Friday, October 16, 2009

The Sword God

One of the most beautiful stories I´ve heard from Yoruba ( West African) mythology is related to the deity Ogun, the fierce warrior. Those stories were brought here by the people from African nations that the Portuguese, and later the Brazilians, enslaved and shipped to Brazil to work in nothing less than building the country from the 16th to the 19th century. Besides owing Africa a lot of what we have today, we also owe it a big part of the Brazilian soul.
It goes like this: After fighting many battles and spending many years away from home, Ogun decided to go back to the city of Irê, where his son ruled. When he arrived, he addressed the people and expected to be celebrated, but no one talked to him. People looked at him, but did not seem excited. He would talk to them, but they would not answer. Ogun is not very patient and, without trying to investigate what was wrong with his son´s subjects, became enraged and started cutting off the head of whoever came in his way. That´s when his son comes and offers him his (Ogun´s) favorite food and drink. His son reminded him that it was a sacred day and people were forbidden to speak and cheer by orders of the great Ogun, himself. Ogun then remebered that, and was ashamed of what he had done . I´ve lived enough, he said. He then put the tip of his sword on the ground, and went down into earth with a thunderous sound. From that day on, he became an orixá, an owner of head.
Yoruba is also a religion ( Candomblé and Umbanda in Brazil) and I suspect that this close relationship between the stories and the worship of deities is what prevents its ancient mythology from becoming more popular.
I´m not a follower of any religion. I usually say that I am culturally Catholic, because it is the dominat religion among the groups I was raised with, but I have a great interest in all religions. More than the rituals of Catholicism or even Candomblé, I´ve always found the stories fascinating. Their symbols and metaphors contain valuable teachings about every day life that are usually missed when people are too worried about miracles or sins.
Everytime I remember Ogun´s story, I smile and think that even the most powerful ones make mistakes and learn a lesson one day. Never take yourself too seriously. It´s very dangerous.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


The soul is what keeps asking us whether the soul really exists. This is one of the many witty, wise, and many times ironic quotes of Brazilian poet, jornalist and translator Mario Quintana. I met him when I was in College. He was already very sick, but was very kind to have the visit of a group of young adults passionate about his work. I thought I´d translate some other ones to share:
- The secret is not to run after the butterflies...It is to look after your garden, so they´ll come to you;
- Lavoisier´s reflection after he found out they had stolen his wallet: nothing is lost, everything changes ownership;
- It really does not matter to know if we believe in God: the important is to know whether God believes in us; -If someone asks you what you meant with a poem, ask him what God meant with this world;
-Time is eternity´s insomnia;
-The alarm clock is a traffic accident in our sleep;
- The art of being good : Be good./But to your heart/Discretion and caution provide./The one who covers himself with honey,/will end up being licked by bears.
- The worst about our problems is that no one else has anything to do with them;
- What really concerns me when I look at the apes is not that we came from them: it is that we might be turning into them again;
- To dream is to wake up inside ourselves;
-A good poem is the one that reads us;
-The most ferocius of animals is the clock on the wall. It has devoured three generations of my family already.