Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – You can really start getting environmentally persistent, and maybe slightly “eco-annoying”, when you star adding “eco” prefixes to religions and cultural traditions.

Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro
Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.

So, last month, on November 20th, the Dia da Consciência Negra is celebrated here in Brazil, or the “Day of Black Awareness”. This date was selected in honor of Zumbi dos Palmares, a slave who lead a revolt but was killed on this day in 1695 who became the original symbol of black resistance in Brazil.

African heritage has had a strong influence on the formation of Brazilian culture, being present in the arts, music, food and religion. Yoruba traditions and religious customs gave birth to Candomblé, an Afro-American religion that encompasses the rituals of Macumba.

Such offerings to African deities hold a strong connection to what North Americans call Santeria, both being brought to this continent by the captive African slaves.

With all these factors in mind, I had the chance to witness a ceremony to the river deity Oxun while hiking to a waterfall in Jardim Botânico. Oxun is the Orisha of the cosmological forces of water, moisture, and attraction, and is believed to be omnipresent and omnipotent.

A group of youngsters and elders where all dressed in white, singing ancient hymns and offering candles, food, drinks and cigarettes to the river goddess. The energy there was strong and indescribable, and made the hiking experience quite surreal as their voices echoed through the woods.

It is amazing to see that ancient African culture still persists to the 21st century. The excitement of witnessing such offerings on the streets, trails and waterfalls brings a mystery that lightens my heart in an adventurous sort of way.

I realize there is more to life than the major religions have to offer inside the cement and concrete structures. Romantic, to say the least, but these offerings seem more down-to-Earth and more ecologically friendly than the structures that heavily dot and obstruct every major city and small town in this relatively small planet.

However, the offerings leave behind glass, plastics and porcelain in pristine natural areas, contaminating them with consumer products like cigarette packages, cachaça (distilled alcohol) bottles and chocolate bars. Despite disturbing the monkeys’ diet, the containers get broken and leave hazardous sharp pieces that cut the hikers and waterfall goers alike.

If fact, many people in Brazil are afraid to pick up or clean such offerings due to the unknown repercussions of moving Macumbas, which could bring unforeseen present and future bad luck.

Candomblé people should find more ecological ways of honoring their deities, using biodegradable containers for their offerings including banana leaves and coconut bowls, for example. These Macumbas could actually represent a movement namely and lightly stated as the Macumbeiros Ecológicos, or the Ecological Macumbeiros, because they represent nature and the power of cultural persistence.

I trust that the deities won’t find this material disrespectful, but I will flick my index finger against my three others a few times, like in Macumba tradition, to spell away any bad spirits, just in case.


Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and a BA from Hampshire College. Alfonso lives in Rio de Janeiro, and he can be reached at: Ecobrasilis@gmail.com.


  1. It is interesting to reflect about the Black Awareness day here in Brazil, since it seems to be not a matter of pride because as you know we divide in degrees blackness, never say that a mulato (a person of Obama’s colour) is black because they don’t see themselves as black and it seems to be a latino (our whites) cultural construction that in a sense doesn’t consider blackness a good think. It is worth remember that only Rio and São Paulo have a holiday in this day the rest of the country besides our laziness and eager for not to work so many days throughout the year don’t consider this huge influence in brazil life enough to stop as a holiday and enjoy parades, movies, music, food and of course the warm company of a black friend.

  2. I’ve often witnessed the environmental damage these festivities leave behind here in Florianópolis, Santa Catarina. After every Iemanjá worshiping ceremony, we are left with glass from broken mirrors and perfume bottles, aluminum wrappers and decorations, plastic bags, and pieces of Styrofoam (yes, Styrofoam!!!) used to make the floating vessels that are thrown into the sea strewn all over the beach. I’m sure Iemanjá would not be happy seeing all this garbage, and having so many sea animals and birds confusing it for food and dying as a result.


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