Sons of Ghandy

Os Filhos de Gandhy: The Sacred in the Midst of the Profane

Kenneth Dossar

 

Mutual aid societies and religious-cultural fraternities were important organizations responsible for the continuance of the African philosophical and cultural complex in communities of color in the Atlantic World. These societies organized by females and males, functioned throughout the Americas. They were often made up of free Africans from the same ethnic group or geographical region. Societies were established in North America, particularly key southern states, and areas of the Caribbean. In addition to the guaranteed social security provided to members, the benevolent society was an institution for belonging and a badge of status. Some of the functions of benevolent societies include: providing life or health insurance; providing for social, religious, national, and occupational interests; and promoting abstinence.

By the fifteenth century Africans were members of Catholic brotherhoods in Spain and Portugal. Enslaved Africans began arriving in Brazil by 1552 and by 1589 lay brotherhoods were formed there to protect members against misfortune, and to practice charity. These African brotherhoods adopted the pure European model of fraternity. In Portuguese America brotherhoods were called irmandades.

In addition to the inhuman treatment received from their enslavers, environmental factors greatly affected Africans in Brazil. They died in large numbers from diseases including yellow fever, small pox, and those enslaved Africans who panned for gold in the rivers suffered kidney and circulatory problems. As a result of inadequate social security provided by plantations heads and other owners, Africans and their descendants created both secular and religious oriented institutions. Black Brotherhoods and Sisterhoods were a response to specific community and personal needs of African descendants in Brazil. These organizations aided in the preservation of African traditions and provided community centers where African languages were spoken.

Brotherhoods assumed a significant role in Brazilian society in the 17th and 18th century. Membership in lay brotherhoods was the only form of legal life permitted enslaved Africans in colonial empires. Wherever black brotherhoods existed, African religion survived. Religious brotherhoods and sisterhoods were under the protection of an African deity.

The ultimate purpose of fraternities and sororities was to provide a means through which enslaved Africans could gain freedom; they also guaranteed a fitting burial place and funeral.

Afoxe – An Afro-Brazilian Society

 

In 1949 a group of dockworkers in Salvador, when learning of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, created a group and dedicated their goals to his memory and to his life's work. Inspired by the mission and message of Gandhi, the group’s founders called themselves Os Filhos de Gandhy – the Sons of Gandhy. They created an afoxe, and are one of the important benevolant societies in Bahia.

An Afoxe is a carnaval group whose core members belong to candomblé communities. During public festivals the Dons of Gandhy  wear elaborate white and blue tunics, and cover their heads with turbans. Women, will for a  fee, hand sew and customize each particapant’s turban, adding glittering blue pendants to each. The process takes about twenty minutes. The Sons of Gandhy are in a sense an Afro-Indo group carnaval group that brings the peace and protection of candomble to the streets during public festivals. stability. During carnaval, any male can purchase the uniform and join the group when they parade through the streets. Core members are united by religion primarily, by language and a social system based on African traditions. True membership in the group is based on initiation. The religious meaning of initiation consists of introducing the individual to the art of communal living, to introduce the candidate to adult life and responsibilities.  There exists an equally important community of women – As Filhas de Gandhy - the Daughters of Ghandy whose center is right next door.

The word Afoxe means prophecy or predicting the future, it also relates to ideas of being able to make things happen through the use of words. According to Yoruba scholar Olabiyi Yai, “the word Afoxe in Yoruba signifies, incantation, a powerful word, that is operative." It is an enunciation, a word that makes things happen. Members of the bateria or drum section, play upright drums called atabaques. These are accompanied by two-toned cone shaped ago-ago bells, and by bead covered gourds or coconut shells called cabaças.

During parades and festivals, Afoxe members march to the Ijexa rhythm rather than to samba. The Ijexa rhythm reflects Oxum's qualities of sensual grace and reminding us to heed her invitation to enjoy the sweetness of life, this rhythm is softer, more elegant then the high energy of samba. 

Padê de Exu

 

This is a ritual of propitiation consisting of offerings to Exu - the deity of the crossroads. Exu in candomblé is a figure that is the subject of great debate. Exu is the dynamic element from which everything flows, and the principal of expansion and communication. This ritual takes place before the beginning of ceremonies and festivals. The objective of the ritual is to petition Exu to carry to heaven the group and community’s request to provide peace for the ceremony that is about to take place.

His offerings consist of foods: popcorn, farofa de dende, dried meats, honey and cachaça. Sacrifices for Exu include black roosters and goats; black beans. His day is Monday, and his colors are red and black. The ceremony consists

 of the following elements and processes: early in the morning there is a sacrifice of a black rooster. In the sacred space there is an invocation for Exu done through song and dance. These actions takes place around a burning candle, a vase made of clay filled with water, and several clay dishes pratos de barro filled with two types of powdered farofa or manioc root -- farofa branca and farofa vermelha cooked in dende, and white corn porridge. The members carry the water and dishes into the street and spread the contents over the ground. This offering propitiates Exu and the ancestors. Following this, there is enthusiastic singing and dancing. The songs are a mixture of Yoruba and Portuguese.

Symbols

 

Os Filhos de Gandhy have incorporated several symbols. During parades they carry a stuffed goat because goat’s milk was the favorite drink of Gandhi. On occasions they parade images of a cow, India's sacred animal, a camel and elephant which represent modes of transportation. During parades they release white doves as signs of peace. Throughout their parading they spray a fragrance - alfazema to please the spirits and to cleanse the air or any negativity. The Afoxe can be seen as an Afro-Brazilian tradition that seeks peace during large public festivities.

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