Montevideo – Iemanja

3 Feb

Playa Ramirez beach got a little bit surreal last night. About 50,000 people headed down there to worship Iemanja (sometimes spelt Yemaja) around sunset. Worshipping means either a) throwing a rose into the water, b) building a paper ship, sticking a candle in the middle, and sending it off to sea, c) digging a hole in the sand filling it with candles, or d) doing whatever the hell you want as long as it involves candles or something a bit feminine (which is why some shrines seemed to feature a lot of make-up products lying around).

There were hundreds of these holes dug, which coupled with the sunset, low tide which meant that many people were just walking around in the water, and various drumming going on, made it a little eerie.

There were supposedly 50,000 people on the beach (as the newspapers claim anyway) but there’s not even 50,000 Umbandans (the religion that worships Iemanja) in Uruguay. Many of the people were just like me, very curious, and just there to see exactly what was happening. Which is why this thing was so surreal. As people were doing their ritual involving preparing their boat to go to sea, saying prayers and so on, before then going out into the sea to send the boat away, they were constantly surrounded by people taking photos. They didn’t seem too fussed but it can’t really be the way they imagined it.

There was some really nice call-and-response music going on, accompanied by drums. I listened to that for a while, but then some sound system started up a few hundred metres away, so powerful it drowned out most of the music happening on the beach. I went over to where the sound system was and found tonnes of little stalls selling candles, pre-made boats, tiny figures of Iemanja, all kinds of merchandise. Most of it presumably being bought by Uruguayans who don’t believe in Umbanda but want to join the ritual for one night. It’s one of the joys of being a secular country I guess, you don’t have to worry about getting your God jealous by switching sides every now and again.
This is a watermelon that someone had sent out to sea, it didn’t get very far!

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