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Festa de Iemanjá and New Year's Eve in Rio de Janeiro

Goddess of the Sea and Mother of the Waters

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Rio de Janeiro by Night

Rio de Janeiro by Night

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In Rio de Janeiro, on December 31, millions of people flock to the beaches to celebrate. Most go to the huge beach party at Copacabana for the New Year’s eve at Copacabana, Bikini & Champagne festivities. However, this isn’t the only place to enjoy the merriment and the spectacular fireworks display at midnight. Live shows take place on stages erected for the event on the beaches, and the hotels and restaurants offer parties and special menus. The entire city frolics with music, dancing and revelry to mimic carnaval.

It’s best to make your reservations in advance. Take advantage of the resources to help you plan your trip to Rio de Janeiro and enjoy your New Year’s Eve, véspera de ano novo.

In addition to enjoying the New Year’s Eve merriment, the crowds are also at the beach to celebrate the Festa de Iemanjá.

Iemanjá is the Goddess of the Water, the mother of all the gods in the Umbanda religion of Brazil. She is offered flowers, gifts, perfume and rice which are set into little boats and cast adrift into the sea, or else tossed directly into the water.

This is done to propitiate the goddess and curry favor for the year to come, as well as to thank her for past favors. It is a joyful event. She is also celebrated in song. You can find statues of Iemanjá in any of her many guises in the macumba shops.

The Brazilian author, Jorge Amado, wrote:
The ocean is large, the sea is a road without end, waters make up more than half the world, they are three-quarters of it, and all that belongs to Iemanjá. There she combs her hair (beautiful slave girls come with combs of silver and ivory), hears the prayers of the women of the sea, unleashes storms, chooses the men she is to take on the bottomless journey to the depths of the sea. And it is here that her feast takes place. Because the night of the feast of Iemanjá is a thing of beauty. On those nights the sea is of a color between blue and green, the moon is always in the sky, the stars accompany the lanterns on the sloops, Iemanjá slowly spreads her hair out toward the sea and there is nothing in the world as beautiful (sailors on big ships that travel all over always say) than the color that emerges from the mingling of Iemanjá's hair with the sea.

The predominant religions in Brazil are Roman Catholic, Protestant, Mormor, Espiritismo, and Candomble. Iemanjá and Umbanda are associated with the practice of Candomble, a kind of macumba, sometimes referred to as a voo-doo like ritual. Macumba came to Brazil with the slave ships from Africa and was first practiced around Salvador, where the ships landed, as Condomblé. The merging of Christianity and macumba resulted in a set of deities with characteristics of both religions. Thus Iemanjá is St. Anne, or patron of the sea, and she is pictured as light skinned, with fair hair and wearing white and blue, the colors of Umbanda.

"Umbanda, Brazil's most important popular religion, has an identity native to Brazil but draws heavily on African, American and European religious traditions.5 As a religion, Umbanda has sought to legitimize itself by erasing some features of Candomblé, especially those referring to Africa, slavery and tribal behaviour and mentality (Ortiz, 1978). As compared to Candomblé, the Umbanda initiation process is simpler, cheaper, and its rituals do not demand blood sacrifices. The spirits of Caboclos (Indians) and Pretos Velhos (Old Slaves) manifest themselves through the bodies of initiated when they are in a ritual trance in order to dance, give some advice and cure those who look for any religious or magical help. Umbanda absorbed from Kardecist Spiritism something of the Christian virtues of charity and altruism, thus making itself a more Occidental religion than the other Afro-Brazilian ones." Popular Religions in Brazil

In Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, where the Festa de Iemanjá takes place on August 15, "... you may spot a Baina do Acaraje, one of the women who still practices Candomble, the ancient African religion of her enslaved ancestors. Distinguishable from the bikini-clad natives by their traditional garb--white dresses with belled skirts and colorful head scarves connoting the spirit each Baina serves--you may encounter them selling acaraje a native sandwich of sorts that is not unlike a huge "hush puppy" stuffed with votapa and shrimp. Though a colorful element to the local scene the Bianas are not present merely to provide photo ops for tourists. Acknowledged as accurate fortune tellers they are also respected for their ability to both cast and break debilitating curses."

You can take part in these celebrations and attend a macumba rite, but you may not take photos at the latter.

The celebrations are spreading to other countries, notably Uruguay. People go to the beaches at night, dressed in white and blue, play music, including the drums, light candles, toss flowers into the water and honor Iemanjá.

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