Tag Archives: Salvador de Bahia

Candomblé (is it real?)

What is it?

According to Wikipedia: Candomblé is an African-originated or Afro-Brazilian religion, practised chiefly in Brazil by the “povo de santo” (people of saint).

Why do I write about it?

Last year Luca and I went to Brazil during Easter holidays. Some days ago I was looking at some pictures and I remembered that I had wanted to write a post about one experience we lived then. I never wrote it then, so I’ll do it now.

While wandering through Salvador de Bahía last year, we stopped to have some rest plus a drink at a bar. Luca reviewed a little brochure for activities to do in the city. Basically we had to offers for the evening: attending a concert or candomblé. We opted for the latter.

The brochure already warned that some foreigners found it strange that people were asked to pay to attend a religious ceremony. If I remember well we paid about 100R$ between the two of us (~30€), a perfectly payable amount.

For me the best thing of the evening was that with the mind thinking about attending the ceremony we ventured with the group into a part of the city that by ourselves we would have never dared to go. I sometimes make the comment that we don’t dare to go to places just because the noisy media has given us that fearful sense. I guess that if we had checked the guide of Brazil we had, it most probably would have discouraged us to go into the neighbourhood we went.

The room where the ceremony was held could have been any wide room of a building. It wasn’t any kind of special temple. We gathered about 40 people inside; split 50/50 between tourists and candomble practitioners (or performers). The head of the ceremony was an old woman.

Let me take the following passage from the Wikipedia to briefly describe how the ceremony goes:

“In the public part of the ceremony, children-of-saint (mediunic priests) invoke and “incorporate” Orixás, falling into a trance-like state. After having fallen into trance, the priest-spirits perform dances symbolic of the Orixá’s attributes, while the babalorixá or father of saint (leading male priest) leads songs that celebrate the spirit’s deeds. The ceremony ends with a banquet.

Candomblé music, an essential part of the ritual, derives from African music.”

What did I feel?

I think it was all fake. I don’t believe any of what it happened it was actually felt by performers. I risk that you’ll get me wrong, you may think I am not tolerant with other cultures, etc. Not the case.

I just felt that ceremony was a business show much the like flamenco shows in Granada, with the difference that with the flamenco you don’t feel cheated. You know from the beginning that you are attending a show.

The money wasn’t definitely a problem; I love to spend some cash for different experiences. E.g. sometimes we have just paid a guide to explain us a temple not caring about the accuracy of the explanation just about the curious stories he or she might tell, as the rest of the information we will have forgotten in months.

I guess there will be groups of people who do have their candomblé celebrations and believe in it. I don’t think the group we attended was one of those. At least not at that moment. When you saw them entering in trance, five minutes later smoking a cigarette and then entering in trance again it felt strange.

Believe it or not it took me time to make up my mind. Luca is way sharper than I am in those situations… I think she gave me a look of disapproval no later than the first 5 minutes had passed. During one pause, she explained me her view of it, and then, back in the room, during the following minutes of sudden trance-in/trance-out I was making my numbers in my head.

We were about 20 tourists. If each of us had paid about 50R$. The total income then was ~1,000R$. If the band (I avoid the word congregation here) performed a show every night, they would make ~30.000R$ a month. Let’s correct the figure supposing that not every day they may have a performance or that in not all performances they will be able to fill the room… say they make ~20.000R$ a month. As I said, there were about 20 performers, this would mean that each could receive ~1,000R$ (some of this would have to be deducted to pay the transportation of the tourist and the home-made drinks they offered).

The average salary in some parts of Brazil is in that order of magnitude, ~1,000R$. Then take into account that many of the performers were family, so it really makes sense for them, it’s a formidable way of making a living for the family. Probably if I had been born in that neighbourhood and I could have a supplement to my salary of 100% of my salary by faking a trance situation per night I would have been delighted to do so. And it is perfect as a business! It’s just that it leaves you with a bad flavour. It feels like cheating. We wouldn’t recommend it.

Next time we’ll go for the concert, no matter the price.


Filed under Travelling

Bits of the World in Brazil

While in Brazil last Easter, I read in my guide that in the city of Sao Paulo lived the largest Japanese ethnic group outside Japan. My first thought was: that’s not surprising; by heart I made the following reasoning “if Sao Paulo is among the six or seven biggest cities in the World and we exclude Tokyo and Chinese cities… there is a chance of 15-20% of it being Sao Paulo”.

Later on I was told that in Sao Paulo also lived the biggest communities of several other nationalities… yes, the same rationale could apply (I guess it would come a point where not every nationality could have their largest community abroad in Sao Paulo… but I found no way to prove that).

This may give us an idea of the diversity of the city as well as the country, Brazil… and that is something you keep feeling when you visit it… you suddenly see something and tell yourself “I have seen that somewhere else…”. Like if there were wormholes connecting different parts of the World… Be it music, food, architecture, clothing, traditions…

Let me focus on some examples:

The first two examples are related to Japan.

  • See the Japanese traditional gates (or Torii), both in Japan (this case in the island Miyajima) and in the Japanese neighbourhood in Sao Paulo.
  • Note the striking similarities of procedures used to push people into the subway coaches both in Sao Paulo and Tokyo (in this case I was later told by my sister that in a TV programme about Spanish living abroad it was commented that the metro of Sao Paulo was inspired by the one in Tokyo).

Japanese gates, Torii, in Sao Paulo and Miyajima.

People queueing in Sao Paulo and Tokyo subways.

The next striking example is one that I already posted about: the Banespa tower in Sao Paulo compared to the Empire State Building in New York (you almost wouldn’t notice the difference if it wasn’t for the height of ESB).

Banespa Building (photo by Felipe Mostarda) and Empire State Building (photo by David Shankbone).

Other very similar example is found between two elevators: the Lacerda elevator in Salvador de Bahia and the elevator of Santa Justa in Lisbon… here the main difference is the queue and pricing… in Lisboa you may wait 30 minutes and pay over 1 euro, while in Salvador you wait less than a minute and pay 0,15 R$ (this is 6 euro cents!)…

Elevators of Santa Justa (Lisbon) and Lacerda (Salvador).

Similar experiences can be found as well inside two different markets: the Sao Paulo Municipal Market and Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, the first one offering a wider variety of products (including good Spanish jamón in the “Emporio Arabe”?!?) and the latter a more upscale atmosphere. (If at the market in Sao Paulo, do not miss the codfish pastel and mortadella sandwich at Hocca bar!!).

Municipal markets in Sao Paulo and Madrid.

Lastly you all know the Cristo Redentor in Corcovado Mountain, Rio de Janeiro… there is a similar Christ in Lisbon, just at the opposite riverside from Praça do Comerço (though I admit that in this case it is in Lisbon where you think “oh, I’ve seen this somewhere else”).

Christs in Rio de Janeiro (being overhauled) and Lisbon.


Filed under Travelling