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Brazil pays tribute to sea goddess

SAO PAULO--Tens of thousands of people across Brazil on Saturday paid their annual tribute to Iemanja, the goddess of the sea in the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomble, offering flowers, food and perfume, as drums belted out African rhythms.

The Iemanja festival is hugely popular across this racially diverse country of 194 million, especially in the northeast state of Bahia, the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture.

In Bahia state's capital city Salvador, where 80 percent of its 2.7 million people are of African descent, television pictures showed thousands of devotees patiently lining up on the city's Rio Vermelho beach.

Clad in white with bright colorful necklaces, they waited to board small fishing boats to be taken out to sea to release their flower offerings.

Other gifts put in large baskets and set adrift include rice, but also perfumes, jewelry, combs, lipstick and mirrors, as the venerated Iemanja is reputed to be quite vain.

Salvador's Iemanja festival in its current form, always held on Feb. 2, was first celebrated in the Rio Vermelho district in 1923, when 25 fishermen who were practitioners of Candomble implored the goddess to end a shortage of fish in coastal waters.

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In Feb. 2, 2011 file photo, women take part in a ritual for Iemanja, the Goddess of the Sea of the Afro-American religion Umbanda, at Ramirez beach in Montevideo. (AFP)

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