I got up early today to head to downtown Fortaleza, planning on getting all sorts of things done for our non-profit organization here. Much to my dismay, everything, EVERYTHING, was closed!
This is Saturday, not Sunday. It is a full business day, in fact, downtown is usually even more packed on Saturday because people who work all week can typically come to town to take care of business on Saturday.
In answer to my question (What is going on?), I was informed, as though I was an alien from outer space, that today is the holiday of the patron saint of Fortaleza, Nossa Senhora da Assunção (Our Lady of Ascension). Of course that is Maria or Mary. It doesn’t matter how many flavors of her there are, it is still her.
What was interesting is that in the same breath, I was also informed that Nossa Senhora da Assunção is one and the same as Iemanjá, the goddess/deity of the sea. Finding it remarkable that it was so openly stated, by a Catholic no less, I had to ask for more explanation.
It is no secret that syncretism occurred back in colonial days when the Portuguese forced the African and Indian slaves to become Catholics. Catholic saints simply were substituted for all the deities and spirits of the slaves so they could continue to worship them. The Virgin became Iemajá, St. Anthony became Exú, St. George became Ogúm, Jesus Christ became Oxalá and St. Geronimo became Xangó; these are some of the principal deities, but there are many more.
After 500 years of this syncretism, it is virtually impossible to separate Catholicism from spiritism in the minds of the people. The fellow I was chatting with was no exception. He openly acknowledged the relationship; in his words, “they’re the same thing, just different coats of paint.”
In the interior where Ubaúna is, 95% (I’m being conservative) of the population embraces Catholicism as spiritism with a coat of Catholic paint. Maria is Iemanjá and Iemanjá is Maria.
My day is shot; so are many who are following the “right” thing driven by the “wrong” power.