Yemanjá is a 52-minute documentary exploring ethics, social justice, racism, ecological sustainability and true power found in community and faith, via the stories of extraordinary elder female leaders of the Afro-indigenous Candomblé spiritual tradition, in Bahia, Brazil.
In metropolitan Salvador, the Americas' largest slave port during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, slavery's brutal history was transformed into a vibrant religio-cultural tradition in Brazil, the world's largest Catholic country. Candomblé is a brilliant example of resilience, profound dedication to one's heritage and the forces of nature that sustain us all. In the face of tremendous planetary and humanitarian crises, these ancient wisdoms offer inspiration for our shared global concerns.
Candomblé is sometimes called the religion of nature; its beliefs, rituals, and medicines depend on access to the natural world. Candomblé’s deities include: Yemanjá, Goddess of the Sea; Oxum, Goddess of fresh water; Yansã of wind and storms; Oxóssi of the forest; Ossain of sacred leaves; and peace-bringing Oxalá to name a few. Candomblé and nature are inseparable. The film’s setting is the vibrant city of Salvador - the center of Candomblé - and historic small town Cachoeira, home of the heroic 250-year-old Sisterhood of Our Lady of the Good Death (Brazil's oldest women's organization), formed to buy the freedom of women slaves. The striking influence of Candomblé’s women leaders led American anthropologist Ruth Landes to dub Salvador "the City of Women". Women are at the apex of leadership at Candomblé's most traditional spiritual houses (terreiros), while the majority of devotees are women. Leaders are known as Mães de Santo – literally Mothers of Saint - or Iyalorixás. Truly they are the mothers of their cities and communities, spiritual and otherwise.
The film's story is told primarily through the voices of select women leaders of Candomblé, the eldest is Mãe Filhinha de Yemanjá-Ogunté, 109-years-old when last interviewed during her terreiro's annual 3-day celebration to Yemanjá. These women are not only keepers of the wisdom of this largely oral tradition, but also vital references in the wider communities in which they live. They create and support social and environmental campaigns and causes; they write books and public policy; they are sought after wise women within their spiritual communities and throughout their regions. (Please see Women of Candomblé web page.)
Through these voices and others, we come to know a tradition – thriving in metropolitan Salvador - which holds nature and community, elders and Orixás as sacred. The city’s annual Festa de Yemanja is a huge popular ritual and party, second only to Carnaval, with thousands from all backgrounds offering flowers and other gifts to honor the great Mother Goddess.
A popular tourist destination, plagued by largely unsustainable development, what will become of Salvador’s remaining natural environment? What will happen to Candomblé? Can Candomblé, the work of these women and their spiritual communities impact the direction of so-called development and sustainability in Brazil and elsewhere?
The story unfolds when global society desperately needs inspiring paradigms to remind us of our interdependence with the natural world. The film aims to challenge viewers to reconsider values and relationships with the wider world, and with nature. Do we have a right to a clean environment? Do our children? Does nature have rights? Can progress and sustainability co-exist?