New Internationalist

Iemanja’s day festival photographed

Issue 432

Diego Martinez’s camera captures the beauty and intensity of a Brazilian festival.

While sailing out to sea at sunset on a saveiro, a traditional wooden boat, a man stands at the bow, waiting for the precise moment to throw the presents into the water, where Iemanja, the sea goddess, is waiting for them.

Every 2 February, the city of Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, one of the ‘black capitals’ of Latin America, celebrates Iemanja’s Day. The festivity is a never-ending whirlwind of devotion and colours, beauty and intensity. It is Africa in America.

People from all over Brazil, as well as curious foreigners, come here to leave their offerings of perfume, soap, candies and flowers to the sea goddess. Some people take letters asking for her protection for fishers and sailors, others for the health or safety of loved ones.

During the day, rustic flower baskets are carried to a makeshift altar on the beach, where they are watched over by an image of Iemanja. At sunset, the flowers are taken out to sea on the saveiros. Legend has it that the offerings that are carried back to the coast have been refused by the goddess.

My passion for photography started in 1996, but it was in 2000 that I began travelling, looking for stories and traditional festivities which show identity and cultural diversity around the world. For four years I attended courses on documentary and travel photography in Argentina and Spain. My work has been published in national and international newspapers and magazines and other tourism and culture publications.

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