Mãe Stella: Presence, yes! Presents, no! – a Translation

Maria Stella de Azevedo Santos | Iyalorixá do Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá opoafonja@gmail.com


Translated by Melissa Oliver


I’m ready to sleep, not so early as the elderly sleep.  I’m 90 years and 7 months old, but my filha throws the 90 away.  She’s of Iyemanjá.  As her essence is that of a mother, she covers me.  Now I’m a 7-month-old baby.  For the package to be complete, my daughter/mother begins to tell me a little story:

“Once upon a time, there was an enchanted and enchanting woman who became known as ‘The Great Mother.’  In her lap, children snuggled up and adults sought comfort for day-to-day pain.  From her mouth came advice that helped dry the tears of men and women in distress.  If her advice wasn’t enough, she would dance and with her hands she would indicate the path to be followed.

“The desperate people who sought ‘The Great Mother’ would leave her refuge with their hope renewed.  Her house was an extension of herself.  And, because of this, everyone wanted to please her and give her flowers so her house could be even more cozy.  This pleased the generous woman, but she wasn’t able to keep herself from crying for the pain of the world while she was alone.

“So many tears fell from her eyes, such salty water, that her lovely house became the sea. Iyemanjá was her name [and she is recognized as the] ‘respected mother who is pleased with enthusiasm.’  Everyone is a child of Iyemanjá, and everyone yearned to please her with flowers, perfume, makeup, and jewelry.  Iyemanjá loved to received presents, but she smiled at the ingenuity of [her worshippers].

“How could she have time to be vain, when she needed to dedicate herself to cooling the heated heads that would lay in her lap?…

“People didn’t know, but the one who liked beautiful and rich presents was her young and vain daughter, Oxum.  The more Iyemanjá helped people, the more presents were left [at the sea].  Her home became dirty.  Iyemanjá asked, then, for people not to leave plastic or metal presents, because these – over time – turn into garbage that’s [not biodegradable].  The most obedient began to simply offer the liquid from perfumes [instead of the complete bottle] and flowers, but the chemical byproducts of the perfume polluted the water and the flower petals hurt the fish.

“The population grew so much and the ocean no longer had room for so many presents.  Iyemanjá pulled away to meditate and find the ideal way for people to continue to practice their rites of appreciation without the suffering of herself, her home (the ocean) or her fish children.

“A lot of time had passed until a beautiful and harmonious melody could be heard from the people of Bahia.  Iyemanjá sang, ‘get together, sing and enchant me, this is the present that I want and can receive from today forward.  I don’t want anymore presents, I want presence.'”

I woke up the next morning.  I couldn’t tell whether I had heard the story or if I had dreamt of it.  … “Candomble is an ecological religion,” they say.  So, we practice what we preach!

I face the challenge and say that beginning in 2016, Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá’s “Presente de Iyemanjá” will no longer pollute the ocean with presents.  My godchildren will be taught to offer harmonious songs of praise [instead] to Iyemanjá.

Those who are conscientious and courageous will understand that the rites can and should be adapted to the planet’s and society’s transformations.  The rites are based on myths [religious history] and therein reside valuable teachings.  The rite can be modified, but never the essence of the myths.

I know that Iyemanjá will be happy; in the end, which woman, especially being a mother, wouldn’t like to hear beautiful melodies that comfort and encourage a heart that permanently worries about her children?