When the second month of the year rolls around, Brazilians across the country celebrate Yemanja, the goddess of the sea, regardless of their faith. Things are even bigger in the city of Salvador. The festivities tend to be huge and attract massive crowds. The Rio Vermelho neighborhood is where the celebration is the largest. Every February 2nd is a fantastic time as Candomblé adherents offer gifts and flowers to the goddess towards the edge of the sea and send them into the ocean. Everyone has to wear white clothing to mark the occasion. There is also lots of music and dancing involved.

Who Is Yemanja?

Yemanja, or Lemanja, is the goddess of the sea. She is considered a major deity in the Candomblé faith. She looks after the fishermen and sailors and helps them catch more fish. As a powerful goddess, she deals with womanhood and family. She protects children and is commonly shown as a mermaid wearing a blue or white dress.

What Is Candomblé?

For those who do not know, Candomblé is a West African religion that came to Brazil by enslaved people back in the 16th century. As the enslaved people were forbidden to follow their faith, they had to practice Catholicism which was the religion of their masters. What the enslaved people noticed was that there were similarities between the Catholic saints and the Yoruban Orixas. Yemanja was treated as Virgin Mary. Thus, the enslaved people merged the two religions and created Candomblé. The religion continues to be practiced in Brazil today.

When Does The Festival of Yemanja Take Place?

The Festival of Yemanja is celebrated twice a year. First, it is celebrated on January 1st in Rio de Janeiro. Everyone has to wear white clothing, visit the sea, and jump through seven waves to reach the goddess. On the other hand, the festival is celebrated on February 2nd in the country’s center. The festival had been held secretly until slavery was ended in 1888.

The festivities start on February 1st, early in the morning, when people make offerings to the shrine of the goddess at the fishing colonies. The beginning of the festival is marked by fireworks displays, and the offerings are considered blessed. By the end of the afternoon, the fishermen load heavy baskets filled with presents onto their boats and head to the sea to make the offerings. The offerings include flowers and various beauty products like mirrors, lipstick, and perfume.

Small replica boats are also made and left at sea with white food like coconut puddings and sweet rice. If the offerings make their way into the sea, it means that the offerings have been accepted. However, if the offerings return to the shore, they have yet to be taken.
There is nothing quite like the Festival of Yemanja. Anyone visiting the festival is welcome and can expect a great time.

Learn more about Candomblé with Candomblé: Dancing for the Gods