Re-connecting with the Motherland: Rio de Janeiro hosts the largest collection of Yoruba art outside Africa

King Ifé, Ojaja II and hois entourage on a recent visit to the Zumbi dos Palmares monument in Rio de Janeiro
Coleção com peças milenares chega ao país após revelação de segredo sobre monumento a Zumbi dos Palmares
King Ifé, Ojaja II and hois entourage on a recent visit to the Zumbi dos Palmares monument in Rio de Janeiro

Note from BW of Brazil: It must be acknowledged that when many black readers of the blog and black visitors to Brazil come to know the reality of Afro-Brazilian population, they often come to the conclusion that the black struggle in Brazil is about 40-50 years behind a similar struggle in the United States. In many ways, there’s no way to deny this, but we also cannot negate the fact that in recent decades, some incredible strides have been seen in black Brazil. From the rise of so many former mestiços, pardos and morenos coming to accept a black identity, to the protests against blatant and subtle acts of racism, to the growing numbers of black Brazilian women deciding to allow their hair to go natural, to the demand for more representation in all areas of Brazilian society, a change is evident to anyone who have followed the situation for any amount of time.  

A re-connection with all things African is yet another area where we seen black Brazilians re-claiming their African roots. We’ve seen Africans and black Brazilians exchanging exploring these connections in debates and seminars, more dance recitals with African influence as well as a desire to fight for the protection of African-origin religions such as Candomblé. Months ago, the black Brazilian community received a visit from Nigeria’s King Ifé, Ojaja II which further cemented the links and exchanges between black Brazilians and the peoples of Nigeria, which has had an enormous influence on black Brazilian culture, particularly in states such as Bahia. Now with the announcement that Rio would be the recipient of the largest collection of Yoruba art outside Africa, the links, exchange and re-affirmation of Brazil’s debt to Africa takes another huge step. 

yoruba art

Rio de Janeiro hosts the largest collection of Yoruba art outside Africa

Courtesy of Notícia Preta

Starting in August, a collection of millenary pieces of Yoruba art will arrive in Rio de Janeiro. The objects, which are in the process of being chosen and cataloged, should be displayed in the Casa de Herança Oduduwa (Oduduwa Heritage House), a venue for exhibitions, Yoruba language classes, a study center and a theater.  The space is a permanent link of communication and exchange between Brazil and the Yoruba people. A way of approaching cultures and helping the Brazilian people to better understand their origins, and historical legacies.

statue Rio
King Ifé, Ojaja II, an entourage pose in front the famous monument to Zumbi dos Palmares in Rio

Bringing this treasure to Brazil was a wish of King Ifé, Ojaja II, 44, the greatest traditional and religious authority of the Yoruba people. The will was born of the fact that Brazilians are not aware of their African ancestors. Originally the Yoruba people inhabited the Kingdom of Ketu and the Empire of Oyó, currently areas of Benin and Nigeria. There are also large numbers of Yoruba living in Togo and Sierra Leone, as well as, outside of Africa, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Brazil.

At the end of 2015, the businessman Adeyeye Enitan Babatunde Ogunwusi became the king of Ifé (Ooni of Efé in Yoruba). The predecessor was not his father, because the throne is not hereditary. The king is chosen among members of the six royal families of the city. More than 50 Yoruba women pleaded for honors. Having made the selection by the Royal Council, the enthronement ceremony was broadcast live by TV stations from Nigeria and Benin to about 40 million people.

In 2017, the king began a great campaign to unite the Yorubas scattered around the world. A TV director had the idea of asking them to send recorded greetings on the cell phone. The king was surprised by the messages that came from Brazil due to the similarity between his own face and the scene chosen for recording: the Monument to Zumbi dos Palmares, at the central site of Avenida Presidente Vargas, in Rio de Janeiro.

The three-meter-tall statue has been in the city center for 33 years. The bust would not be a faithful copy of the face of Zumbi dos Palmares, but the replica of a Nigerian head carved between the 11th and 12th centuries.

Rei de Ifé
Nigeria’s King Ifé, Ojaja II, on a recent visit to Brazil

The opulence and beauty of the sculpture made the king of Ifé want to see the sculpture up close. In June of last year, he was in Brazil, accompanied by other African kings and queens, for a series of meetings in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador. Historian Carolina Maíra Morais (who sent her husband’s video for the coronation in 2017 and is preparing a documentary on the saga of the bronze head) was part of the entourage, became cultural attaché  of the Ooni de Ifé in Brazil and witnessed the joy of all to “recognizing” the features of the King on the bronze head of the Monument to Zumbi: “It was a moment of joy. There was no doubt for anyone there that this was the face of Oduduwa,” said the historian in an interview with Carta Capital.

In the Yoruba tradition, Oduduwa is the Lord of Creation, the Father of All. For followers of various shades of African-born religions, the king of Ifé is the “Sentinel of the Throne of Oduduwa.” According to tradition, the king descends directly from Oduduwa, god of the Yoruba pantheon, reincarnation of other deities.

Most of the slaves brought to the Brazil Colony or in the imperial period were Yoruba – also called nagôs. The mythology that originated candomblé, umbanda and other Afro-Brazilian religions has a lot of Nagô influence, as well as the samba, born in the casas de senhoras of the nineteenth century who maintained the songs and the batuques of their ancestors.

After the visit to the monument of Zumbi dos Palmares, the king of Ifé consulted his spiritual guides and was ordered to send to Brazil images and original pieces of the ancient collection of the sacred city – not copies or reproductions. They are the orixás (orishas/African deities) themselves trying to strengthen the Afro-Brazilian identity and make us know the story of our history.

Source: Notícia Preta

About Marques Travae 3225 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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