July 28, 2006

A room with a view

Bahia de Todos os Santos, from my bedroom window

July 26, 2006

life in Salvador

It feels strange to think I've only been here a bit over a month if only for the fact that I have already moved twice since I arrived in June in Paripe. Now I am staying in my friend Marcio's wonderful apartment in Dois de Julho, right in the center of Salvador by my capoeira school and in the same neighborhood I used to live in when I was here two years ago. For the first time in years I'm living all by myself, with my own kitchen and living room and even a perfect view to the Bay of All Saints - what joy!

Mostly, however, I have been pulled not only into my old routines of living here in Salvador but also the religious activities of the people I have come to know at the candomble temples I have been visiting and hanging out at. My candomble dance teacher Ana has taken me under her wings inviting me along to the various candomble ceremonies she has been going to, and my friend Chorão's mom in Paripe has been just wonderful in trying to put me in contact with the people she knows involved with the religion. So at least over the weekends when people are not at work I'm occupied pretty much around the clock with candomble.

Its already Wednesday and I still feel I'm only just now recovering from last weekend. After a fun Friday night of capoeira and samba at an event organized by Contramestres Poloca, Paulinha and Janja at their school, on Saturday morning I headed straight to a terreiro [a candomble temple] that was to be inaugurated that evening in Aguas Claras, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Salvador. I spent the day there sitting around hanging out with Ana and the other people I know from the terreiro she is part of. They had all been invited to come and help out in the opening ceremony, to play the drums and participate in the singing and dancing as well as serving as mediums for their guardian orixas. The ceremony itself started after 10, and was indeed beautiful, as were my friends' orixas, Oxum's [the orixa of beauty and sweet waters] dance which represents her washing herself in a river is always impressive in its beauty but this time Ossain [the orixa of healing herbs] may have outdone the two Oxums with his elaborate dance moves representing the collection of medicinal herbs and their preparation.

I didnt get home until 6.30 in the morning, and after a few hours of rest I was already on my way again to the next terreiro. Chorão's uncle had invited me to the terreiro he is part of to a Saida de Iao, the public ceremony that ends the initiation period in Candomble. I was thrilled by the opportunity especially because of the paper I wrote for my Anthropology of the Body class on initiation. After having only read accounts of the saida I finally had the chance to witness the ceremony myself. And yes, I was impressed.

And then to top things off I spent Monday night at yet another terreiro observing a smaller cleansing ceremony conducted by a caboclo spirit. I finally also had the chance to discuss my research with one of these entities and at least this one promised to try to help me out. So, Matt and Neil, I guess I have my metapragmatics of interviewing spirits sorted out for one case at least ;)

I haven't only been deeply impressed by the ceremonies I've been going to though, my mind has been working too while writing up notes on them and things that I have seen now and on my earlier visits have started to come together and make more sense. Of course at the same time I am coming to realize more and more how little I do understand and know about candomble. But I guess its a good place to be especially since I'm still trying to figure out what to focus on in my work.

July 13, 2006

Fieldwork in the city

A couple of weeks ago I bumped into a fellow anthropologist and friend who is also doing his research in Candomble here in Bahia, but in a very different setting. Unlike me here in urban Salvador, the capitol of the state, with its population of almost 3 million, he lives on top of a hill in semi-rural Cachoeira across from the people he works with. Seeing how he lives, and coming back to Salvador to try to figure out where to live in the city, really made me realize how different our fieldwork situations are. Unless I decide to work with people from only one temple, which is not what I have been planning to do the people I will be working with will be scattered all around the large city (and besides even the people who frequent one temple tend to travel to it from opposite ends of the city). So it seems that much of my time will be spent sitting on buses and the phone setting up meetings, or alternately moving from one neighborhood to another always trying to spend as much time with the people who live in the same neighborhood as I happen to be situated in at the moment. The first week and a half I was here I lived at a friend's mom's house in Paripe. She is initiated into Candomble and in result I had the opportunity to spend all my time there talking Candomble, but also, I didnt have much of a chance to do anything else. Paripe is located at the far end of Salvador, an hour's bus ride from the center. When you're there, you pretty much are there. In fact it wasnt until I managed to find a place in the center that I could really get down to contacting the other Candomble people I know here in Salvador.

But working in a city has its pros too. Most importantly of course because of my particular research interests on how and why people get involved in particular Candomble temples when faced with the broad variety provided by an urban context. But also simply because of the kind of life I can live here. Only this week there is a large DIASPORA conference in town that includes 7 African heads of state, Wangari Maathai, Stevie Wonder, Youssou N'Dour and many others as its guests, an African film festival, and plenty of concerts with people from all over the African diaspora performing. And on other weeks there are other fascinating things. And for once, unlike in Chicago where most of my time is spent in the library, I have the chance to enjoy these opportunities. Its wonderful to be going to the movies and the theatre again, training capoeira and reading fiction and even the newspaper in the mornings again. And of course just spending more time with friends too.
And in spite of these activities I have still been getting work on my research done too. For example I spent last weekend helping out and observing the preparations for a ceremony for Exu, known as a trickster messenger and mediator between humans and the orixa gods - probably one of the most impressive experiences I have had researching Candomble so far. I got to help out in cleaning the birds that were sacrificed for Exu and later on join in the sambas. I must have plucked the feathers off of at least 6 chicken last Saturday, so if I ever have to kill a chicken and prepare it for food at least I know how to. - And today I finally have my first interview scheduled for the afternoon, with many more to come in the next couple of weeks, before I plan to take some time off to do some traveling outside of Salvador. Things are going well, and life feels good.