Afro-Brazilian sea goddess Yemanjá worship dominates New Year celebration in Rio de Janeiro

Stephen Nartey January 02, 2024
Worshippers pay homage to the sea goddess Yemanjá by leaving offerings on the beach sands. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ TwistSim/Flickr

Devotees of the sea deity Yemanjá gathered at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro to honor the Great Mother of the Sea, a revered figure in various African hybridized diaspora religious forms in Brazil.

The traditions of Afro-Brazilian Candomble and Umbanda are among those that worship Yemanjá. The syncretic religions of Afro-Brazilian Candomble and Umbanda, which honor the sea deity Yemanjá, are intricately linked to Portuguese colonial history.

These belief systems are a result of the forced relocation of diverse cultures from West and Central Africa to Brazil during the colonial era, along with influences from various Indigenous American beliefs, according to Africa News.

The Yemanjá Festival organizer, Helio Sillman, expressed gratitude for past events and sought health, prosperity, and various blessings for 2024 during the festival’s celebrations.

“We bring the gifts today in thanks to everything that has happened to us, and now for 2024 we ask for health, prosperity, everything, everything you can ask for.”

“Yemanjá, she’s there listening, she’s there listening.”

The traditional New Year tribute held on December 29 at Copacabana Beach featured singing, drumming, and dancing, drawing a large crowd. Worshippers paid homage to the sea goddess Yemanjá by leaving offerings on the beach sands. Some expressed their gratitude and offered prayers during the ceremony.

“I’m here to thank that we have peace, good health, a good New Year’s Eve, that there’s harmony, and that people understand that we’re here to cultivate happiness, harmony, and peace, on a day like today and for the whole year to come,” worshipper Valter claimed.

Adorned in predominantly white attire, worshipers participated in a ritual by offering various items into the sea. Small boats carried offerings, including flowers, candles, fruits, perfume, and beverages.

The ceremony holds significance in remembrance of the historical impact of the transatlantic slave trade with over a third of the 10.5 million abducted and exploited Africans between the 16th and 19th centuries disembarking in Brazil, as indicated by the Transatlantic slave trade database.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 2, 2024


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