Iemanjá is one of the popular festivals that is most connected to contemporary times. Besides being one of the most important popular manifestations of the city, it has been maintaining its strength over the years. The Iemanjá Festival, on February 2, is considered the largest public religious manifestation of candomblé in the state, being one of the most intense and traditional popular festivals of Bahia. For these reasons, this popular festival will be declared as Intangible Heritage of Salvador. This register is a way of protecting Afro-Brazilian cultural and religious manifestation.
The most famous festival is traditionally held in the Rio Vermelho neighborhood, by the Fishermen’s Colony, in partnership with public agencies and civil society, at Casa de Iemanjá, Mercado do Peso. The place is organized for people from all over the city to deliver gifts to Iemanjá. Nowadays, most people put only flowers, because they are aware of the danger of throwing in the sea the classic offerings such as combs, mirrors, soaps, perfumes and even jewelry.
Tips for an unforgettable celebration
Arrive early – The Iemanjá Festivities in Salvador begin the day before, on the night of February 1st, at Casa de Iemanjá, in Rio Vermelho, on Rua da Paciência. Watching the sun rise on the beach, with your feet in the sand, to the sound of Umbanda and Candomblé drums will make your heart beat faster. It is time to transcend. The Iemanjá festival is the only one among the most important that is not linked to a Catholic celebration.
At dawn, around 4:45 am, the celebration of Iemanjá Festival officially begins with fireworks. The line to leave offerings starts early and lasts all day. In the first morning, it is also common to see Carlinhos Brown and a large group of percussionists who also participate in the party.
Offering and procession – In Casa de Iemanjá stays the main offering. The highlight of the party is the departure of the boats to deliver this offering to Iemanjá. This happens at 4 pm, when the fishermen go out to the sea in procession. The tip is to arrive early and get a seat on a boat. There are several boaters that can be hired there. You can go on your time, or at any time, or arrange to go out along with the parade of boats full of baskets with flowers.
“Dress Code” – Prefer to dress in white or blue. This is a sign that even if you are not adept, you respect the party rituals (we will explain it to you soon). Be sure to bring a hat too because the sun is killing and there is almost no shade in Rio Vermelho. It is essential to keep the belongings safe on you.
Sacred and profane – Various samba, percussion and capoeira groups pass along the waterfront all day long. This Popular Typical Party has grown every year, with a schedule of shows in many establishments. Stay tuned on the calendars: there are parties all over the neighborhood!
Getting around – Leave the car at home. The entire perimeter of the neighborhood is closed, as from end to end, bars and restaurants promote events, and all the streets are full of people coming and going from Casa de Iemanjá. For outsiders, we suggest you stay close to the party.
Knowing the story will make it even more exciting
Iemanjá is a deity of African origin, the queen of waters and seas. Its name comes from a Yoruba expression meaning “Mother whose children are fish”. It is a very respected and worshiped orisha, and so the party in her honor is so important.
According to Pierre Fatumbi Verger’s book Orixás “Iemanjá is a very popular deity in Brazil and Cuba. Its axé is seated on sea stones and shells, stored in a blue porcelain. Saturday is the day of the week consecrated to her, precisely with other feminine deities. Her supporters wear transparent glass bead necklaces and dress preferably light blue”.
She is described as a beautiful mermaid with long hair and blue dress. Also called Janaína, Queen of the Sea and Odò Ìyá (Mother of the river). She is considered the protector of fishermen, rafts and men who earn a living at the sea.
Also according to the book Orixás, “…the daughters of Iemanjá are willful, strong, rigorous, protective, proud.” In the description of their archetypes, they say that they are serious, maternal women, who like the blue and showy fabrics and expensive jewels.
The Iemanjá Festival in other parts of the city
The celebration in reverence for Orisha Iemanjá also happens in other parts of the city, such as the Ecological Gift of Solar do Unhão (where only flowers are offered), which usually happens one weekend before the date (in 2020 it happens on January 26th, in the Solar do Unhão Community, on Contorno Avenue). In Itapuã, there is a party the day before, on February 1st.
The famous Lavagem de Itapuã only happens on February 13, when believers and supporters walk the streets of the neighborhood. It is made by baianas dressed for the occasion, who carry ceramic pots with flowers and scented water to wash the staircase of the church of Our Lady da Conceição de Itapuã. In the afternoon it is the floor blocks turn to make the party. Cultural groups go to the streets to celebrate the Queen of the Sea all over the seafront! It’s beautiful to see!
We have prepared a list of perfect songs for this experience. Listen now!
Note: Book “Orixás, Deuses Iorubás na África e no Novo Mundo”, by Pierre Fatumbi Verger. 2018, Pierre Verger Foundation.