Dangerous Subversion of Democracy
Contentious Impeachment Vote in Brazil (video of the majority white male senate kicking out the first female president in Brazil's history)
Epidemic of Anti-Gay Violence
Gang Rape in Rio de Janeiro

Given the grave political and economic crises in Brazil, it's not an ideal time for the Olympics. I can't speak for those in the city of Rio, but I think that most Brazilians throughout the country have bigger issues to deal with, mostly unemployment, finding ways to pay bills, educating their children, keeping safe given increasing crime rates. The agreements to hold the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 were made during Lula's presidency, when Brazil's economy was growing and inequality was shrinking. This high moment for Brazil has clearly passed, though boom and bust cycles are historically common in most Latin American countries. There were large protests in anticipation of the World Cup, some of which I attended and wrote about in 2013. These protests may have contributed to the general frustration in Brazil and discontent with the government's spending, more in support of international events and athletes rather than their own people. The protests have continued in response to police killings, especially in Rio de Janeiro, which are a result of supposed efforts to "clean up" the city in anticipation of the World Cup and the Olympics, where young black men are killed at a much higher rate than in the U.S. See Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on this issue.

Some of you may have seen the following Buzzfeed article about Rio's Olympic Village and the lack of preparedness to receive athletes. The Australian team refused to stay in the Village and went to a fancy hotel in Copacabana instead. Months ago people were already talking about the toxic bay to host some water sports. I read a few tales of European athletes traumatized by the sewage water, some even refusing to participate in the events. I believe people in Korea made the following video:

Although some of these representations are extreme and at times racist, I'm happy the sewage situation in Brazil is getting coverage. The lack of sewage infrastructure, treatment and sanitation in Brazil is an environmental disaster --this is not an exaggeration or a media play. In every Brazilian city I've ever been to (I think some in the South with greater resources and more European heritage have more environmentally friendly systems), there are several open sewage rivers running through the city and directly into the ocean. In Salvador it's popularly known not to go into the ocean after it rains due to the likelihood of getting a rash or sickness. This is because when it rains, all of the runoff goes directly into the oceans. There's also very precarious trash collection, especially in some neighborhoods, so the rain brings with it trash as well. I've been to beaches in Bahia full of trash, on particular days with particular currents. I've heard from old-timers in remote beaches that the wildlife has drastically decreased over the past decades. The PT party was certainly not an example for environmental policy or protection. They have refused to protect the Amazon, and basically let the company responsible for the major dam break in November in Minas Gerais off the hook, despite destroying a thriving river and an entire town that depended on the river for sustenance and economic opportunity. The toxic sludge continued to dump into the Atlantic Ocean with no treatment and very little international coverage. 

Before you jump to the conclusion that Brazil is a broken, backward country, I encourage those of you from the U.S. to consider the events going on there. What the international community currently sees are mass shootings, police violence and the rise of a white supremacist dictator-like figure in U.S. national politics. Perhaps all of this could serve as a reflection of both media coverage, and the kinds of problems that we face collectively given the current national and "democratic" systems some of us live in. Remember, many people currently living in this world are colonized and have absolutely no democratic rights, many live under dictatorships or in war states, many are refugees with no state at all.

Despite all of these issues, I love sports. I'm going to watch the Olympics and enjoy them. I have a television and internet, and my life in Brazil is among the best possible. And I'm not alone... many people share the luxuries I have, and fear losing them. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Cult of the Ancestors

To maintain anonymity and discretion, this post will use pseudonyms. I refrain from using many details and specific names. Let's start off with a few key terms to ensure a smooth reading experience. 

Egungun- this is the type of ancestral entity being worshipped at the ceremony I describe. It refers to a particular style of Yoruba masking, and the cult in Bahia directly descends from those from the ancient Oyó Kingdom in present-day Nigeria. The oldest Egungun cults are on an island in the Bay of All Saints, called Itaparica.

Babá - literally means "Father" in Yoruba. Participants bless the ancestor and call it by this name.

Ojé - This is the title given to the men initiated into the egungun cult. Exclusively men engage directly with these ancestors and prepare them for the ritual.

Barracão - The central ritual space. In this particular terreiro, it was set up like an open stage. If you need more definitions, visit the "What is Candomblé?" page to your right ;)

After making some key friends and contacts last week, I was invited to a ceremony I had never attended before, a "party" for the egunguns. I was extremely interested, as it is a cult that exclusively initiates men, although women hold central positions, in addition to their roles at their own terreiros. This particular terreiro is different from others, in that it serves exclusively the egunguns and not the orixás, although the two are associated with each other in particular ways I don't fully understand yet. People affiliated with this terreiro work together to celebrate and keep alive ancestral ties to Africa, which are shared among three central families. This cult aggregates members of several terreiros and family networks in Salvador, descending from the oldest and most “African” terreiros, with references and liturgical links to the Egungun cults of Itaparica, which are said to have been founded by African men in the 1820-1850s during the last decades of the legal slave trade.

I drove my new friend Sara, who is the granddaughter of the late founder of the terreiro. Her grandfather is recognized as an influential Candomblé priest, scholar and artist in Brazil and internationally. Sara showed me around the whole terreiro and introduced me to nearly everyone we saw. She was very kind and generous, as was everybody I met. Over and over again Sara introduced me by saying, “she’s American, and it’s her first time seeing the Egungun!”. In response, people gave me a sweet smile and a look of excitement with a hint of trepidation, exclaiming, “Welcome! Make yourself comfortable”.  Sara was very willing to explain details about her family. I met her sisters, sisters-in-law, aunts, nephews, great-nephews, and during the ceremony, her mother, who has an important position at the terreiro. She explained to me that her grandfather had the title of alapani - or the supreme priest of the eguns in all of Brazil. He was the most direct reference for the Yoruba ancestors in Brazil, and since his death a few years ago nobody has taken that position or assumed the role of priest at the terreiro.

We arrived early, and there was a Babá (ancestral spirit) walking around the terreiro before the party started. Sara encouraged us to stay out of it’s way. At first I didn’t get a very good look, but the entity was covered head to toe in a thick, all-encompassing fabric; I had never seen anything quite like it. I waited for a while inside the barracão with Sara's friend, who was difficult to talk to. I asked a few questions, but she was much more reserved. While we were waiting I observed the children running around, chasing each other and playing. Women were finishing decorating and placing the final touches before the ceremony. Everybody helped out to take care of the many children and babies around, everybody was trustworthy, everybody an aunt or an uncle. 

When it was time to find our spot on the women’s side of the audience (men and women were divided by the aisle), we were made aware of the hierarchy of seats among the female observers. I was absorbed in the middle of the women and had a hard time observing or understanding the men’s side. We found a spot in the fourth row, making sure to sit in a plastic seat that didn’t have any title marked on the back. Slowly older women, now adorned in ritual clothing and many jewels (earrings, bracelets and the contos - orixá necklaces) began occupying the first rows of chairs. A chorus of younger filhas-de-santo came together on the far right of the audience, loudly chatting and later starting the chants. Several babies and young children were sitting on laps, passed around, sometimes making silly noises and talking in their own way to the Babás. Sara sat next to me and made small talk with all of her friends and relatives throughout the ceremony. For me, it was a privileged position to be in. Alone, or even with my husband, there’s no way I could have entered into this highly intimate and familial space without a personal invite from a member of the terreiro. 

The same spirit that was wandering around earlier began the festa. We all stood up and I got a better glimpse of it— it was mostly blue with many symbolic decorations and elaborate embroideries. I was very impressed with the craft and finishing- it was clearly a royal garment created and treated with great care. The entity was covered from head to hand to toe in very thick fabric (perhaps velvet?), which appeared like a seamless but intricate piece with many separate parts including gloves, a full mask, shoes and outer flaps all woven into one. I wondered how hot it must be in there, but pressed myself to remember that a possessed person doesn’t feel or worry about those things the same way I might. I was curious to know who was inside there and how he (I assume, since it’s a man’s cult), prepares himself for such a bodily incorporation. This entity was much different than the many orixá possessions I’ve seen. The person receiving the spirit is entirely absent (in being fully concealed), and seemingly insignificant. The Babá also spoke and communicated in a way I’d never seen orixás do before. Each ancestor had a particular jeito (way about it), and a specific style of speaking. The first grunted in a very low tone, in short but relatively constant spurts. I couldn’t understand individual syllables, let alone words (despite some familiarity with Yoruba). To me it was a bunch of distant mumbling, yet people all around me were responding when their title was called. 
Periodically a different type of spirit would appear at the entrance to the barracão. They were two large, square figures that seemed like mischievous trouble-makers, running around the barracão, chasing the ojés and flirtatiously lingering at the doorways, threatening but never actually entering. At one point one of them played the flute, which we could only hear from a distance. At another I swear one of them appeared in the tree, camouflaged by the brown and green fabric. I had never heard about or seen spirits quite like them before, and was baffled, yet entertained by their playfulness.

The men’s cult was markedly different from the other cults I have witnessed for orixás. The men circled the barracão with thin, long wooden sticks in their hands, sometimes chasing and sometimes being chased by the Babás. I couldn’t count how many men there were, but at least 20 and from all ages— from 6-8 year old children all the way up to elderly, but still physically capable men of 60-70 years. That day a few men, including Sara’s nephew, were being initiated into the egungun cult. They kneeled in front of the Babá as a sort of judgement day (or in this case, night). Sara told me that each person has a particular name, associated with their position given to them by the ancestors. The affiliated family members knew to pay attention and respond with blessings for the ancestor when called. From what I could tell, there seemed to be more women called up to speak to the ancestor, as the men have more frequent contact and communication with it. As far as I know, the women only engage with the egungun in this ceremonial setting. Sometimes the Babá would request that the person come on stage, in the center of the barracão and kneel before it, in order to hear a personal message. At times the ancestor thanked the person for preparing or doing something in a pleasing way. Other times, the ancestor seemed irritated and people were extremely nervous to approach it. At several moments the ancestor became extremely animated, jumping and spinning, even cornering some of the new initiates. It seemed like a provocation, a test. The ojés attempted to control the Babá, slowing it down and encircling it with their wooden sticks. The older ojés appeared more secure in their abilities to subdue the spirit, the younger ones were timid and fearful. Each ancestor had a different object in its hands, one had a sharp, shorter wooden stick, another (associated with Xangô), had a small wooden ax. At certain moments the spirit lunged towards the men, and chased them with the sharp objects, hitting some of the men if they weren't quick enough. All we heard were their fast stomps and yelps. I often heard people talking about the possibility of the men “apanhar”, or to receive a beating. The verb in Portuguese is often used to describe when somebody is caught, put in their place, humiliated, or physically beaten. 

The whole ceremony felt like an encounter and conversation with the ancestors, a sort of check-in to make sure everybody is okay with one another.  In one instance, everybody stood up and jumped. In another, we all laughed rhythmically. People spoke Yoruba to the entity in a way I’d never seen conversationally before. I had always read and heard (from academic sources) that Yoruba was not spoken in Brazil anymore, but used only in chants and rituals. Although this was a specifically ritual context, it was clear that people knew a lot of Yoruba and had much experience speaking with the ancestral spirits in this language. The men taking care of the spirit appeared to be the most fluent, or at least the most vocal. From the cult they have the closest contact, and from what I gathered, comprehension of the egungun, though I don’t want to assume that the older women, the mothers-of-the-saint, don’t have the same skills in communication (though they are excluded from the cult, suggesting a certain distance from the fundamentos, the secret knowledge only shared among the initiated men).

After the more agitated and demanding ancestors left, one associated with the orixá Oxum arrived. She was calmer and sweeter than the previous ones. This is consistent with Oxum’s personality, which is sensual and caring, if not vain. The egungun associated with Oxum danced for a while and called up people who seemed to be her mediums. She held flowers in her hand and gave the bouquet to an elegant young woman, who I later found out is part of one of the three central families. Towards the end of the festa, the older mães and other women helped pour water from a decorated cauldron to the audience. Sara told me that the water is purifying, and especially good for the uterus. There were probably 50 women waiting for little yellow plastic cups of ritual water, and not patiently. Sara kept complaining that the men were getting more water, “and they don’t even have uteruses!”. Finally I got a rather full cup (lucky me), and it tasted herbal and refreshing in an unrecognizable way. By that point we had been sitting and observing for 2-3 hours, and I think we were all grateful for some liquid. Once everybody got water (there was enough for everybody), one of the older women passed out a few little gifts to privileged members —jewels from Oxum (simple bracelets, earrings, etc). Sara explained to me that the festa on the 2nd day (in a cycle of 3 festas for the egunguns) always features this moment with Oxum, because the egungun is a highly revered Mãe de santo, a worshiped ancestor of one of the main families and a central reference for the terreiro. It is Sara's great grandmother. 

After the ceremony ended everybody mingled and waited for food and drink. We saw one of the ojé’s pass with a case of champagne, and Sara exclaimed, “Oooh you came on the right day!”. The ojés popped the champagne ceremoniously and everybody who wanted one got a plastic champagne glass. We toasted and took a celebratory picture. It felt like a family reunion. This terreiro is remarkable because it actively maintains relationships with the ancestors, which are known, celebrated and worshipped by continuing generations. I know of few communities that keep this sort of memory alive, and can pin-point with such specificity family ties, both spiritual and biological. I don’t doubt they exist, and I know there are several more in Bahia, and that this is one of the central purposes of candomblé —to keep community and family ties in the face of great violence and forced separation from the legacy of the Atlantic Slave Trade. But I had never quite felt the profundity and witnessed the efficacy of such a practice. Hearing Sara talk about her family confirmed how deep history is preserved through ritual practice. She herself descends from one of the African women who founded the first known and still functioning terreiro in Salvador. I couldn’t help but feel jealous of their extended family and genealogical wisdom, which at least for that particular evening felt joyful and unified. It made being so far from my biological family particularly painful that evening. However, I felt comfort in knowing that others can sustain such meaningful relationships with loved ones for centuries, across oceans, in much more trying conditions, and that I was privileged enough to witness their persistence.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mothers of the saint

To start, if you need some help remembering or keeping up with the Portuguese/Yoruba terms, visit the "What is Candomblé?" page, where I've added some key definitions.

If getting to the last terreiro was a challenge, arriving at this lesser known terreiro in a popular neighborhood (Brotas) of Salvador was much greater. The terreiro was registered in the most recent study of 2007, so we had an address, but google maps couldn't possibly offer proper directions to navigate the steep (I emphasize STEEP) hills and back streets, which after getting lost a few times, proved to be full of small terreiros. A personal friend of mine, a pai-de-santo at another terreiro, invited me to attend his "mother's" house, where he would wear his "Exu". This means that he was initiated by the leader of this terreiro (his "mother") and would return to receive his spirit, Exu. This invite seemed like an important opportunity, as so far I have focused on gaining greater access and proximity to terreiros that have not yet been written about or researched in great detail.

My husband and I nearly gave up about three times on the way, as it seemed that every street we went down happened to be the wrong one. I kept giving the name of the terreiro when asking help from passer-bys, but nobody recognized the name in Yoruba. Finally somebody at a bar asked, "Is it the party for Xangô?", and  I thought, "close enough...", so she gave us some directions that I could generally follow, though only by going the wrong way down a one-day street. Ayrá, the orixá celebrated that evening, is similar to Xangô and often considered to be the same, as they have similar traits, adornments and clothing. After pissing off a truck coming head on, we descended a steep hill, which on a rainy night was particularly worrisome. At the bottom of the hill we saw a bunch of parked cars and heard some drumming and guessed it was the Candomblé party. I was getting a bit anxious with nowhere to park, stuck on a steep hill in the rain, and had to take a moment to breathe and calm down. With nowhere to park the car and uncertain if we had finally arrived in the right place, I looked at my husband and asked if he just wanted to go home and forget about it. He was ambivalent about coming at all and was willing to give up, but concluded that we had gone this far, so mine as well go all the way. I knew that once we got inside the barracão, everything would be alright. So we continued down the hill and asked the samba men, who we discovered were not affiliated with any terreiro, if there was a Candomblé party nearby and if we could park there. They confirmed that yes, down the alley there was a terriero, and directed me to park in front of a bunch of abandoned, rusted cars. I barely had room to get out of my car and had to step through a puddle next to a pile of garbage and slide around the car to get out. 

So we walked down some more steps into a small favela, and saw people dressed in white waiting outside a large house--a sure sign of a terreiro. I asked anyway, and with permission I entered to find a bathroom-- after driving around for an hour trying to find the place, I had to pee. The terreiro was small, but beautiful. I walked down a corridor alongside a line of different colored painted altars for different orixás--there were dead animal skins pinned on the walls, surely those sacrificed for the orixás. I entered the back room to find the bathroom, always asking for permission, and saw some of the behind the scenes. People appeared taken aback by my presence, especially the leading ogã, the man who coordinates the party, like a bouncer. Nobody said anything but I sensed that not many foreigners or anthropologists get down the hills and alleys to this particular terreiro. 
The ceremony did not start promptly, so my husband and I waited outside for a while alongside other party-goers. We stood next to a group of young people. We seemed to belong to a similar generation and what in Bahia is called the "alternative" cultural group (especially my husband, since he grew up in Bahia, but I've spent five years on and off and entered these circles). One woman with facial piercings and a turban offered me a bit of chocolate, which is my favorite treat, and I interpreted her offering as camaraderie. The adjacent friend group was commenting that they similarly got lost on the way, though by foot, and we were all grateful to have arrived, waiting rather awkwardly for the ceremony to start. The rain brought us inside the ritual space (barracão), where we found seats along the wall. I squeezed in next to one of the young women, hoping to make friends as we were hip to hip in front of a window, leaning against the open shudder. The spirit enters through the open windows and doors, which have straw above them, meant to mark their entrance with a gust of wind as they enter the room to take over the medium's bodies. I felt in a vulnerable and exposed position, though somehow protected by my husband on the right and my close companion on the left. 

There was a different feeling at this party than others. Generally the crowd was older, the vibe familiar and intimate. The male and female observers were not separated; instead everybody sat around the edges of the rectangular room, with opposite sides facing each other. There was a small concrete circle as part of the floor, marking the ritual center of the room. Once again, every ritual participant touched the ground and then their head. Some laid down and put their head on the middle of the circle. To begin, everybody in the ritual greeted one another in a hierarchical fashion. Some simply offer both their hands open below the revered person, others lay all the way on the ground. Many lined up to lay down in front of the mãe-de-santo (mother of the saint). I noticed that on the other side of the window, the woman who offered me chocolate was being honored by several people in the ceremony, including my pai-de-santo friend. She must be an important person in Candomblé, I thought, even though her age and style did not indicate the same status as the other older women affiliated with the mãe-de-santo. 

One of the things that most surprised me about this terreiro was the use of trumpets. I had never before seen brass instruments incorporated into Candomblé ritual music. Alongside the three drummers, two men also played the trumpet at key moments during the ceremony. The horns signaled the official beginning of the ceremony, and later when each spirit arrived in people's bodies, they blasted loudly in celebration and indication of the spirit's entrance. There was a large, recent photograph of the mãe-de-santo herself in the room. The terreiro was founded in 1976, and she seemed to be about 75 years old, suggesting that she may have been the sole leader of the terreiro since it's founding (she may have started the house herself around 36 years of age). There was another even older woman who was leading many of the activities, especially the songs and managing the order of orixás throughout the ceremony. 

With this older generation of African-descended women in the heart of Salvador's popular neighborhoods, I felt that I had fallen into a quintessential "City of Women" scene. There were three women seated at the front of the room calling the shots, giving orders with an ease only acquired after decades of spiritual labor, creating "filhos de santo" (children, sons and daughters of the saint), initiating new people, making offerings and organizing ceremonies, not to mention the day-to-day work of taking care of a terreiro, which I have yet to fully grasp in my research experience thus far. I believe it was scenes such as these, in houses such as these, lead by generations of black women, that brought Ruth Landes to her conclusions of "matriarchy". It is truly a situation not found in many places throughout the racist Americas, and a phenomenon worth exploring and sharing, though perhaps in different terms and with a broader comparative lens. I noticed that in general there were more women involved in the ritual than men. One by one spirits arrived and people became possessed. In total about 7 women were possessed and 4 men. As the spirits were arriving, one of the women who earlier was sitting on the steps waiting for the ceremony to start, got up from her seat and motioned to an ogã at the terreiro, with desperate eyes pleading to leave the room. Before the man could fully secure her body, her eyes upturned, her legs went limp and she fell heavy to the ground right in front of me. I was a bit in shock and unsure as to the proper way help, so I let more experienced people take care of her. A group of four people dragged her back to her seat and tried to calm her down. She came back into consciousness shortly after, and after stabilizing and gaining strength in her legs, got up to leave the barracão. A few people exchanged glances, but most stayed focus on the true spirits of the party, adorned in the middle of the room. 

After the arrival of the last and most important spirit, Ayrá, in the body of one of the older women, everybody except for Oyá left the barracão to be dressed. To end the party Exu (played by my pai-de-santo friend) and Ayrá entered the room. We were given fragrant white flowers to throw on the spirits as they circled and danced for a good while. A very well-dressed ogã entered alongside Ayrá with a white suite, white gloves and a white satin sash decorated with the words "Ogã de Xangô". He was the official guardian of Ayrá for the evening and had special status. Shortly after the "equede of Xangô" entered the dancing circle with a similarly special sash. 

During a cigarette break, my husband spoke to the woman who offered me chocolate and received blessings from people in the ritual. He took the liberty of talking to her about my research (something I was hesitant about exposing initially), and she revealed that she herself was a mãe-de-santo, the youngest women I've yet to see in this position. Her friend said that my research topic was "polemic", and she questioned what the older women might think about my investigation and intentions. Despite the hesitations, curiosity won over and she gave my husband her phone number to get in touch. The next day I messaged her and she promptly responded, saying we should get together to discuss my research, offering, "I think I can help you..."

These ceremonies are aptly called "parties", because although they are carefully planned ritual events, in many ways they are similar to any other type of party. People arrive well-dressed, in a particular style determined for the occasion. Many women come wearing make-up and high-heels, men with ironed shirts and combed hair. Even though I was told that taking pictures is taboo, many people do take them, with nice cameras or with their phones, and then post the pictures on facebook the following day, tagging friends and showing off their attendance and the beauty of the party. Beverages are served at strategic moments, and food at the very end when people make small talk. There's not nearly as much socializing going on as I had expected, and especially little flirting or romantic interactions. But I've noticed that particularly my process of going to the ceremonies reminds me of going to other parties. I have to get up the energy and courage to go into an unfamiliar place and present myself to many new people. I worry that my clothes will fit in. I have to find directions and figure out transportation. I lament having to try to find the bathroom in a strange place. As a researcher, I know I should talk myself and my research up to get some digits. It's kind of silly, and I'm kind of nervous, as my biggest preoccupation is being respectful and following the rules, which is tricky because I don't know them all. All in all, this party was a particularly successful one, because, with my husband's help, I got a few people's number and feel like I might get a "second date". 

I'm being cheeky, but I have some good leads and made some good contacts to move forward, and we'll see where they take me. Notice that I did not use names or specifications in this post, as the terreiro is not public in the same way as the previous one, and without permission I'll remain anonymous. For now I'm getting to know as many different houses as possible before I commit to any one research site.

Note: I track the roles of men and women based on the recognizable traits associated with each gender in a widely accepted binary system in Brazil and practiced in paricular ways within the religious system of Candomblé. I do not mean to project or define anybody's gender, but rather evaluate the way they present themselves and occupy particular roles, sometimes related to and determined by their gender identity.