A few years ago, I made a fortuitous trip to Brazil. This trip occurred a little over 40 years after I had written, directed and produced a major feature (fiction) film entitled “Black Goddess”, which was shot in Brazil. At the time I made this second trip to Brazil, I was older, more experienced in artistic and intellectual terms, and much better informed (hopefully!) about traditional African religious beliefs. A few days after I arrived in Rio de Janeiro, I was introduced to a lady who turned out to be the Iya Olorisa (i.e. Head Priestess) of a Candomble (African religious temple) where the worship of African traditional divinities (mostly Yoruba and Fon) continues to be practised in strict accordance with age-old rites imported from Africa during the era of Transatlantic slavery.
To my immense surprise (but should I really have been surprised?), the Iya Olorisa told me that she had been expecting me. A few days later, she invited me to her Candomble and requested (ordered?) me to film a day-long ceremony that she had organized in honour of a number of divinities (Esu, Sango, Yemoja, Ogun etc). As I virtually had no budget at my disposal, I was obliged to do all the filming, sound recording and subsequent editing single-handedly. The outcome was a twenty-five minute-long documentary film entitled “Gods of Africa in Brazil”, which I have good reason to be proud of, even though it was not as all-encompassing as I would have wished. Alas! The original tapes and final edit of what I consider to be one of my best efforts in the documentary field were destroyed during the fire disaster that destroyed my residence and most of my archives about five or six years ago. However, it so happened that someone had somehow managed to make a pirate copy of “Gods of Africa in Brazil” from the print that had been broadcast by NTA2 channel in Lagos shortly after I completed the edit of this ground-breaking documentary (it was one of the rare times that a religious ceremony of this kind has been made from a perspective that attempted to present the whole experience from a viewpoint that reflected the core values of African culture and history!).
Whoever this was, the person decided to extract some portions of the film (he or she was not interested in the segments that provided an explanatory backdrop designed to place events in proper perspective). So he or she butchered the film and proceeded to only retain scenes that (from the viewpoint of a limited understanding of African religious beliefs) might be counted on to titillate the tastes of audiences that happen to be unfamiliar with Africa. The pirate subsequently uploaded three non-sequential segments of my documentary to YouTube under a fake name, without of course indicating that the three clips part of a much longer film.
Totally by accident, I one stumbled across the said clips on YouTube late one night (but why should a few minutes of haphazard browsing on YouTube have led to this felicitous outcome?). Much later on, I also managed to locate a dvd copy of “Gods of Africa in Brazil” among some of the belongings that were retrieved from my Paris flat prior to the sale of the flat.
Hopefully an opportunity will arise at some point in the future for “Gods of Africa” to be presented to the public in its entirety, along with the all-important narrative that is a key element of the soundtrack.
***Dr. Ola Balogun is a veteran filmmaker and public affairs analyst