“O Primeiro” is a new short documentary about the development of Candomblé by Dionysios Kostakis. The film focuses on the role that Esu plays in Candomblé, and analyzes syncretism in African religions of the diaspora. Syncretism, however, is not unique to the diaspora.
In Nigeria, Esu became sycretized with the devil – evidence of this is found in Yoruba translations of the Christian Bible. Recently, as Yoruba religion in Nigeria fights to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the general public, an “Esu is not Satan” campaign was launched. This is quite similar to the removal of Christian imagery in Candomblé; the most famous example, perhaps, being Mãe Stella de Osoosi’s proclamation that Iyansã is not Santa Barbara.
An important point that the film makes is drawing parallels between Esu’s use of the trident in similar ways that the devil is often represented. The argument is often made that Esu carries the trident due to being (wrongfully) attributed with being the devil. However, all of the Yoruba derived religions recognize Esu as being the guardian of the crossroads. In the West, we usually translate crossroad to mean a 4-way intersection – the result of urban planning. Traditionally, however, crossroads are actually forks in the road. It’s not surprising, then, that Esu would be represented by holding a fork-like object.
I would argue, actually, that it’s not likening Esu to the devil that created images of him holding the trident, but rather traditional ideas of intersections as forks in the road that facilitated the propagation of a devilish image as Esu.
The other common symbol used to represent Esu that the documentary analyzes is the phallus. When it comes to fertility, most people’s minds would run straight to Osun. However, Esu plays an intricate role in conception and making things happen in general. It’s not a surprise, then, that the phallus would be used to represent him. Unfortunately, when the colonizers saw this type of representation they likened it with promiscuity – or, again, devilish behavior.
In presenting information about Esu, there is a bit of confusion in the documentary around a sacred food of Esu – pade – and the ritual of ipade. The two are often confused, and I don’t think this takes away from the overall merit of the film.
In addition to analyzing syncretism, the film takes a close look at Osanyin, the Orisha of plant life, the differences between Umbanda and Candomblé.
As with everything that I share, I want to be clear that I don’t present this documentary as a declaration of any absolute truths regarding Candomblé. Well known and respected priests and academics participated in the making of this film, and I’m thankful to have more information available in English – as always.
Enjoy the film here: