Monday, October 27, 2008

Quarta Feira-Back to Opo Ofonja:

Luckily for me at this point in my day, Tracy suggested that we take a cab and not the sixty minute bus ride back to Ilê Axé. Tonight’s ceremony was for Iansa. She was senuous almost hedonistic. Suffered degradation from her abusive father, fell in passionately in love with Ogum and controlled the winds.

The hilltop Terreiro is spacious, simple and rustic. There is little attempt to disguise the concrete slab building materials. Today’s decorations are reminiscent of Junior High School class art projects, all glitter and glam. There is a beautiful life size image of a Musk Ox behind the thrones at the head of the space. One of Iansa’s iconic images is this animal. As we enter the barracão a portly black man bumps into us, and quickly says Hi, in English. So much for Tracy’s thought of our blending in. He turns out to be John Mason, a colleague of both Danny and Robert Thompson. We talk briefly of his research into Yoruba roots, and mine in Culinary. A Brooklyn native, he is in town for the full cycle of ceremonies. We exchange info and he gets escorted to a VIP area.

Against type the ceremony is delayed. This Terreiro generally runs on time. We watch as several large kettles and stew pots are carried in by muscular men. A group of tweens in oversized hot pink T-shirts walk In and climb to a stand above the Atabaques. They have a youth chorus to sing the Yoruban songs. The service began about 45 minutes behind schedule.

After the initial prayers to Orixa, several people begin to trance in the center of the circular procession. They seem buffeted by the ring of hands and bodies. This group seems to be shaken or thrown into their trance, a metaphor of Iansa? A few young people under seven trance too. One young girl, becomes a major focal point in her ecstatic mounted dance.

At the break, I see Raul Lody who had directed the Dende seminar. Glad to see me again, we talk briefly about my work. He offers to stay in touch and inform me when the book from the seminar will be published. I keep making more goodbyes with the people I first met here.

I step outside to find my smoking friend. Kathy is taken by the power of the ceremony, the rootedness of Africa in Baia. She gets it, as I knew she would. Kathy also saw why I have become so intrigued by this culture. Why I am so intent on learning more, and more. Tracy appears to have come to terms with the practice, but it is not his schtick.

Food is being served. I retrieve a plate to share, but they want two. Passing out food to the several hundred people in attendance is a feat. We all eat some and then head back inside. The ceremony resumes with the dancing of many Iansa’s dressed in pink and red gowns. There were a few shirtless Ogums, with fabric wrappers tied across their chests.

We have all just about lost our seats in the crush of new arrivals. Kathy had said that her stamina was limited. I looked at the time, and knew that Henrique should be in the yard. I found him dozing in his car, and promised that we would be done shortly. Driving home, I shared jabs with Henrique. We laughed about Augusto’s devotion to his church, MacDonald’s. And Henrique told me how his grandmother had been a Mae de Santo when he was growing up. He had helped her with her duties, but nobody, not his mom or siblings had ever taken up the call. It was a great last evening for Kathy.

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