Human Flower Project
Friday, December 31, 2004
On the coast of Brazil, both December 31 and January 1 are feast days of Yemanja, Queen of the Sea.
On Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, celebrants light candles amid white gladiolas in rites for the ocean deity Yemanja.
Photo: Silvia Izquierdo for AP
Times Square offers one kind of New Year’s celebration, the beaches of Brazil another.
Afro-Brazilians, especially in the Bahia region, honor the ocean goddess Yemanja by sending blue and white flowers out over the waves. Custom says that if the flowers come ashore, Yemanja is displeased and will bring a poor fishing season; if the flowers vanish, she has accepted the offering and a year of good catches will follow.
February 2nd (Ground Hog Day/Candlemas) is her major holiday, but December 31 and January 1 are dedicated to her also.
Yemanja came to the shores of Brazil with African slaves. A central figure in Yoruban religion, she is known by many names across West Africa and the Caribbean—including La Sirene, the mermaid goddess of Haiti. “In the Yoruban pantheon, Yemanja rules the top half of the ocean while Olokun, a hermaphrodite with long flowing hair, rules the bottom half.” A regal and protective figure, she became associated with the Virgin Mary.
On land and sea, Happy New Year!