What will you offer to the goddess Yemanjá? / by lucy jefferies


Esther here from Project Yemanjá. Throughout July and August I will be running paper flower workshops with communities and visitors in Camden at local libraries and in Camden Market itself. I hope together we will create Camden's collective 'offering' to the goddess Yemanjá. A lot of people have been asking me about this folkloric figure celebrated so widely in Brazil, so in the run-up to the workshops, I thought I'd share some of my research into Yemanjá and what she signifies for me.

In Brazil, Yemanjá is celebrated as a goddess, as queen of the ocean, mother of all waters, the spirit of moonlight and the principle of creation. On New Year’s Eve many Brazilians dress in white and head down to their local beach to worship and honor the sea goddess Yemanjá. Traditions include leaving gifts of flowers and floating candles in the sea as offerings – followed by street parties, feasts and fiestas using the colours blue and white. Flowers are arranged in tiny wooden boats and offered to Yemanjá – to ask the sea goddess to grant their wishes in the coming year.

In north Brazil in the Bahia region, gifts for Yemanjá sometimes include objects associated with femininity (perfume, jewelry, combs, lipsticks, mirrors). These are gathered in large baskets and taken out to the sea by local fishermen.

During the transatlantic slave trade more than 4 million African people were brought to Brazil. People came from diverse regions in Africa bringing a variety of languages and traditions which together formed the Candomblé religion in Brazil. Yemanjá is rooted in Candomblé practice and is worshiped in many cultures. Life is thought to have begun in the sea and therefore it is believed all life begins with Yemanjá. She is the Sea Mother who brings fish to the fishermen, protects boats traveling at sea and grants safe journeys. Yemanjá is also worshiped as the goddess of female fertility.

Whilst deeply rooted in Brazilian tradition and culture, the celebration of Yemanjá promotes a human need to collectively share an experience. In the process of making our floral 'offering' individually and together in the workshops, I hope we pause to think about our place in the world, our interdependency, hopes for the future and our fundamental human connection with one another as citizens of the world.

The symbolism of water in the story of Yemanjá, as freedom, a life force, survival, creation and human potential brings my focus to the people risking their lives crossing troubled waters for safe, shores. Displaced communities, unsettled by conflict and injustice hope for safety, belonging and peace.

Project Yemanjá in London celebrates colour, vibrancy and diversity in the urban fabric of Camden. Water flows through the city allowing the free movement along London's network of canals. Project Yemanjá will culminate on Saturday 27 August when a beautiful canal barge displaying your floral ‘offerings’ will sail in a ceremonial journey from Camden Lock to Granary Square.

Want to find out more and make an offering to Yemanjá? Join me at one of the workshops to make your flower 'offering' and explore what Yemanjá means to you. We hope to get as many people involved in making their own flower ‘offering’ for Yemanjá from paper scraps, old photographs, letters, flyers, maps, and newspapers.

Sunday 3 July, Camden Market North Yard 11-3pm

Sunday 17 July, St Pancras Library, 12-4pm

Friday 12 August, Kentish Town Library 11am-2pm

Friday 19 August, Camden Town Library 12-4pm

Friday 26 August, Pirate Castle 2-6pm

Project Yemanjá is part of Camden Sentido, Camden's annual arts programme of talks, exhibitions, gigs and workshops, this year celebrating the spirit of Brazil with the spirit of Camden through the sounds, smells, tastes, sights and feelings that connect them.

Making a paper flower for Yemanjá? Share your photos using #ProjectYemanja