Susana Andrade is a former judge who left her job to dedicate all of her time to the cult of Umbanda, becoming its most famous local mae or priestess. Umbanda is a fast-growing religion in Uruguay, based on spirit mediums with a connection to African or indigenous ancestors or gods.
Uruguay – Been There

Boats full of dreams and wishes

Photo by Francesco Pistilli

Uruguay – Been There Boats full of dreams and wishes

Umbanda is a fast-growing religion in Uruguay, based on spirit mediums with a connection to African or indigenous ancestors or gods.

Teo Butturini
Teo Butturini Travel Writer

“Umbanda was born in Brazil at the beginning of the last century,” says priestess Susana Andrade, a former judge who left her job to dedicate all her time to the cult. “We believe in a single God and in a certain number of spirits, which are its emanations on earth and are called Orishas: there’s Yemanja for the sea, Xango for the fire...”

The second day of February is the day of the Yemanja, when devotees gather on the beaches, mainly on Playa Ramirez in Montevideo, with small boats, statues that resemble those of the Virgin Mary and food offerings. They put these devotional objects into the water as a gift to this Orisha, the Goddess of the Ocean and Motherhood, asking her for good luck and good health.

Early in the morning, the followers dig holes in the sand and then light blue candles inside them. They sing repetitive rhythms, dancing in circles and often drinking alcohol. “The idea is to reach a state of trance so the Orisha can possess and heal them.”

The celebrations go on until dusk and, as the sun disappears into the sea, the sky is painted with some of the most amazing colors I have ever seen. As I head back to my hotel, hundreds of people are still singing on the beach. The holes in the sand flicker with the dancing flames of candles, while the last little boats disappear into the darkness.

Otro Cielo | An Uruguayan journey

On February 2 every year, the goddess Yemanja is honored in an event that sees thousands of worshippers descend on Uruguay's beaches. In the Umbanda religion, she is seen as the goddess of the ocean and motherhood, and is often conflated with the Christian Virgin Mary. Photo by Francesco Pistilli / Transterra Media

Francesco Pistilli

Francesco Pistilli

E-M5

Agency
Transterra Media
Aperture
ƒ/18/10
Exposure
1/500
ISO
320
Focal
17/1 mm

On February 2 every year, the goddess Yemanja is honored in an event that sees thousands of worshippers descend on Uruguay's beaches. In the Umbanda religion, she is seen as the goddess of the ocean and motherhood, and is often conflated with the Christian Virgin Mary.

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