Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Orixa History and Influence in Samba

Samba, the word just sounds electrifying. The word has a plethora of meanings. In one sense, samba is a political statement, in another sense it is a dance of display. According to Peter Fryer, in his book Rhythms of Resistance, samba is said to be a derived form of the Lundu dance, tracing back to African dances brought from slaves of Portuguese settlers who came to Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, and Recife, located along the coast of Brazil. When slaves were taken from their homelands, Angola, Congo and Nigeria (West Africa), these slaves brought with them a dance, and a style of dance based on their belief. This belief later becoming known as Candomble in Brazil, and becoming a form of identity to the multi racial group in the country. To Brazilians who follow the belief of Candomble, everything on earth is a God; for example water is a God, disease is a God, and a snake is a God, to mention only a few. And it is these Gods, with their dancing, and historical influences that brought certain dance movements to Samba.
Iemanja (Brazils Patriot)
These Gods are known as Orixas, and to Brazilians, the mother of all Orixas is Iemanja. Dr. Scott, a professor at the University of California Riverside, calls Iemanja “the mother of fishes” (Scott 25). Iemanja is known like that because she is the Orixa of the ocean, and every other Orixa belongs to her. Iemanja cannot be seen without her fan, this fan is a metal silver fan that she carries with her at all times. In her dance, her fan becomes part of her dance routine.
Orixa's and their accoutrement
Each Orixa has its own individual trait, and its own individual dance with their accoutrement. Dr. Scott lists a few Orixas and their accoutrement in her writing Choreostories: Exu has a phallus, Ogum a machete, Omolu a horsetail whip, Ossain a mortar, and birds, Oxum a mirror, Logum Ede a bow and arrow, Oxumare a serpent and rainbow, lemanja a fan, Xango a double axe, Iansa a mace, broom, and setail whip, Nana a mace, and Obtala an ifa staff. In the samba dance, each Orixa could be seen. They could be present in a spin, or when throwing up both arms. With any body movement or gesture, an Orixa is sure to be present.
The Orixa’s could be observed at any point in a dance, but the story behind each Orixa is significant. Every Orixa has a dance move according to what has happened to it in the past or what natural ability, and each Orixa has an accoutrement according to what natural ability it has. This is why Logum Ede carries a bow and arrow, and he carries them because he is a hunter and seeks out for danger. Another significant Orixa is Omolu, his story is quiet sad. It is said to be that he was born from the Orixa Nana, and he was incredibly ugly that she got rid of him. His ugliness just keeping worse because he was crippled, and had wounds throughout his body. Omolu’s dance is choreographed as hunching over, and throwing up the arms, which could be seen in some of Samba dances. When the arms are thrown up, Omolu throws smallpox to everyone, or cures the sick from any disease, and shows everyone his wounds. The most heartbreaking wound he demonstrates is his broken hearted wounded because of the lack of love. These two stories are just two cases of how the story behind each Orixa is significant to the dance routine it possesses.
Possessions while dancing
With each Orixa having its own dance routine and personal meaning towards it, at a gathering, Brazilians disguise themselves as Orixas. The gender does not really matter, because an Orixa is an Orixa, it does not have a gender, for most cases. But gender is the last feature one should look at a gathering. It is tradition to disguise as Orixas and become the Orixa. It is not bizarre for a possession to occur when dancing as an Orixa. When this occurs, the Orixa spirit takes over the body. The possession occurs because of the constant drumming and instrument noise. In the book Myth of the Negro Past, by Melville Herskovits and Sidney Mintz, both state that “a god is moved by singing, dancing, and drumming….the god ‘comes to his head’….loses consciousness, becomes a deity, and ….performs after the fashion of the sprit who has taken possession of him” (Herskovits & Mintz 215). When a possession occurs the person who has been possessed could faint and fall or could make the dance more intense. When the dancing becomes more intense, the body behaves in a manner where the Orixa decides what to do.
Because of these possessions, and not to forget the body movements the Orixa’s bring to the dance, Samba has been looked found upon. The dance has been looked at as too much of a sexual and non-Christian dance. Brazil has been a Catholic nation since the colonization, and the Catholic Church did not approve when their saints were being used as disguising the Orixa’s. When the Church found out that Orixa’s were being disguised as the Catholic saints, the Church banned the saints and took them out of the Church. According to the Salvador Convention website, the only reason this happened was because the African population in Brazil were forbidden to practice their beliefs. Their only solution was to use Catholic saints in order to continue pursuing their belief, so “the Africans began to establish parallels between their divinity and the saints of the Catholic Church.” Today, there is now a church dedicated to both Candomble and Catholicism.
Samba is a dance that has had many ups and downs with a plethora of history behind. The history starting in West Africa, and evolving in Brazil, have had influences in the national dance that is danced in one of the biggest parties in the world. Without the Orixas, samba would not be the dance it is today. The Orixas have traveled along way and have struggled through history, but in the end, their attributes have made Brazil, and most of Latin America, what it is today. Samba and the Orixas are like peanut butter and jelly; both are made for each other and need each other.

Work Cited

Freyer, Peter. Rhythms of Resistance. New England: Wesleyan University Press, 2000
Scott, B. Anna. Choreostories and Decipherments: Towards an analysis of Black citizenship in
Salvador, Bahia-Brazil. 2003

1 comment:

  1. OH my, Diego. Though I tried to point this out to you in class, you still managed to conflate samba and Candomblé PERFORMANCE, though the practices are linked. AWhat do I mean by that? Well, it is TRUE that samba would not have evolved without the sanctuary provided by ritual communities of the Candomblé, terreiros. These terreiros were run by women known as Tias, aunties. Thus, samba was born of, but not representative of Candomblé. The two diverge dramatically in fact. I found your argument compelling and interesting, and I was very pleased with the sources you used for certain sections of the post, but, samba is samba and Candomblé is Candomblé. The dance and rhythm are usually played after a ceremony, just to bring everybody back to the day to day, but it is not a ritual dance per se. I hope that makes sense.