Monday, September 15, 2008

Cooking for the Orixas

All weekend I dosed myself with Chinese Herbs and Western Tinctures to stave off a cold or flu. Consequently, I went in between the ceremonies and my bed. The lock was partially jammed, and frozen. In the end, I gave up on my key and left the door open, which signaled a deeper trust for this new strange community. I always woke as the Atabaque drums and Mae’s singing intoned the next ritual. Waking this way deep in the woods with little modern references was somehow quite comforting and not alien.

Celeste tapped me to awaken me. “Marcia, minha irmã, comecou cozinhar. Levanta-se, por favor.” -“ My sister, Marcia has started cooking, please get up.” I watched the soaking, sifting and hand grinding of black-eyed peas for Abará, Acarajé and Camarão Seca. Pounds and pounds run through a small counter mounted meat grinder. Toucinho, rabo, costelhas and calabresa (smoked pork belly, oxtails, pork ribs and beef/pork sausage) was being cut for Feijoada.

The interplay between Comida da Casa, Comida de Santo and Comida da Rua (home-spiritual-street cooking) is a fascinating. Many dishes live in all three worlds. Often aspects of a dish are extracted, simplified or exaggerated as needed to maintain a contiguous relationship. Consistently in the production or consummation of these dishes the reference is drawn to the foods eaten by slaves. It is reinforced to honor their struggle and inform successive generations.

Mounds of quiabo, okra was being cut and onions were being hand grated for Caruru. Black eyed Peas, Black Beans and White Beans were simmering, each for a different Orixa. Corn was been shucked and scraped for Acaça. Every inch of counter, and all of the burners were being used to get the foods ready. Everything was done by hand, with simple tools and wood fires, both inside and outdoors. Only at the end of the food preparation cycle, did I see a blender get pulled out to create a finer, smoother texture. In the dining area, all of the ceremonial clothes were being starched and pressed with an old fashioned iron that had been heated on the stove.

Marcia informed me that she had slightly modified the techniques for preparing acarajé to save water. The terreiro relied on well water. Walking a moderate distance to retrieve water was a daily reality. In every way that they could, they worked to conserve resources and respect the land that supported them.

I walked outside to observe some of the other projects, wood cutting, roasting tubers over an open fire, preparation for the animal sacrifices and Ajoelai (Ajo-ay-layee) stripping young palm fronds to create the maiõ, which protects all of the doorways. Meticulously he divides each narrow leaf (approximately 1” wide x 30” long) into two or three segments, pulling out alternating strips of leaf to save for Omulu’s headdress. The fronds are generally six feet long, and he makes one for each doorway. He informs me that this activity is only done by men, normally Filhos de Ogum; sometimes they can be Filhos de Oxossi or Omulu if need be. Before he is finished most of the fronds will oxidize from the soft bright green to a straw color. He prefers it when they stay green longer. He tells me that there are people who seek the aid of Ogum (Orixa of War, Blood & Iron and by default Technology) by using an iron tool to create a symmetrical effect which is pleasing and beautiful. He still does it all by hand. Stopping for a moment, he turns to me and says Ogum helps you with technology. I know that you can send the information that you are learning right now and have it in your home, NYC, within twenty minutes. That is Ogum. “Ogum e Vitoria. Se não tem vitoria, entao ele {Ogum} não está pra la.” Ogum is Victory {triumph}. If you don’t have victory, then he is not with you.”

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