Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Slo Dancin'

I am not quite sure how to move, right now. I just came home from a eight hour session at the Ile Axe Tuklum Terreiro in Itaparica. Nathan Gray accompanied me. Everyone else needed to sleep. There was a break at 5:00 AM for Cake and Mumgunza, a warm corn and coconut milk drink with white corn kernels inside. We were told that the service should end between eight and ten AM. As great as it was, I needed to sleep.

This is one of the two Egungun Terreiros in Brazil. As far as I know there are only a few others in Haiti and in the U.S.A. The remainder are in Africa, centered in Benin. This tradition implies that the Orixa or dieties come to them manifest as real entities, if you have been blessed and obtained ritual cleansing so that you can see them. In there words the practioner's of Candomble experience spirits, not the gods themselves.

The song forms and drumming was quite different to the Candomble that I had previously experienced. We witnessed approximately ten entities, fairly similar in the style of their costume, yet all different in voice, dance, manner and visual detail. Typically, there were inter-generational families present. One Velha told me that we just go between the generations with no break, the cycle is continuous, so that we maintain our traditions.

This is a closed society. We arrived at the house of Dona Tuka, around 9:25 PM, she cooks for the terreiro. She was going to get a "pass" or permission to enter. I had interviewed her this afternoon, regarding her Comida de Santo preparations. She signaled someone that we were coming, and our guide, Robinson Crusoe, (Hobe-ee-Sony Caru-soee) had also made some arrangements up front. We went down the dirt road to a barraca to wait. Within ten minutes one of the dozen young men hanging around came up and identified himself. At this point every man we saw had clean "switches", just like the kind that you would have been beaten with in colonial (and post) days. We went through three sentry points to get close to the terreiro.

Once inside, everyone turned to observe and note us. We had to make an offering, money, ask for blessings, request a prayer or wish and have our eyes washed with a herbal elixir to allow us to be able to see the Eguns. Then we were led to seats in the corner. At one point one of the Eguns summoned us forward to demand a blessing, praise him and receive praise.

Many times during the service the bulk of the congregation got up and ran to different parts of the room. The sentries inside the terreiro have a serious job of trying to control the Eguns. The switches are used to corral them into specific places and cool them down. Sparring and defensive postures are normal. I was told that if I touch their clothing, I will receive a burn. Needless to say the scene felt somewhat like a bad image of a slave beating ready to happen, or a hardcore Gangsta Rap crowd control dynamic. Once the Eguns were chilled out, the switch men stayed off to the sides, unless provoked.

I looked at it all wide eyed and amazed. Because of the hour and the length of the service, I have to admit to dozing, hallucinating, seeing visions of familiar scenes and people in my life transposed and transported to this world or a third hybrid between my world and the Egunguns. It was quite surreal and scatalogical. Visually and musically their service is arresting. I was quite taken by the amount of young people present, toddlers on up. There were makeshift sleeping quarters for the comatose kids, yet many went the distance.

I sit on all these memories, since they allowed no photography. Now, that I am known I am told that I could make a request to the Eguns in advance and be able to film the service. I fear that the costs for that privilege will be quite high. News at 11.

Once back home I arranged a few things for today-tomorrow, appointments in town, editing documents and photos, etc. I read a little of my email and some online news articles too. Now that I am not in a closed in room with all the frenetic activity and not much airflow, I am quite awake; and so are the roosters.

I begin to read about the Free-falling Dow, about Zimbabwe" Accords", Pakistan, Galveston, Gas Prices and the general state of our economy with a heavy heart. In the moment, this crazy acid trip of a world outside of the mainstream, makes much more sense than the reality show called America hosted by George Bush, with a possible upcoming guest host named Sarah Palin. I am not sure where and how I can live as all of this moves forward.

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