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The parade of Brazilian faith

Book maps the Brazilian national religious festivals

Stow away the feathers and sequins used on the avenue and enter into the period of Lent, created for penance, for silence and the abandonment of mundane pleasures. One does not need to wait for Holy Week in order to discover that the Brazilian religious festivals are just as or even more exuberant as the most profane Carnival.

Recently published by the publishing house Metalivros, the book Festas de fé [Festivals of Faith] (230 pages, R$ 120) takes the place of the parade avenue, bringing together images of the most outlying national religious manifestations. From the devotion to Padre Cícero in the state of Ceará, to the festival of Our Lady of Achiropita by the descendants of the Calabrians in São Paulo, all are colorful, with costumes and motorcades: the festivals of the Sea Goddess named Iemanjá, lapinhabumba-meu-boi with its cast of characters, Corpus Christi, June Festival, the ritual of the Indian Passage.

The very beautiful photographs, taken over a twenty-year period by Rosa Gauditano, add to the in-depth and knowledgeable text on art and Brazilian culture by Percival Tirapeli from the São Paulo State University (Unesp), who began to get involved in this question way back in 1968. The bilingual edition is bound in with the graphic project of Dora Levy, who emphasizes the didacticism intended by the author.

“The language is deliberately simple and accessible, since the work is also directed towards foreigners. As well as this, the book was distributed in public libraries throughout the national territory”, says author Tirapeli. His text was developed over the last four years, and although having already had contact with the photos of Rosa Gauditano, the researcher went out into the field with the photographer, clicking festivals and religious feasts such as the Feast of the Divine in the town of São Luís do Paraitinga, in the state of São Paulo.

“Although Rosa already had a huge archive when Metalivros decided to publish the book, she returned to some locations to register the transformations that had occurred in the festivals”, the researcher related. “In São Luís do Paraitinga, for example, she had taken the first photos in 1984.”

As well as a concern for the updating of the images, Festas de fé is marked by a division of the festivals in accordance with the cultural origin of each of them. Among the Iberian festivals, based on popular Christianity, are the celebrations of Christmas (the revelry of kings, mangers, the Epiphany, shepherds), Holy Week, the processions (Corpus Christi and those that take place upon water), the Festival of the Divine, the June Festivals, the pilgrimages, the sanctuaries and others. Then among the Afro-Brazilian festivities there are the Congo, the Congo coronation, the street dancers, the Bonfim Washing and the festival to the Sea Goddess Iemanjá.

The indigenous legacy is represented by the rituals of the passage of the Wauja and by festivals that demonstrate the permanence of the cultural imprint made by the Portuguese. This is the case of the Santa Cruz Dance, which goes back to a ritual of the colonial ancestors, when the Jesuits would plant a cross in the center of an Indian village around which the Indians had to dance.

So that the European contribution was not summarized around the presence of the Portuguese and Spanish one cannot forget that the period of the Union of the Crowns had been clearly present in Brazilian colonization, Festas de fé also presents some Italian religious festivals, such as the famous Achiropita, as well as the homage paid to Our Lady of Casaluce, the oldest Italian religious festival in the city of Sao Paulo, dating back to 1900.

“A curious item concerning the religious festivals in Brazil is that they follow the European religious calendar on the one hand, and the natural cycles of planting and harvesting on the other. It so happens that, since the seasons are different in the tropics and Europe, discrepancies occur such as the custom of associating the white of snow to Christmas”, Tirapeli explained.

If the incongruity of snow is present in an extremely urban festival like Christmas, other natural characteristics impose themselves over the European origins when speaking of rituals and festivals held in the interior of the country, especially in rural areas. These are the cases of the river and sea processions, which take place in almost all of the states, and respect the yearning of the country, directed to the ocean and cut across by large rivers. Examples are Our Lady of the Navigators in Rio Grande do Sul and the Pilgrimage of Nazareth in Pará, which, since 1992, has gone on the extend to various riverside towns. Also Iemanjá, Goddess of the waters, facilitated the adaptation of rituals of African origin in Brazil.

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