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In the dank heat the drumming starts, beating life into the dark night air. The ceremony begins...
Three alabés (drummers) in brilliant red shirts and stark white pants are perched at the head of the room and belt out a rhythm on their tall, conga-style drums. They're calling the orixás (gods). In front of the alabés stands the babalorixá, the priest who leads the night. He begins chanting. He is answered by a chorus of women.
Barefoot ladies in bulging hooped skirts float in – their long colourful necklaces swaying against white lace blouses, keeping time with graceful, swinging hips; their hair bundled in white turbans against black skin. Repeating the lines of the priest, and in step with the sonorous beat of the sacred drums, they weave into a growing circle in front of the babalorixá, dancing counter clockwise around a tall centerpiece of axes. Arms gesture in unison indicating to which orixá they are currently singing: hands float over imaginary waves for Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea; they cover one ear for Oiá, the goddess of the river who cut off her ear to make her husband love her more than his other wives; or they fan themselves like conceited Oxum, the goddess of beauty, fertility and sweet waters.
This night, the second last of the Candomblé year – the ancient religion transported from Africa centuries ago – is the night for the iabás (female gods) to gather together and celebrate. They will do this by possessing the bodies of the "children" (the dancing ladies) who have just begun the interminable ritual. ...