COMING BACK FROM THE ASHES
“After my initiation I lost a great love. A great love in the teenage years. I lost my pink dream. Then right after that I lost my daughter. She was 2 months old; she had pneumonia. It is a period that I actually don’t quite remember because after her death for about a year I lived mainly supported by the Orisha. I remember I had a job, I remember I went to school before. But during this period of about one year…it’s not that it is erased from my memory, but nothing really happened, I didn’t do anything productive. So, to start again it’s like coming back from the ashes. So when you ask, ‘What is the moment you most needed God?’ I can’t really know that, I can’t really define that. I was just supported there, and that’s it.”
Nána de Yemanjá is a priestess in the Afro-Brazilian religion, Candomblé, and she holds a very special place in my heart. Brazil was the first country outside the United States where I conducted Portraits in Faith interviews. In fact, I didn’t even know this was an ongoing project until I came back from Brazil and realized that Tom Boechat, my Brazilian producer, had taken the project from a summer photography workshop endeavor to a project that would take me around the world and to the depths of my own healing.
On our first day shooting in São Paolo, we spent the entire day with Nána, her husband Eldo, and her sister Nina. They fed us. They taught us about Candomblé. There is a larger-than-life feeling to Nána’s enveloping energy. I was not surprised to learn that she manifests the Goddess of the Sea, and the Mother Goddess that brings together all the other gods (known as Orishas).
Nána has a big heart. She is constantly counseling Candomblé followers through their struggles. Even though she is grateful to have moved beyond the naïve, “pink dream” faith of her teenage years which brought her to Candomblé, she is eager to not let the hardships of adult life make her bitter. One of the great blessings of Portraits in Faith was the opportunity to return to São Paulo six years after I made Nána de Yemanjá’s portrait to conduct a video interview (we were not doing videos at the very beginning of the project). Not only did I get to see this beautiful soul again but we were able to reflect on the passage of time and its faith lessons.
Nána’s greatest wish is to cure cancer, which her sister Nina was suffering with when I returned on that trip. Thank you to Nána de Yemanjá for embracing her soul’s mission and spreading her love.