Ecology and Candomblé

by Iya Melissa

I’m from a small beach community in NYC.  Although I lived in buildings for most of my life, I always considered the beach as my backyard.  There’s nothing like coming home after a long day at work and being greeted by the smell of the ocean.  Nothing at all beats falling to sleep to the sound of waves on a warm night with a slight breeze coming through the window.  

When I was very little, the biggest inconvenience on the beach was the possibility of stepping on a jelly fish.  Growing up in the 80’s, however, we were always careful about playing in the sand. The threat of stepping on a syringe while walking barefoot on the shore was real.  As the crack epidemic grew across the nation, my neighborhood became more dangerous – the beach less safe.

At one point, it seemed that the local government gave up on maintaining the beach as a recreational space and it fell into decay. I spent my adolescence and teen years hanging out on the boardwalk, but not actually going to the beach.  Things have changed drastically since then.

While Hurricane Sandy wrought havoc on my community, major attention has been paid to the beach in its aftermath.  The boardwalk is brand new. The shore is clean.  Objects aren’t floating around in the water. There are concession stands again. On any given day during beach season, families are spotted all along the beach enjoying the slice of nature we’re afforded living in NYC.

Candomblé is a religion that celebrates nature.  We believe that the Orixá are manifestations of the natural environment.  It’s not just that Oxum represents rivers, she is river water.  It’s not just that Xango represents thunder, he is the thunder that strikes.

Part of our worship of nature involves making offerings, but all too often those offerings become pollution – an affront to the very nature we serve.  While we absolutely have religious freedom and can practice our beliefs without fear, we also have the responsibility of keeping the environment clean.

We carry the responsibility of respecting those around us, because they have the right to a clean environment.  Each Iya will ultimately make the decision for how she wants to lead her ile, but there are small steps each of us can take to help preserve the beauty of the aye.

Consider the types of offerings we leave in nature, and the ways in which we leave them.  Is it an offering that will have a negative impact on the environment? Is it an offering that is harmful to animals? Is it in a plastic bag?  Does it need to be placed in a body of water?  Is it necessary to leave a jar or bottle in nature as part of an offering, or does it make more sense to open the jar or bottle, offer its contents and throw the vessel away?  Are we leaving objects on the shore that can hurt people as they’re trying to enjoy the ocean?  Do we give our time by volunteering to do beach cleanup or other acts of service in honor of the Orixá?

As Orixá religion grows in general in the United States, there’s a lot for us to consider.