Terreiro Santa Bárbara of the Xambá Nation – Ilê Axé Oyá Meguê
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Last update: 30/04/2015
The name of the area tells a little of the history of the place and demarcates the territory: 65 Severina Paraíso da Silva Street, Portão do Gelo, São Benedito neighbourhood, Olinda, Pernambuco. That is where, since the early 1950s, Terreiro Santa Bárbara (St Barbara Yard), or Ilê Axé Oyá Meguê, has been located, established by she who gave her name to the street. It calls itself “Nação Xambá” (Xambá Nation), which relates to the traditions of those that came from the region of what is now the border between Cameroon and Nigeria. According to Costa (2007, p.202), “perhaps this temple is the most important representation of this nation today.”
According to oral tradition, babalorixá (holy man) Artur Rosendo Pereira fled the repression of Afro-Brazilian cults in Alagoas and came to settle in Recife’s Aguas Frias neighbourhood in the early 1920s, where he taught several saint-children according to the precepts of the Xambá tradition. Among them was Maria das Dores da Silva, Maria Oyá, who founded Terreiro Santa Bárbara in 1930. At that time, the coercion of xangôs, as the Afro-Brazilian religious practice is called in Pernambuco, was still intense. In 1938, the religious community was invaded and closed down by the police. The following year, Maria Oyá passed away. For twelve years, the Xambá tradition was transmitted, stealthily, by members of the Paraíso family, especially by Severina Paraíso da Silva, or Mãe (Mother) Biu (saint-daughter of Maria Oyá). In 1950, she reopened the religious community, and in 1951, with the acquisition of its own land, it moved to its current site in Portão do Gelo.
Mãe Biu was a great mobiliser and articulator and used these devices for building and retaining the yard at that place. She had the support of other very important women for the existence of the yard, women who performed the roles of godmothers and iabás. According to Costa (2007, p.206.):
Mãe Biu, along with other women – her friend and saint-daughter Laura Eunice Batista (Aunt Laura) and her sisters Donatila Paraízo do Nascimento (Godmother Tila) and Maria Luiza de Oliveira (Aunt Luiza) – engendered ways and strategies to ensure the practices of their Xambá cult, ensuring the occupation and the housing of members on the Portão do Gelo property.
After several decades presiding over the house, Mãe Biu passed away in 1993. She was succeeded by Mãe Tila, as yalorixá, and by Adeildo Paraíso da Silva (Pai [Father] Ivo), her son, as babalorixá. In 2003, after the death of Mãe Tila, Aunt Lourdes took over as temple yalorixá.
The Terreiro keeps a calendar of toques (musical ceremonies) and festivities, times when wearing black clothing is not permitted. Men must wear long pants and women skirts or long dresses. During the celebrations, coffee and mungunzá (creamed corn) are served – a tradition of the house. According to the Nação Xambá website, the schedule for 2014 is as follows:
• 19 January – Toque de Obaluayê;
• 23 February – Toque de Oxum;
• 27 April – Toque de Ogum and Odé;
• 25 May – Toque de Yemanjá;
• 15 June – Toque de Xangô;
• 29 July – Coco de Xambá – Mãe Biu Centenary;
• 18 July – Toque de Orixalá and Nanã;
• 28 September – Toque de Bêji;
• 26 October – Toque do Inhame;
• 14 December – Toque de Oyá.
After the death of Mãe Biu, her son Pai Ivo took the initiative to install a memorial to preserve his mother’s memory and consequently the Terreiro. Thus, the Severina Paraíso da Silva Memorial opened in 2002. For this event, a documentary and photographic collection was organized and incorporated into the museum maintained in the yard – the first African museum in Pernambuco – whose mission is to preserve and promote its history. In 2004, the Ministry of Culture bestowed upon Terreiro Santa Bárbara the title of “Ponto de Cultura Mãe Biu” (Mother Biu Cultural Centre), which resulted in the allocation of funds that were used in the process of identification and digitalising the Memorial’s collection and training of young people.
As part of their culture, the Xambá community still maintains a library and a cultural group: Bongar. The Bongar Group is made up of young members from the yard, and plays rhythms from Pernambuco’s popular culture, in addition to holding percussion, folk dance and instrument making workshops.
In 2006, Terreiro Santa Bárbara was recognized by the Palmares Foundation as an Urban Quilombo (a community founded by runaway and ex-slaves), the country’s third. By claiming the identity of a quilombo remnant, it gained access to public policies to which it was previously not entitled. According to Guerra (2011, p.289.):
The relationship of the Xambá Community with the Palmares Foundation goes beyond their regularisation as quilombo remnant, but also allows the community access to initiatives in the spheres of education, health, infrastructure, housing, employment and income generation for the population. Up to the granting of the Quilombo title, the economic resources of Terreiro Santa Bárbara were generated exclusively by the dynamics of Afro-religious practices (Costa, 2007a). Today, within the federal government’s compensation policies, the title has become politically feasible, since it gives access to public policies as well as investments.
In 2007, the yard was listed by the Olinda City Council and given the title of Cultural Heritage of Olinda and to be protected by the municipal government.
The importance of Xambá Nation to the community where it operates, as well as for the city of Olinda and the state of Pernambuco as a whole, reflects the leadership, coordination and strength of its leaders and reinforces the role of the terreiros as religious, cultural and educational spaces.
Recife, 5 May 2014.
Translated by Peter Leamy, April 2015
COSTA, Valéria Gomes. Nação Xambá: criando e recriando estratégias de garantia de espaços sociais e religiosos no Recife. Ciências Humanas em Revista, São Luís, v. 4, n. 2, p. 11-29, dez. 2006. Available at: <http://www.nucleohumanidades.ufma.br/pastas/CHR/2006_2/valeria_costa_v4_n2.pdf>. Accessed: 5 maio 2014.
______. Práticas culturais femininas e constituição de espaços num terreiro de Xangô de Nação Xambá. Revista Afro-Ásia, n. 36, p. 199-227, 2007. Available at: <http://www.afroasia.ufba.br/pdf/afroasia36_pp199_227_ValeriaCosta.pdf>. Accessed: 5 maio 2014.
______. É do Dendê! – Histórias e memórias urbanas da Nação Xambá no Recife (1950-1992). São Paulo: Annablume, 2009.
GUERRA, Lúcia Helena. Memória e etnicidade no Quilombo Ilê Axé Oyá Meguê. Revista Ciências Sociais Unisinos, v. 47, n. 3, p. 284-291, set./dez. 2011. Available at: <http://revistas.unisinos.br/index.php/ciencias_sociais/article/view/csu.2011.47.3.11/628>. Accessed: 4 maio 2014.
HIERARQUIA da Nação Xambá. Available at: <http://www.xamba.com.br/hie.html>. Accessed: 3 maio 2014.
HISTÓRIA do Terreiro Xambá. Available at: <http://www.xamba.com.br/his.html>. Accessed: 3 maio 2014.
MEMORIAL Severina Paraíso da Silva. Available at: <http://www.xamba.com.br/mem.html>. Accessed: 3 maio 2014.
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Source: MORIM, Júlia. Terreiro Santa Bárbara of the Xambá Nation – Ilê Axé Oyá Meguê. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.