Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Monday, January 26, 2009

147 To Yemanja

Imagine a town each February 2 that closes its shops.
All the people come down to the water
wearing transparent beaded necklaces and
bringing gifts, little boats
filed with flowers and perfumes
to launch into the sea.

They come, singing songs and dancing,
the people of the town down to the water,
near the Rio Vermelho, the beautiful brown women
wearing gowns the color of the sea,
bearing gifts they come singing to you, Yemanja,
orixa, Princess, oh, Janaina, Queen of the Sea,
mother of the waters, of the storms, of the fish,
in your honor, the sweet perfumes, the rejoicing.
Even the cat prowling under the tables of Mama Bahia
for scraps of fish
has eyes the color of the milky green sea.

How I long to dance with the people
along the beaches here in your town, Yemanja,
in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil,
a town once of fishermen
who went to the sea in small boats,
while women waited and prayed by the shore.
Now all shadows and phantoms
they come from the past,
their boats filled with flowers and perfumes.

Here in Salvador, Saturdays are consecrated to Yemanja, the queen of the waters, ruler of the upper sea, a goddess (orixa) in the condomble religion. Most commonly shown as a mermaid, Yemanja appears in many forms in this city where people still gather on the beaches each February 2 to offer her gifts. We are in Salvador just two more days, so this week’s Sunday Scribbling’s prompt of “shadows and phantoms” came clothed in her story. The photograph is part of a monumental painting hanging in the lobby of the Pousada do Boqueirao, by an anonymous folk artist.