SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) — Thousands of Brazilians flooded beaches around the northeastern city of Salvador to pay tribute to the sea goddess Yemanja and ask for her protection ahead of Carnival celebrations.
Even before dawn broke, devotees dressed in white and blue clothing brought offerings to the Praia Rio Vermelha, or Red River Beach, and then later to nearby Itaparica Island. They paraded toward the sea with baskets filled with red, white and yellow roses and other gifts, including ornately dressed dolls, mirrors, perfume and bottles of Champagne. Some carried fishing nets and images of the goddess who is depicted in blue flowing robes.
The baskets were loaded onto boats so fishermen could "deliver" the gifts to Yemanja, a goddess in the Afro-Brazilian Candomble faith. Candomble was developed by Brazil's slave populations, who associated the Yoruba gods of their native West Africa with the Roman Catholic saints they encountered in the New World.
Yemanja is important for all of those who make a living from fishing, said Nivanilson Silva, a Candomble follower.
"She is our mother," he said. "She is the one who governs these waters, which sustain us."
As dusk fell earlier this month, a fireworks display signaled that it was time for the boats to take off — and for the dancing to begin.
Followers of Candomble prepare for the festival days before, with a series of rituals, including animal sacrifices to deities. But non-believers also participate in the festival, throwing roses into the sea.
The celebration of Yemanja in Salvador is considered the unofficial beginning of Carnival in Bahia state.
"It's a tradition in our family to bring gifts to the sea to thank Yemanja and ask for protection," said Antonio de Oliveira, a 42-year-old fisherman.