The day after the parade, on the Sunday of Bonfim (literally, the “good end”), the mass is celebrated. In 1995, mass was held in the Porto-Novo cathedral at 10 o’clock in the morning, as was custom. A group of ladies headed by the Martins sisters, great-granddaughters of Domingos José Martins, received the other members of the community with a resounding “bom dia!” – “good morning” in Portuguese. They were all wearing white European-style dress with a yellow and green sash across their chest. This is a traditional welcome ritual, with the person holding the banner representing the Brotherhood and then receiving proudly the other members of the community.
Mass was attended by around 300 people, although most of them were not especially interested in celebrating the Ascension of Christ (“bonfim”). The banner of the Brazilian Brotherhood of Good Jesus of Bonfim of Porto Novo was clearly visible to the left of the high altar. Made over a century before, according to Jean Amaral, who kept it in the family, the banner consists of a piece of dark green velvet measuring around 1 x 1.5 meters with the name of the brotherhood embroidered on it in gold, as well as some crosses, and, in the middle, a colorful image of Jesus Christ with an ornate frame around it, also embroidered in gold. The banner was held upright by a central pole.
The members of the brotherhood, distinguished in their white clothing, sat in the front pews closest to the altar. During the mass, the lessons relative to that Sunday (the third Sunday of Ordinary Time) were read, including the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, verses 12:12-30. Father Charles Whannou, who led the service, read Luke 1:1-4; 14-21. In other words, the mass was entirely according to the normal catholic calendar. Although the name of Our Lady of Bonfim was not mentioned at any point, all the members of the brotherhood received communion with due decorum, followed by the other Agudas. At the end of the service, the priest and the members of the brotherhood exited the church in a procession through the cathedral grounds.
Next, the main members of the brotherhood went out onto the street singing and keeping time with tambourines, headed for the district of Degue-Komey, where they visited “Old Lady” Gonzalo, granddaughter of Simplice Gonzalo, responsible for introducing the Bonfim festivity to Porto-Novo.
In 1996, the dispute between the two groups effectively changed the traditional way in which the day was celebrated. The brotherhood’s mass was transferred from the cathedral, where it had always been held, to the new church of São Francisco Xavier, on the other side of the district of Ogan’la. This was because Karin da Silva’s supporters managed to reserve the cathedral for a Bonfim mass before the brotherhood, booking it for the third Sunday of January. This was interpreted by the brotherhood as an attempt by a rival group to symbolically appropriate the Bonfim celebrations without prior agreement, so they resolved to go ahead with own mass in a different church.
At ten o’clock on Sunday, January 21st, the Porto-Novo cathedral hosted the mass for the followers of Karin da Silva, who formed quite a small gathering. Nobody wore the sash of the brotherhood and there was no banner, which meant that the mass bore no outward indication that it was in any way given in celebration of the Ascension (Bonfim). A courtesy visit to Mr. Da Silva was planned for after the mass, but it was cancelled because the consul was fasting for Ramadan.
An hour later, at eleven o’clock, the mass began at São Francisco Xavier church, a huge modern place of worship designed for congregations of over a thousand people. The church was packed, and the banner of the Brazilian Brotherhood of Good Jesus of Bonfim of Porto Novo was on display to the right of the high altar, in front of which sat the Aguda delegation, dressed in white and wearing yellow and green sashes. However, most of the congregation were not aware what the mass was for, and seemed to be praying to St. Christopher, the saint who was normally worshipped on that Sunday.
During the service, the priest made absolutely no mention of Our Lady of Bonfim, but accepted with good grace the offering of fruit he was given solemnly by the members of the brotherhood. Afterwards, the group then made their way back to the Amaral family house in a lively parade along the packed Sunday streets, interspersing it with songs alluding to the Agudas’ ethnic roots.
The highpoint of the gathering of the Agudas who celebrate Bonfim is the picnic after the mass. In the two years I took part, it was held in the grounds of Escola Pública Central, a public school in the district of Ogan’la, in the shade of centuries-old mango trees and a sapodilla tree.
Nigh on a hundred people met up to spend the afternoon together and share a “Brazilian” meal. The feijoadá and kousidou were served alongside Beninese akassa, salad, fish, and chicken, accompanied by flavorful African sauces. Unlike a typical African meal, where dishes are devised to be eaten by hand, the food at the picnic was eaten with cutlery. There was lots of coming and going: people who showed up just to say hello to friends and wait for the Burrinha performance, young people who broke off into their own groups and then went off, and children playing and running around after each other. A picnic, then, where there was room for everyone to enjoy themselves as they saw fit.
The Mariano, Do Rego, Campos, Carlos, Martins, Amaral, Santos, D’Almeida, Masilla, Domingos, Bento, Marcos, Lopez, Moreira, Sabino, Gomez, and Paraíso families were all represented. The Paraíso family is certainly the most important Aguda family of muslim faith in the city, but it also has a catholic branch, allowing them to all come together around a good “Brazilian” bean stew to await the Burrinha performance.
At the 1995 picnic, one person stole the show: Augustinha Abile, born in 1916 and introduced as a living memory of the Brazilian songs. Surprisingly lively for her age, Dona Augustinha sang all the best-known songs in Portuguese with a delightful accent, and added another one that is surely only now remembered by her:
To those involved
Once the war was over
Those who awaited us
Who died” (sic)
An old Portuguese song, it may have alluded to the former Iberian wars and have been taken to Brazil from Europe, or else it could be a Brazilian song about the Paraguay war over 150 years ago, or even about other civil wars. Whatever the case, its melody was extremely moving and was certainly not for dancing.
After a long wait, only after the sun had set did the Burrinha performance began. And that was when Dona Augustinha, despite being tired, made a point of coming up to me and taking her leave.
“I’ll be off now,” she said in clear, correct Portuguese. “Goodbye.”
A sra. Martins, bisneta de Domingos José Martins, recepciona os agudás na missa solene de celebração do N.S. do Bonfim na Catedral de Porto Novo - 22 de janeiro de 1995 - Porto Novo, Benim
Após a missa, os membros da comunidade agudá saem em procissão da igreja - 22 de janeiro de 1995 - Porto Novo, Benim
Auguste Amaral e a Sra. Domingos, então presidente da Associação des Ressortissants Brésiliens – Bourian - 21 de janeiro de 1996 - Porto Novo, Benim
Missa solene de celebração de N. S. do Bonfim na igreja de São Francisco Xavier. Nos primeiros bancos, os membros da Irmandade, uns 30 homens e mulheres vestidos de branco com a faixa do Bonfim - 21 de janeiro de 1996 - Porto Novo, Benim
Membros da irmandade com estandarte da "Irmandade Brasileira de Bom Jesus do Bonfim de Porto Novo" em frente da Catedral de Porto Novo - 22 de janeiro de 1995 - Porto Novo, Benim
Detalhe do estandarte da Irmandade Brasileira de Nosso Senhor do Bonfim - 22 de janeiro de 1995 - Porto Novo, Benim