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Gazes into depth of souls


Aware of the colonising gaze that has defined the many visual representations of non-Western ritual ceremonies, the aim of our photographic documentary was to overcome the western exoticization of religious expressions. Djambi is understood as a ritual linked to mysticism, the objective is to heal the sick and calm the spirits of the ancestors.


São Tomé represents the earliest expression of plantation slavery that was then taken to Brazil, the Caribbean and the Americas.




In the 15th century, the island was settled by convicts, children from Portugal, and enslaved Africans, particularly from Benin and Angola. This mix of populations has defined São Tomé’s culture, including its religious expression. Djambi uses spirit possession as a form of appeasing the spirits of dead people that interfere with the living in communities.















Djambi, which includes feeding the spirits with their favourite beverages, while also providing music, the spirits can enjoy the good things of life and by being satisfied, they will positively influence the life of the living. Djambi is performed for different purposes, one of them being for curing people’s ailments.

















The ritual is a symbioses of African religious aspects and christianity. Djambi, like Santomean culture in general, is characterised by creole constructions that are the result of the long history of the island state. Djambi shares characteristics with other creole rituals (Candomblé in Brazil, Santeria in Cuba) that resulted from the displacement of millions of enslaved populations from Africa to the Americas. In Djambi, the presence of food, (alcoholic) drinks, tobacco, sweets and music, may characterise it as a party or as a feast to please the ancestors.


However, the fundamental goal is the practice of traditional medicine and to lessen the suffering of the people. Djambi as a ceremony can take several levels of complexity and the ceremony that we documented is one of its more complex forms. It started in the morning with a mass and procession to the local church, where the Mestre and his entourage place and carry the statue of the patron saint ('Our lady of Fatima') from church through streets.




















In the afternoon the procession brings the image back to a courtyard where the ceremony will take place. The music and most of the ritual takes place during the night and attendants are possessed by the spirits. Through this possession, the spirit can enjoy worldly pleasures and as a result will contribute to the well being of those who are in pain.Djambi, a traditional dance and musical ceremony and ritual from São Tomé and Príncipe.


The music often features repetitive, hypnotic rhythms created by traditional instruments like drums and other rhythmic elements. Herbs and palm wine all contribute and lead to the state of possession.


Djambi participants perform an intricate and repetitive step on often dusty ground. It is often practiced in groups and within a community setting. During the ceremony, several men and women walk around spit-spraying palm wine into the crowds. The combination of synchronised movements, rhythmic music and induced substances can lead to a trance-like experience. The whole ceremony can last up to 10 hours.

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