Some friends told me that each year on the night of February 2nd people gathered on the beach in Punta del Este (as well as other beaches in Uruguay) to make offerings to an African goddess known as Yemanjá.
Punta has a large variety of special events held on the beach including runway modeling, concerts, and sporting events, but for some reason this bit of information about making offerings to an African goddess bent my paradigm about Uruguay. So, I went to the beach to investigate.
What I saw on the beach were lots of candles set in shallow holes in the sand or covered by plastic drink bottles with the bottoms cut off to shield their flame from the wind. Besides the candles, there were a few people performing rituals, playing drums, and making offerings of flowers and food.
|Followers of Yemanjá setting out offerings on the night of February 2nd|
So,why are offerings being presented to an African goddess in Uruguay?” As it turns out, Yemanjá is one of seven deities of an African pantheon who came to America via the African slave trade and became incorporated in the spiritual practices of African Americans in Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, and New Orleans. From there the Brazilian tradition migrated to Uruguay.
Karin Ledl explains, "This African rooted cult was brought over in the slave ships that populated the southern Atlantic from the 17th century on. It is locally known as Umbanda, a version of the Vodoo, and it has a surprisingly vast crowd of followers.
"Because the cult was persecuted in the beginning, the African slaves disguised their gods and goddesses under the names of the Christian Saints. That is why Yemanjá is represented as the Virgin Mary, particularly as the Virgin of the Candelaria, venerated by sailors and fishers. She is the goddess of the sea, her symbols, the conchs and sea stars.
"She can be very caring, a mother full of love for her children, but she can also be moody and irate. Just like the ocean changes suddenly, so her humor can change as well and then the worshiper has to appease her with gifts and offerings as soon as possible.
"On February 2nd the greatest offerings are made and, depending upon the reception of these gifts by the ocean, the luck for the next year is determined. If the ocean is calm and welcoming on that evening, the year will be a good one. On the other side, beware if there is bad weather. Lets hope for a nice summer evening tonight then!"
|Offerings set on a Uruguayan beach for Yemanjá|
Yemanjá is also known as,Iemanjá or Janaína in Brazil, where she is observed by the Candomblé and Umbanda religions. (In New Orleans Voodoo the goddess is known as Yemalla or Yemana.)