Every 2 February is the day to honour Yemanjá, also spelt Iemanjá, who is the orisha considered as the Queen of the Oceans and of fresh waters, in the African religion candomblé. For this reason, she is the protector of fishermen and sailors, who worship her with a major festival on the Red River Beach in the city of Salvador, State of Bahia.
This party was first held in 1923, when a significant shortage of fish led a group of fishermen to decide that it was necessary to honour the Queen of the Oceans, so that she would be happy and, in Exchange, offer plenty of fish and calm seas.
Presents are contributed by over 1 million faithful
The party Always starts the day before, on 1 February at 6 a.m. when the Yemanjá House, in the district of Rio Vermelho (Red River) is opened by the Z-1 fishing colony so that the throng of about one million people may pay tributary presents to Yemanjá.
As the Queen of the Oceans is seen as a woman of aesthetic, often being portrayed as a mermaid, the presents most commonly left for her include perfumes, combs, mirrors, soap, flowers and jewellery.
Many people also include, together with their presents, special notes with requests for blessings for themselves, relatives or friends.
The rituals take place throughout the dawn, at the terreiro (site of religious activity) of Mother Aice, at the venue known as Engenho Velho da Federação, until 5 a.m. when a firework display commemorates the arrival of the candomblé nations to the Red River.
300 boats take the presents to the open sea
At four o’clock in the afternoon, the 500-odd balaios (typical baskets) are full of presents and are then put in some 300 boats that set sail towards the sea. A main basket is prepared by the fishermen themselves and is placed at the front of the cortege, in the boat which is given the name of Red River (Rio Vermelho).
Reaching their destination, the balaios are left so that they may reach Yemanjá – the baskets must sink, otherwise this means that Yemanjá has not accepted them.
For those seeking the best views of this part of the festivities, we suggest finding a high point to see the cortege sailing out to the open sea.
Next, along the sea front around the Red River (Rio Vermelho), there is a profane festival known as the Washing of the Red River, which takes place with stalls offering typical food and drink, together with a lot of music and presentations of samba and capoeira dancing.
Over 100 corteges occur, also in other parts of the city, and traffic is changed in many parts of the town, to ensure greater convenience and security for the participants of the event.
The date is not an official Holiday, but many offices and shopkeepers, especially those in the neighbourhood of Rio Vermelho itself, close down during the day.