If you ever venture to Salvador Brazil, which you should, because it’s filled with culture, history and celebration – go and visit the Igreja de Nosso Senhor do Bonfim, The Church of Saint Bonfim. While you’re there be sure to grab yourself a caldo de cana (sugarcane juice) from an outdoor vendor and a fita (wish ribbon) as you decide upon tying your wish to the gate surrounding the Bonfim. This is a special place that has transformed from a church to a popular shrine because of its power to perform miraculous cures.
I’ll get to the fita in a bit, but first a bit of history to understand their significance: Senhor do Bonfim translates to, Our Lord of the Good End and depicts Jesus Christ at the moment of his death. A statue, of Senhor do Bonfim, replicating one found on a shipwreck in Portugal was brought to Bahia in the 1700’s by a Portuguese Naval Officer in fulfillment of a vow. Miracles immediately proliferated and Senhor do Bonfim became known as a miracle producer, reputedly healing tuberculosis, leprosy, terminal cancer, mental illness, and dementia. He also protects people at sea as well as those who are shipwrecked. (photo Gabriel Fontes)
Salvador was founded by the Portuguese in 1549 and in 1558 operated the first slave market in the new world. For this reason, in Salvador, religion is a major contact point between Portuguese and African influences. The Portuguese practice Catholicism whereas most enslaved Africans in Bahia brought from Sub-Saharan Africa, especially the Yorùbà-speaking nation, from present-day Nigeria practice Yorùbá. The enslaved were forced to convert to Roman Catholicism, but managed to preserve their original religion Yorùbá by attributing the names and characteristics of their deities, known as, Orixás to Catholic saints with similar qualities. This combination of Roman Catholicism and Yorùbá has developed into a syncretic religion known as, Candomblé. (photo Jan Sochor)
In the Catholic religion, Senhor do Bonfim, is known as the saint of hope. The Candomblè religion identifies him with Oxalà, King of White Cloth, the Orixà celebrated as the father of almost all deities, creator of the world and of human bodies, associating him with Catholocism’s Jesus Christ. Today, worshippers don’t necessarily choose between Christ and Oxalá, instead, the two deities are often worshipped together, their divine forces combined. (photo Salvador Central)
In fact, each January on the second Thursday after the Epiphany the Catholic and Candomblè religions unite together in the ritual of Lavagem Do Bonfim – Washing of the Bonfim. This ritual began in the 1700’s when master’s slaves were to prepare the Church of the Bonfim by washing and decorating it inside and out for the Feast of Bonfim, a devotion in the Catholic faith to Senhor do Bonfim. (photo UCA)
Now the Washing of the Bonfim has become an event that brings together over 1 million people to Salvador each year. There is an 8 km procession involving songs of praise and worship while attendants cloak themselves in pure white from head to toe, and the Bonfim’s steps are washed with a blessed and perfumed water, which is also used to anoint those seeking spiritual protection, the celebration ends in feast. (photo Portal Brasil)
The amulet most associated with Senhor do Bonfim is the fita or wish ribbon. Those visiting the church will find thousands of these colored ribbons tied to the fencing surrounding the Bonfim, fluttering like one giant rainbow. Each one of these ribbons is a symbol of faith, mysticism and tradition of Bahia. (photo Wikipedia)The ribbons are known as good luck charms and, in popular folklore, are wrapped around the wrist and secured with three knots. At each knot corresponds a desire that must be kept in secret until the bracelet breaks and the wishes will come true. The colors of the ribbons correspond to the “Orixás”, African divinities connected to the strengths of nature. The fita also translates to “the measure” and acquired its name because at 47 cm its size corresponds to the length of the right arm on the statue of Christ which resides on the altar of the church. (photo Art Districts)
The ribbons are a myriad of colors and have the words “Lembrança do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia”, or in remembrance of the savior of Bahia or Souvenir from the God of Bahia written on them. The original fitas were made of silk and written on by hand in silver. These fitas were draped around the neck and adorned with medallions and holy depictions. Nowadays the ribbons are worn as a good luck charm petitioning for miracles big or small. (photo Bahia Bands)
1. Ribbons are to be given as a gift.
2. They are worn on the left wrist.
3. The knots are to be tied by a third-party.
4. They are tied on with three knots, with each knot a wish is made.
5. When the ribbon naturally breaks down and falls off it is believed that your wishes will come true.
Legend has it that each color symbolizes an Orixà (Gods of Candomblè religion). Dark green for Oxossi, light blue for Yemanja, Yellow for Oshun … Whatever the color, the ribbon has a symbolic meaning, aesthetic and spiritual that is typical of Afro-Bahian roots:
Yellow – Success and Intelligence
Dark Green – Money and Growth
Light Blue – Love and Peace
Dark Blue – Health, Comfort and Fertility
Red – Strength and Passion
Hot Pink – Friendship
White – Wisdom and Inner Peace
Purple – Spirituality
Orange – Courage and Energy
A symbol of Bahian tradition, wish ribbons are more than just a fashion accessory they are a symbol of faith and good luck! I have used wish ribbons on my wrist, tied to my running shoe, luggage and the shifter in my car for protection and safety. For those who would like to purchase wish ribbons but can’t trek to Salvador for them try Brazilets, Bahia Bands, or Brazilian Wish Bracelet