On Saturday, we had the honor of being invited to the to the Ilê Axé Ijino Ilu Orossi, a temple (ilê axé) of candomblé nagô, an Afro-Brazilian religion closely related to the religious practices of the Yorùbá people of southwest Nigeria and Benin. The Saturday before Easter is one of the most important dates in the candomblé calendar: this day celebrates the new year with the Festa de Exu, a day-long celebration for Exu, the orixá (deity) of choices, pathways, and beginnings. At Orossi, the Festa de Exu is a lavish affair: a packed house, dressed all in white, dances and sings for six hours while navigating their way around spectacular offering altars and assemblages. Food and eating are important parts of the ceremony, and we were happy to take part!
In a candomblé ceremony, it is just as important to feed your guests, and all attendees, as it is to feed the orixás. While Exu was very hungry on this day – he received extensive offerings of alcohol and meat – guests all received food as well, and enough to last us all day. Shortly after the first round of offerings to Exu, all guests seated in the audience section were invited to the main floor of the axé to receive a portion of abará, a dish resembling a tamale. Abará is a classic Afro-Brazilian dish and frequently used in candomblé ceremonies as a food sacred to the orixás. It consists of bean curd mixed with dendê oil, wrapped in a banana leaf, and steamed (the same base as acarajé, the other classic Afro-Brazilian dish, but acarajé is fried instead of steamed). Abará, like acarajé, is very filling, and we had to force ourselves to finish just one by the time attendees came around to collect our used banana leaves.
After everyone had eaten their abará, the ceremony entered its most exciting part. We once had a friend describe a candomblé ceremony as a party for all the gods where all the gods actually show up, and it’s true. On this day, three orixás arrived to interact with attendees and dance with initiates: Pomba Gira, a female version of Exu who loves to smoke and drink; Iemanjá, the orixá of the deep sea and motherhood; and Ogum, orixá of iron and war. After the orixás had come and gone, and while we were still full from our abará, two men brought out a huge metal pot of feijoada – more than enough to serve the fifty people in attendance with a bunch left over.
As always, guests were invited up first: we were given a decorated ceramic bowl, and then guided up to the ekedi who served us a heaping bowl of feijoada. That’s not all: out of nowhere appeared a buffet of accompaniments: rice, tomatoes, lettuce, green peppers, and pimenta malagueta: a sauce of flavored spices and famously hot malagueta peppers that is the classic accompaniment to any Bahian dish, but definitely not for the faint of heart. While we are not usually big fans of feijoada, this was excellent: beans, pork, and chicken cooked to perfection in a flavorful sauce, and the fresh veggie accompaniments and pimenta made for a very satisfying and filling meal. After six hours of exhausting singing and dancing, finishing off the feijoada put everyone into a food coma, and all the initiates in the house concluded the day by sleeping on the temple floor. A great end to a beautiful day of food and celebration for the orixás!