Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Miracle Ribbons

Senhor do Bonfim wrist ribbons, known as fitas, are an institution in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. Senhor do Bonfim means Our Lord of a Good End, which is one way that Bahianas refer to Jesus.

The ribbons found on the streets of Salvador have "Lembrança do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia" printed on them. Translated from Portuguese, the phrase roughly means In Remembrance of the Savior of Bahia or Souvenir from the God of Bahia—or something along those lines.

Salvador Fita Origins

An enormous number of fitas are distributed in the historic Pelourinho district of this city, where African slaves were once sold at auction. Countless more are sold at fairs and bazaars throughout the country. But the celebrated souvenir bears little resemblance to the original. Created in 1809, fitas had all but disappeared by the middle of the century. Now they've reemerged, albeit in a different guise.

The original fita was known as "the measure of Bonfim", a name it acquired because, at 47 centimeters, its size corresponded to the length of the right arm on a statue of Christ on the high-alter of Bahia's most famous church (Senhor do Bonfim).

19th-Century fitas were fashioned from a piece of silk and finished with permanent ink or silver. Their design included the name of a saint in lettering that was embroidered by hand. These first fitas were worn on the neck as a collar, upon which were hung medallions and holy images.

In contrast to the modern day fita the "measure" was used as much to reflect change as to (hopefully) facilitate it. The faithful adorned them with small images and/or little wax sculptures of body parts believed to have been cured with the help of a saint. These opportunities to be remembered were purchases that supported, as well as symbolized, the Catholic Church.

The common fita of today is not made of silk, comes in many colors and is tied around the (left usually) wrist rather than around the neck. Its primary function is to petition for future miracles—large or small—rather than to remind anyone of previous such interventions.

The modern-day fita is also worn to promote Brazilian pride and/or simply as a souvenir. It can be made of nylon, as is the case with fitas produced in São Paulo, or of cotton, as with fitas made in Salvador by a cooperative of artisans.

It isn't known exactly when the transition from original to present-day traditions began, but the wrist fita has been sold in the streets for decades. The transition may have begun when fitas were adopted by hippies as a part of a cultural uniform that included sandals and leather tote bags.

Wishing Protocol

Multiple chances for a miracle, or chances for multiple miracles, are obtained as the wearer makes a wish each time one of three knots are tied to secure the fita around the wrist.

No wish will be granted unless the cloth is permitted to wear until it disintegrates naturally, and falls from the wrist of its accord. If you remove or cut the ribbon yourself the wishes will not—never?—come true and invites bad luck and misfortune upon you.

If you plan to stay the course and leave the ribbon on, it's a serious commitment. The typical fita is rumored to fall off after a handful of months, but ribbons can stay intact for anywhere from six months to two years after they were tied!