I always have my camera with me when I walk on the beach here, as offerings to the spiritual figures of the belief system that crossed the Atlantic with the African slave trade are likely to appear. Of course the history of that trade is appalling, but the deeply held beliefs continue to sustain many now-free people up and down the americas. In all societies these beliefs are expressed and confirmed through ritualistic practices, art and music, all of which are handed down orally and aurally, and usually augmented by documents and text as a society moves towards literacy.
When I first came here I was rather disgusted by what I thought was merely discarded litter, and to be fair, although things have improved, back then there were far too few rubbish bins around Uruguayan streets, rubbish collection could be intermittent, and I have seen many people casually throw down litter in the street or out of windows of moving vehicles. Though better now, it is still one of the things that has always bothered me in this country. One day several years back I encountered a group of three women carefully taking several figurines down to the water and ritualistically ‘rinsing’ them. They obviously didn’t mind me watching, and when I asked a question they began to tell me the first things I’d ever heard about the Goddess of The Sea, Imanja. From the way they talked and handled these figurines they were sincere and I found it all very interesting. I realised that when freshly set out on the beack, before being scattered by the tide, some of these things often included perfectly good candles and fresh flowers. I began asking questions of Uruguayan friends, and a couple of people have offered to take me to ‘services’ of this system, but so far I haven’t felt OK about that – not all the offerings are ‘good’ – some represent curses or bad spells.
I didn’t go to the beach on the night of feb 2nd this year (the sea goddess’ birthday) but two days later I came across the little blue boat, below, still bobbing around in the water at our local beach. That was quite good really, for the usual attrition rate of vessels launched that night is 100% destruction within a few hours! I got close enough to see that its contents were gone (tipped out by waves I guess, but if so someone put if afloat again) It was lovely – a flat bottomed basic boat shape, very effectively waterproofed with blue sticky back vinyl or similar, and large shells glued along the sides. Especially on that night, people take great care and time to design and construct their offerings to float out to the sea goddess.
I’m sure I’ve posted the watermelon one before, but its beautiful simiplicty makes it one of my favourites, however the lovely blue ribbon was vinyl, and on the whole the practice does leave quite a bit of non-biodegradable debris, such as the ubiquitous styrofoam, plastic bags and other plastic bits -they’re all cheap and/or recycled materials.
However, as my regular readers will know, one of the things that attracts me to these offerings is the care with which they are always prepared and presented, and the fact that they are taken down to the beach, always at night, usually in the pre-dawn hours. In the lower part of the first pic: the dead chicken and half empty jar of honey were atop a decent selection of fruits and vegetables; you can see many candles and some flowers (carnations are popular ?significant) the white grains might be rice and on the other side some variety of bean. Inside the mound of stuff might have been a few coins, and perhaps cheap pretty jewellery or a small bottle of cheap perfume – these things please the sea goddess and are often included. In the yellow offering above, you can see quite a number of 10 peso coins (each about 50c US) and being yellow, it was almost certainly to another goddess in the spiritual pantheon.
Tags: beach offerings, Imanja, religious beliefs, symbolism
Fascinating, thanks for posting. It brings to mind the roadside shrines of southern Europe – and also the commemorative flowers left at the scene of fatal accidents – these items seem linked by the private experience of those who put them there.
I agree, margaret although I hadn’t mentally linked those things. Shrines are very commpon in Mexico and further south – her in Uruguay too. On roadsides in Australia it is quite common to see crosses and flowers at fatality sites.