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"If My Father is Ogum": A Ceremony

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

After a preliminary meeting with Prof. Vagner in the last week of April, he included a few suggestions to my list of places and events to see. One of them was, Se Meu Pai é Ogum (If My Father is Ogum) which took place in the first week of May.

The arrival of mães de santo (mothers of the saint) dressed in colours synonymous with Ogum.

The invitation read:

"Convidamos a todos para prestigiar Ogum e a cultura afro-brasileira, na segunda edição do festival contaremos com diversas atrações e shows incríveis, feira de exposição e uma grande praça de alimentação. Tudo com uma mega infraestrutura para receber da melhor maneira todos vocês!"

"We invite everyone to honour Ogum and Afro-Brazilian culture. In the second edition of the festival, we will have many attractions, incredible shows, exhibitions and a large food court. All with a mega infrastructure to receive the best of you all!"

Filho de Oxala- Children of Oxala

I wrote a short note introducing myself to the organisers and asked if I could attend as a researcher. The response came a day later. It was open to the public and I was very welcome to attend. They sent me phone numbers to reach them if I needed help with more information (gracious, they were). One of the requirements was to bring 1kg of food item which would be sent to a charity organisation. I took a kilogram of black beans.

A performance in honour of Oxala

Who is Ogum? You might ask, Ogum is an Orixá (deity) referred to as a great warrior and is one of the deities invoked from the Yoruba pantheon. Ogum is believed to be an Orixá who won many battles for love, a staunch defender of his children and a deity always willing to help and defend a just cause. (I understood the title of the event a little later! If my father is Ogum… who can stand against me?) Ogum is said to perform the opening of paths, the ordering, the removal of disorder and chaos, the cutting off of negative actions.

I wasn't sure what to expect, Prof. Vagner had explained that the ceremony had been going on annually for almost 60 years and was organised by Pai Jamil Rachid's Umbanda Federation. The ceremony had not taken place in recent years due to opposition from the neo-Pentecostals. Their reason? It is a religious event held in a public space (a stadium provided by the Government of the State of São Paulo).

With the growth of neo-Pentecostal religions in recent years, Afro-Brazilian religions have been facing antagonisms in different ways. The legitimacy Afro-Brazilian religions latched onto continues to be threatened by the religious phenomenon of neo-Pentecostalism. However, not all the evangelical tropes are prejudiced towards Afro-Brazilian religions.

This year (2019), permission has once again been granted for the ceremony to hold.

The anxiety of going into this unfamiliar territory was mixed with excitement for me. Once I delivered my kilo of black beans and walked into the endless hall, there was l already a singer on stage and everyone was singing along. There were songs and hymns dedicated to different Orixás- even though this event was devoted to Ogum, linked to the Catholic St. George. Presentations from different drumming schools, along with stage performances made it feel like I was at a concert where I didn't know any of the songs.

Three elements I paid closer attention to were:

The "Market" was palpable. Commodification is the word I had often used, but I now begin to see the importance of a market as a starting point for sacred objects. I cannot explain further on this platform. This is not to say that my initial idea of commodification is completely erased. I would need to dissect and neatly layout the different types of markets and the nuances therein. Meu Deus! This is truly complex.

Hand-made dolls with offering bowls on sale at the venue

Contas- A string of beads signifying the spiritual growth of a faithful from initiation to physical death.

Diasporic Consciousness: My dissertation shall provide a thorough explanation of this elusive phrase as well as the number of reasons why I refer to some aspects of Candomblé as performances of diasporic consciousness. (Last week I had a two-hour debate-like conversation about this phrase. At this public ceremony, it was the chants to Orixàs in Yoruba language.

Syncretism – The juxtaposition of images of Ogum and the Catholic St. George.

Catholic saints and West African deities

What I found very interesting was, despite it being a spectacular event held in a public sphere, open to just about everyone, it was still somewhat esoteric in terms of call and response. I definitely stood out in that respect.

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