A wonderful transnational, transcontinental folk memory.

Tomorrow 24 May is the celebration day of a saint not recognized by the Catholic church but venerated in her own way on each side of the Atlantic.
Sarah Kali – Saint Sarah – Sarah is the black patron saint of the Romani peoples; the patrona of gypsies, travelers, and refugees.
Over the centuries these beliefs have gradually been intertwined with images of the Black Madonna and the Hindu goddess, Kali, to embody ideas of the sacred feminine, a primal understanding semi submerged and long supressed by the male dominated religions of Christianity and Islam.

To the Romani Gypsies, she is Santa Sara la Kali, the Patron Saint of the Gypsies. To Gnostics, Essenes & Nazoreans she was actually the daughter of Jesus & Mary MagdalenThere are many answers to the questions who is this Saint Sarah? The black feminine at the heart of the white Church holds the place of unlabeled mystery, and of course the various Roma branches have their own answers and traditions; and as the Roma are traditionally regarded as having Indian origins it is hardly surprising that some part of early belief systems is still present.

There is a powerful folklore linking the idea of the sacred femine from Egypt intertwined with Hinduism through christianity to Umbanda and the Orisha pantheon in Brazil.

Roma or Ciganos as they were known, were transported from Portugal from the mid 16th century. The first Portuguese law to impose banishment dates from August 28, 1592.
Men should integrate into society or abandon the Kingdom within four months, otherwise they would be subject to the death penalty and their wives would be exiled in perpetuity to Brazil. Like displaced people everywhere their rituals and traditions travelled with them, some of which continue to this day.

Umbanda has absorbed much of this and intermeshed it with more Afrocentric beliefs. As nearly all teaching is oral there are few written records and the traditions are not rigid.
May 24 is now officially recognized in Brazil.

For those who care a bit more about the Cigana belief system as expressed in Umbada togeter with Pomba-Gira I suggest here for further reading.
Umbanda tereiros or places of worship are being destroyed by neo pentecostal evangelical traficantes and militias and followers of the religion are being expelled from favaleas.

I leave the last word to Professor Chireau‘s Academic Hoodoo:

I do think that these pictures speak boldly about self-representation by women of color, and about gender, and religion, and about beauty.
But what I like most about them is that they simply reflect back what is there.
Look closely, and you might detect something there, too: a harbinger of the Spirit, a different form of divinity, a feminine image of God in woman’s body.


photo credit: sven dreesbach

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