At the turn of every year, millions of Brazilians literally pin their hopes on miniature boats that they launch into the ocean.
Loaded with flowers, soaps and bric-a-brac, the white and blue vessels are an offering to the goddess Iemanja, the queen of the sea, who receives their wish lists.
The tougher the times, the more boats that vanish into the waves in the first minutes of the new year.
While holiday sales this year were generally in a slump because of falling incomes and high unemployment, vendors of objects used in Afro-Brazilian cults say sales are booming. Cults such as Candomble and Umbanda worship deities called Orixas, including Iemanja, who have spiritual dominion over elements of nature such as fire and water.
"Out there in the street you can see how activity fell, but here sales are going up," said Rogerio de Brito Ruas, a 33-year-old salesman in a shop called The Kingdom of Exu.
At the entrance stands a statue of Exu, the trickster deity who acts as a messenger between humans and Orixas and is often mistaken for Satan by the uninitiated because of his goatee beard, pointy ears and sly grin.
Loyal customer Edson Pedrosa, 45, added: "Every time people go through a crisis, they tend to seek a religion to be able to sail through the storm ... and the tradition of offerings to Iemanja is beautiful and tempting."
Rio de Janeiro, famous for its beautiful sandy beaches, hosts what city authorities say is the world's biggest party on New Year's Eve. Millions of people, including Iemanja worshippers, take to the beaches.
And it is in Rio that Iemanja commerce has really taken off.
MAGIC SHOPPING MALL
Ruas's shop is one of dozens inside a giant shopping mall in Rio stuffed with cult items.
The size of the "big market of Madureira," as the mall is known, and the many small shops scattered around Rio and other Brazilian cities like Salvador in Bahia state show there is demand for religious and magical items.
The price of the most expensive "offering" kits rarely exceeds US$10 to US$12, including top-of-the-range 1.5m-long boats. The most popular items, such as tiny mirrors, combs or soap for Iemanja to stay beautiful, go for less than US$1, so even the poorest can make a wish.
Giant wooden statues of Orixas cram galleries.
Sequined cloaks and gowns hang in the shop windows along with beautiful headdresses, shiny tin helmets and drums of all sizes. Worshippers can buy those as offerings to the deities or as gifts for the priests.
Chickens, geese, goats and lambs can be bought for sacrifice. "Sacrifice is part of the religion, but how is it different from the meat consumed daily around the world?" said Pedrosa. "We only leave small sacred bits for the religious needs, the rest gets cooked and eaten in the normal way."
BROUGHT BY SLAVES
Although Brazil is the world's biggest Roman Catholic country with more than 70 percent of the 175 million population describing themselves as Catholics, the Afro-Brazilian cults have millions of followers, including many devoted Catholics.
Candomble has its roots in the African religious traditions brought to Brazil by millions of slaves under Portuguese rule.
In Brazil, the religion mutated, influenced by Christianity and by religious and medicinal practices of indigenous Indians.
Barred from practicing their religion, slaves brought the images of many Christian saints into the cult, which has one supreme god, Olorum, and is generally considered monotheistic despite having other powerful deities.
Thus, Jesus Christ is often associated with Oxala -- the most respected of all Orixas, while Iemanja and Virgin Mary are often identified as the same.
Candomble worships its Orixas as forces of nature that produce energy, or force, known as Axe.
Priests cast shells to decide which Orixa will guide a new follower through life.
In Umbanda, archetypal spirits, including people who once lived, are in high esteem and priests consult them while in a trance, achieved by dancing to rhythmic music. Orixas are also worshipped, but are not invoked as in Candomble.
"Magic and miracles are also part of our cult," said Jose, a diminutive 58-year-old priest dressed in shorts and a soccer T-shirt.
"But they are miracles that normally come from within the person. As for the magic, it is only white. There is no evil here."
African-American entertainer Dooley appeared on local television show Super Entourage (小明星大跟班) a few weeks ago and was told by the crew that they wanted to do a skit in blackface. Dooley, whose real name is Matthew Candler, tells the Taipei Times that Super Entourage wanted to perform a rendition of the wildly popular “Ghana Coffin Dance,” a meme that has taken the world by storm. Instead, he showed them videos about the racist origins of blackface and slavery in America, and they agreed to drop the makeup. “[I told them] about the history [behind blackface] and [said] you decide
With listicles of local attractions including Costco and numerous children’s playgrounds, I was not expecting much. Opened on Jan. 31, the Taipei MRT’s Circular Line, or Yellow Line, made life in the nation’s capital even more convenient. But judging from Internet search results, it hasn’t opened up many new tourism opportunities, unsurprising as the route mostly crosses densely populated areas and industrial parks. Places like a sports stadium with rainbow colored bleachers perfect for Instagram selfies wouldn’t do it for me either, and it’s pointless to list attractions at the connecting stops that have existed for years. As a history nerd, there
The morning after the ride, my hands ached in a way I’d never before experienced, and my palms looked slightly bruised. Flexing my fingers as I waited for my coffee to cool down, I knew exactly which part of the previous day’s excursion had done this to me. As the go-to-work rush hour ebbed, I’d set off inland on my 125cc scooter. I took Provincial Highway 20 as far as Tainan City’s Yujing District (玉井). From there, I took Provincial Highway 3 into Nansi District (楠西). The route I’d planned would take me past the eastern side of Zengwen Reservoir (曾文水庫)
The recent death of Hana Kimura, a bubbly, pink-haired 22-year-old wrestler and reality TV show star, has spotlighted a rise in cyberbullying in Japan and prompted swift official pledges to do more to protect victims. Kimura, a cast member on the popular program Terrace House, was found dead at her home on May 23 from an apparent suicide after being deluged with negative comments on her social media feeds. Acutely aware of the public debate spurred by her death, Japan’s ruling party is holding hearings from this week to consider legal changes that will help cyberbullying victims seek justice. “People must understand where