Sunday, September 14, 2008

Aqua Potavel

7-8 Sept; Festa Sao Bento

Working through the technology in a new place, once again, I had to be told in class that it was my cell phone ringing; “Maybe I had better answer it or turn it off.” My NY friends would be rolling on the floor, me not run to a cell or Blackberry; huh?

Jumping up, I ran towards the door to the amphitheatre. It was Augusto. “Doing, now? My class, Yes. Til noon. I had some plans, errands to run, and writing on the weekend. What, no.? Ok, I will come right back to the island after class. Ate logo, ciao.” He was gone. I shut my phone down and walked back in.

I went to change some money after class. It took three banks to beat the Friday-I-Just-Got-Payed Line of people cashing checks. Put some money on my cell and just caught the one o’clock Lancha. After a circuitous Kombi ride, I was in the office by 2:20PM.

Augusto handed me the latest, Agenda Cultural, opened to the page, “Tradição”. He pointed to a citation, Comemoração-Ritual e samba de caboclos na ilha; at Agua Potável. I read the Portuguese and listened to his description, head prostate. He mentioned the Samba de Roda on Sunday, and I looked up. “Sim. Tenho interesse!” He chided me, “Oh, you only want to dance, what about your research; didn’t you listen?”

I had, but I had not pieced it all together. A Festa de São Bento was a jumble to me. A 130 year old Irmandade, (sisterhood), offered a ritual of Caboclo, the unique Brazilian hybrid of Indigenous and Candomble spiritualism, Samba and a Catholic Procession, with appropriate traditional foods. Augusto added that the festa was also dedicated to Iroko, a magical tree.The Iroko, Ceiba or Strangler Fig is a hemiepiphytic tree. Its seeds airborne, take root in the canopy of other trees. They ultimately strangle them, often leaving a hollowed out area where the host tree had existed. In Candomble cosmology, it is seen as the only tree that grows down from heaven to earth and not from earth towards heaven. A gift from the Orixas.

“It has your name all over it. I have already arranged it. You will spend the weekend there. Get yourself ready. Davis will pick you up early; I think at eight. I want you to be careful. I don’t know about this people. I realize that you will need to take your camera. I cleared that already. Your contact will be Celeste, (Celest-chee). But don’t take anything else with you. Just take a little money. No cards, nothing extra. White clothing and mosquito repellant and sox.”

I asked, “ok; but why socks?” Clicking his tongue with incredulity; “To protect you from mosquitos!. Think about it. But, you need to be interested in more than just the Samba. I will ask the others if they want to go see the procession or Samba on Sunday. If they go, you can ride home with them. Otherwise you are on your own. It’s a long ride. It will cost you, ask Davis for a price. Now, go-get ready.” I thanked him and left.

Davis arrived on his motorcycle promptly at eight. I was nursing a slight bout of fatigue from the trajectory of my week. My sleep had been disjointed, more anxious internal dialogue and insomnia than snoozin’. I had turned a lot, lingering in bed longer than usual. I misgauged the morning light and was one hour off schedule. Marcia called to me twice to get up.

I tried to dress quickly, grab coffee and a snack. Taylor, was outside at the table eating breakfast. He encouraged me to sit and take breakfast. I was not comfortable keeping someone waiting. I wolfed a roll with cheese, some Echineaca, vitamins and juice. Slurping coffee I stood up, and walked out the door. Santos, the gardener always cheerful had a sense of this area. He directed us to a curve in the road at least 40 minutes south of us, near Pesgue-Pague and Club Med; loose directions. I looped my camera around my neck and shot quirky pictures from the bike.

We stopped and started asking directions several times just after we passed Pesgue-Pague and the PetroBras rural Compound. Everyone had a vague notion of Agua Potável, had heard about it, gave us a suspicious air, but no real answers. Thirty minutes into our search, we elected to call the Terreiro directly. Celeste gave Davis new coordinates and we pulled out. Moments later we went around a barrier and up a dirt road, climbing and spinning stones from underneath the tires. On the hill we found a few buildings, a house and a caged pipeline with a large valve. Wrong again. Another call, and down the hill again. We had missed a fork in the road. The new dirt path ran about ¼ mile. At the halfway point was a primitive locked wire gate. A man was approaching dressed in white with a beanie, clamdiggers, a tunic and white Havanas. Kind faced, he opened the gate with saying a word, and gestured us to continue down the hill. I later found out that he was the Babayalorisha or Pai de Santo, and probably the first line of defence; in case we were undesirables.

Parking the bike outside of the large entrance gate, we waited for the Pai. Just inside we could see a large gold colored eagle, a cross, some iron power figures, houses to various Orixa, a house and a temple. The compound took up several acres.

Pai walked up, we entered together and immediately a few of the other members of the Terreiro, greeted us. Davis said ciao and split. I was quickly introduced to the Mae de Santo, a full figured, middle aged woman with extensions and a gentle caring face. Next a stern, linebacker of a man identified as the Ogan, the bridge between the terreiro and the outside world. I was told that he was an English speaker, if I needed help. I was immediately wary of him, and thought that I would not be comfortable using him as a translator or counselor. Finally, Celeste appeared, dressed in white like all of the others, she was affable and petite with a measured gaze and a head for business. She immediately extended her hand as my caregiver. Here, I would not be allowed to do anything other than bathing as an independent. Everything would be prepared for me. Now, it begins.

Celeste showed me to my room, attached to the main house. She presented me with a key, and then began moving each of the single beds inside, sweeping the floor and checking for cobwebs.” I could shower if I needed it,” she said before closing the door. She left me to myself, explaining that I could photograph, but not everything. I was exhausted, and felt sickly. No turning back now.

I wanted water more than a shower. Later, I learned that I should have bathed, purified myself and rid the Terreiro of my street vibes. I walked back through the living room to the kitchen, open on all sides with partial walls for support on two. Rough hewn shelves held all the cooking equipment, platters and bowls. These shelves framed the back wall and opened up to the forest behind. A few small sinks pumped well water. The cooking area was nicely tiled, two ovens, and a cast iron flat-topped stove, all wood fired. Other than the simple electric bulbs, this could be the nineteenth century. Several people, mostly women were fast at work cooking, chopping, shucking beans, etc.

Beyond the kitchen area was a large dining area with several long wooden tables and benches. The one wall had paintings of Caboclo Indians in full regalia. I realized that breakfast was being brought to the table. Each person was responsible for one aspect of the meal. Soft white rolls, marble swirled with chocolate appeared store bought. Everything else was made by hand; steamed roots: manioc, ahime, aipim, batata doce, roasted banana de terra in its skin, bolo de milho, manteiga, coffee and chá, or tea.

Everyone gathered around the central table where the Mae sat, arranging platters and directing traffic. She began to shake a rhythm with her Agogo (bell), which was mirrored in everyone’s handclapping. Heads bowed, soon they began chanting songs of grace and praise in sweet, sultry rounds. A group of young women processed towards the table in step to the melody. They removed their head wraps and lowered themselves to the floor.

A wiry middle aged man with a deliberate countenance hunched forward emitting the now familiar guttural yelp more animal than human. He clasped his palms together behind his back and began to rock back and forth. Later, I discovered that he was “mounted” by Omulu. As his eyes glazed, an older woman came forward. She wrapped his chest in white cloth and arranged his contas like a bandolier slung over from his right shoulder to his left hip to prevent them from falling.

Within minutes his “mounting” was followed by all of the prostrated women. They were also cared for appropriately and allowed to move and dance as they needed. After thirty minutes or so, they came back into themselves, the food was served and we ate quietly.

After breakfast, I explored their campus, still timid as to what I should photograph, or even look at. Quickly realizing that someone always had me in view, I was directed by the Pai de Santo to take a photo of a painting of Xango outside of “his” house. It was beautiful, adorning the exterior wall. In the corner a large multi-colored shield and a three foot mortar and pestle. I shot pictures of the houses of Oxala (who held the head of the Terreiro. Omulu, Nana and Oxumare. I observed the brick painted white altar reserved for ritual offerings of food, and animal sacrifice, before breaking to take a short nap.

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