Candomblé – Afro-Brazilian Religion

Candomblé is an African-originated or Afro-Brazilian religion, practiced chiefly in Brazil. The religion originated in the city of Salvador, the capital of Bahia. Although Candomblé is practiced primarily within Brazil, it is also practiced in neighboring countries and is becoming more popular worldwide. The rituals involve the possession of participants by Orishas, animal sacrifices, healing, dancing and drumming. Candomblé draws inspiration from the African Diaspora, but it mainly features aspects of the religion of the Yoruba Orisha religion. Orishas are religious deities that are said to represent human characteristics such as bravery, love and honor.

The Yoruba Orisha religion is said to be animistic, or mysterious. The highest deity, Olodumare, the Creator, is considered to be an unknowable, distant God. It is only his children that deal in the lives of humans. The Orishas, Orixás in Portuguese, are said to “mount”, or possess the participant during the rituals. The religion came to Brazil from the region of Yorubaland in Africa. Today this is in the area of the countries of Nigeria, Benin and Togo. This was not a single group, but several, united by a common language and some common aspects of culture. The religion was brought over during the Atlantic slave trade by African priests and adherents who were dedicated to the worship of the Yoruba Orishas. Those people were brought as slaves between 1549 and 1850.

The slaves united themselves under the Nago name when they arrived. After the arrival of the Yoruba Orishas in Brazil, there was some association with the Catholic Saints and many of the Orixás are now referenced with their Catholic Saints. This religion, like many African religions, is an oral tradition and therefore has not been put into text throughout the years. Only recently have scholars and people of this religion began to write down their practices. The name Batuque is also used, especially before the 19th century when Candomblé became more common. Both words are believed to derive from a Bantu-family language, mainly that of Kongo Kingdom.

Although originally confined to the slave population, banned by the Catholic church, and even criminalized by some governments, Candomblé thrived for over four centuries, and expanded considerably after the end of slavery in the late 1800s. The idea that the Candomblé church is a unit is incorrect, however. The original Candomble temple, terreiro, was established in early 19th century Bahia. It developed from three freed African women, Iya Deta, Iya Kala, and Iya Nasso, and many call it a true matrilineal society. They first established the Candomble headquarters in Bahia called Engenho Velho. However, this was not meant to last, and after dispute after dispute candombles split from one another; therefore, this established hundreds of different candombles. These different candombles mixed ideas and practices with local Afro-Brazilians and created distinct attributes for certain candombles. The different candombles, today, are known as nacoes, or nations, including Candomble de Ketu, Candomble de Angola, Candomble de Jeje, Candomble de Congo, Candomble de Ijexa, and Candomble de Caboclo. It is now a major, established religion, with followers from all social classes and tens of thousands of temples. In recent surveys, about 2 million Brazilians (1.5% of the total population) have declared Candomblé as their religion. However, in Brazilian culture, religions are not seen as mutually exclusive, and thus many people of other faiths participate in Candomblé rituals regularly or occasionally. Candomblé deities, rituals, and holidays are now an integral part of Brazilian folklore.

Candomblé may be called Macumba in some regions, notably Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, although Macumba has a distinct set of practices more akin to European witchcraft. Candomblé can also be distinguished from Umbanda, a religion founded in the early 20th century by combining African elements with Kardecism; and from similar African-derived religions such as Quimbanda, Haitian Voodoo, CubanSantería, and Obeah, which developed independently of Candomblé and are virtually unknown in Brazil.

Separate Video in Portuguese

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4 thoughts on “Candomblé – Afro-Brazilian Religion

  1. hi, nice text; just one correction: there are 2 kinds of quimbanda, one in the northest region of Brazil (mainly Maranhao), which is related to jeje roots (they do not worship orishas, but a different kind of spiritual guides called “vodunces”). the other is related to umbanda, and a “form” of exu cults which has intersections with some witchcraft practices. basically, the ketu root of candomblé has become hegemonic in Brazil due to some historical/political issues, but those practices still exist here! :) great reading, i am a member of ketu candomblé in the São Paulo area, congratulations on the text and especially on the sensitive approach to the subject

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