Candomblé (Portuguese pronunciation: [kɐ̃dõˈblɛ]) is an African diasporic religion that developed in Brazil during the 19th century. It arose through a process of syncretism between the traditional religions of West Africa and the Roman Catholic form of Christianity. There is no central authority in control of Candomblé, which is organised through autonomous groups.
Candomblé involves the veneration of spirits known as orixás. Deriving their names and attributes from traditional West African gods, they are equated with Roman Catholic saints. Various myths are told about these orixás, which are regarded as subservient to a transcendent creator deity, Oludumaré. Each individual is believed to have a tutelary orixá who has been connected to them since before birth and who informs their personality. An initiatory tradition, Candomblé's members usually meet in temples known as terreiros run by priests called babalorixás and priestesses called ialorixás. A central ritual involves practitioners drumming, singing, and dancing to encourage an orixá to possess one of their members. They believe that through this possessed individual, they can communicate directly with a deity. Offerings to the orixás include fruit and sacrificed animals. Offerings are also given to a range of lesser spirits, including the exus, caboclos, and the spirits of the dead. Several forms of divination are utilized to decipher messages from the orixás. Healing rituals and the preparation of herbal remedies, amulets, and charms, also play a prominent role.
Candomblé developed among Afro-Brazilian communities amid the Atlantic slave trade of the 16th to 19th centuries. It arose through the blending of the traditional religions brought to Brazil by enslaved West and Central Africans, the majority of them Yoruba, Fon, and Bantu, and the Roman Catholic teachings of the Portuguese colonialists who then controlled the area. It primarily coalesced in the Bahia region during the 19th century. Following Brazil's independence from Portugal, the constitution of 1891 enshrined freedom of religion in the country, although Candomblé remained marginalized by the Roman Catholic establishment, which typically associated it with criminality. In the 20th century, growing emigration spread Candomblé both throughout Brazil and abroad. The late 20th century saw growing links between Candomblé and related traditions in West Africa and the Americas, such as Cuban Santería and Haitian Vodou. Since the late 20th century, some practitioners have emphasized a re-Africanization process to remove Roman Catholic influences and create forms of Candomblé closer to traditional West African religion.
Each terreiro is autonomous although can be divided into distinct denominations, known as nations, based on which traditional West African belief system has been its primary influence. The most prominent nations are the Ketu, Jeje, and Angola. There are nearly 170,000 practitioners in Brazil, although smaller communities exist elsewhere, especially other parts of South America. Both in Brazil and abroad Candomblé has spread beyond its Afro-Brazilian origins and is practiced by individuals of various ethnicities. Membership is disproportionately poor and female; among its male practitioners, a high proportion are homosexual.
Definition and terminology
Candomblé is a religion. More specifically, it has been described as an "African American religion", an Afro-Brazilian religion, and "one of the major religious expressions of the African Diaspora". The anthropologist Paul Christopher Johnson stated that, "at its most basic level", Candomblé can be defined as "the practice of exchange with orixás"; the scholar Joana Bahia called it "the religion of the orishas." Johnson also defined it as "a Brazilian redaction of West African religions recreated in the radically new context of a nineteenth-century Catholic slave colony." The term Candomblé probably derived from a kandombele, a Bantu-derived term for dances, which also developed into the term Candombe, used to describe a dance style among African-descended communities in Argentina and Uruguay.
Various religions in the Americas arose through the blending of West African traditions with Roman Catholicism; due to their shared origins, Cuban Santería and Haitian Vodou have been described as "sister religions" of Candomblé. Candomblé is not the only Afro-Brazilian religion, being closely related to another that also arose in the 19th century and involves the worship of the orixás, Umbanda. Umbanda is usually more open and public than Candomblé; while the latter employs songs in African languages, Umbanda's religious songs are sung in Portuguese. As a result, Candomblé is often regarded as being more African than Umbanda. Some practitioners engage in both practices; a temple that practices both refers to it as "Umbandomblé." Another Afro-Brazilian religion is Quimbanda, and is associated primarily with Rio de Janeiro, while the term Macumba has been used primarily to describe Afro-Brazilian traditions dealing with lower spirits, the exus. Candomblé has also been influenced by Spiritism, although many Spiritists are keen to distinguish their tradition from Afro-Brazilian religions.
Candomblé is not institutionalised, with there being no central authority in the religion to determine doctrine and orthodoxy. It is heterogenous, and has no central sacred text or dogma. There is regional variation in the beliefs and practices of Candomblé. Each lineage or community of practitioners is autonomous. Some practitioners also refer to it as a form of science.
More adherents of Candomblé are also practicing Roman Catholics, and some priests and priestesses would not initiate anyone into Candomblé who was not already a baptised Roman Catholic. Syncretism can be observed in other ways. The anthropologist Jim Wafer observed a Brazilian practitioner who included a statue of the Mahayana Buddhist deity Hotei on their altar, while Arnaud Halloy encountered a Belgian terreiro whose head was drawing on characters from Welsh and Slavic mythologies in their practice, and the scholar Joana Bahia found practitioners in Germany who also practiced Buddhism and various New Age practices.
Knowledge about Candomblé is referred to as the fundamentos (foundations"). There are three main nations: Ketu (Queto) or Nagô, Jeje (Gege) or Mina-Jeje, and Angola or Congo-Angola. These are defined largely by which African language influences their terminology; the former uses Yoruba, the second Ewe, and the third the Bantu language group. As of 2012, the Nagô nation has been described as the largest; its name derives from ànàgó, a derogatory term used by the Dahomey people to refer to Yoruba-speaking people, specifically of Oyo heritage, many of whom were sold as slaves to Brazil. The Angola nation is sometimes characterised as being the most syncretic. Yoruba terminology predominates widely, even across terreiros of other nations.
In Candomblé, the supreme deity is called Olorun or Olodumare. Candomblé focuses on the worship of the orixás or orishas, also known as santos ("saints"). The males are termed aborôs, the females iabás. Practitioners varyingly define these orixás as "African spirits," "energies", or "forces of nature", and they are often conceived as being ancestral figures. The orixás are believed to mediate between humanity and Olorun. The orixás are understood as being morally ambiguous, each with their own virtues and flaws; they are sometimes in conflict with other orixás. In Candomblé, the relationship between the orixás and humanity is seen as being one of interdependence, with practitioners seeking to build harmonious relationships with these deities, thus securing their protection. Each orixá is associated with specific colours, foods, animals, and minerals. Each day of the week is associated with a different orixá; the priesthood also states that each year is governed by a specific orixá who will influence the events taking place within it.
Oxalá is the chief orixá, depicted as a frail old man who walks with a pachorô sceptre as a walking stick. Practitioners commonly believe that Olorun tasked him with creating humanity. In some accounts, all of the junior orixás are the children of Oxalá and one of his two wives, Nanã and Iemanjá. This trio are associated with water; Oxalá with fresh water, Nanã with the rain, and Iemanjá with the sea. Other accounts present this cosmogony differently, for instance by claiming that Oxalá fathered all other orixás alone, having created the world from a mingau pudding. An alternative claim among practitioners is that Nanã is the grandmother of Oxalá and the mother of Iemanjá, the latter becoming both mother and wife to Oxalá.
Xangô is the orixá associated with thunder and lightning; one of his wives is Obá, a warrior who has only one ear. Ogum is the orixá of battle and of iron, often depicted with a machete; her companion is Oxóssi, the male orixá of the hunt and forest. Obaluaiê or Omolu is the orixá associated with disease and curing, while Osanyin is associated with leaves, herbs, and herbal knowledge. Oya is the orixá of wind and storms. Oxumaré is regarded as both male and female and is portrayed as a serpent or a rainbow. Oxum is the orixá of love, beauty, wealth and luxury, and is associated with fresh water, fish, mermaids, and butterflies. She is married to Ifa, regarded as the orixá of divination. Tempo is the orixá of time; originating in the Angola nation, he is associated with trees. Due to the link with trees, he is sometimes equated with the Ketu-Nagô orixá Loko. The orixá Exú is regarded as a trickster; he is usually honoured and fed first in any ritual. Exú guards entrances, and his ritual paraphernalia is often kept separate from that of other orixás.
Each of the orixás are equated with a Roman Catholic saint. From the later twentieth century, some practitioners have attempted to distance the orixás from the saints as a means of re-emphasising the religion's West African origins. In Candomblé altars, the orixás are often represented with images and statues of Roman Catholic saints. For instance, Oxalá has been conflated with Our Lord of Bonfim, Oxum with Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, and Ogum with St Anthony of Padua. Due to his association with time, Tempo is sometimes equated with the Christian idea of the Holy Spirit.
The orixás are regarded as having different aspects, known as marcas ("types" or "qualities"), each of which may have an individual name. Child forms of the orixás are termed erês. They are deemed the most uncontrollable spirits of all, associated with obscenities and pranks. The child forms of orixás have specific names; the erê of Oxalá is for instance called Ebozingo ("Little Ebô") and Pombinho ("Little Dove"). The material image of an orixá is called an igbá.
Candomblé teaches that every individual has a particular orixá whom they are connected to. It is taught that the natue of this orixá can be ascertained through divination. This orixá is described as being dono da cabeça: the "master or mistress of the person's head," or the "owner of the head." It is believed that they have an influence on the person's personality and social interactions. Failing to identify one's orixá is sometimes interpreted as the cause of various types of mental illness by practitioners. Depending on the orixá in question, an initiate may choose to avoid or to engage in certain activities, such as not eating specific foods or wear specific colours. Some practitioners also believe that there are other orixá who could be linked to an individual; a second is known as the juntó, while a third is called the adjuntó, the tojuntó, or the dijuntó. Some believe that an individual can also have a fourth orixá, inherited from a deceased relative.
Exus, caboclos, and erês
Candomblé also teaches the existence of spirits other than the orixás. One of these spirit groups are the exus, sometimes termed exuas when female, or exu-mirims when children. These are regarded as being closer to humanity than the orixás and thus more accessible to practitioners. In ritual contexts, the exus are often regarded as the "slaves" of the orixás. In common parlance in Brazil they are often described as "devils", but in Candomblé are not regarded as a force for absolute evil but rather believed to be capable of both good and bad acts. Practitioners believe that the exus can "open" or "close" the "roads" of fate in one's life, bringing about both help and harm. Candomblé teaches that the exus can be induced to do a practitioner's bidding, although need to be carefully controlled.
Also present in Candomblé are the caboclos, the name of which probably derives from the Tupi language term kari'boka ("deriving from the white"). These spirits come in two main forms: those who are boiadeiros ("cowboys" or "backwoodsmen") and those who are indigenous peoples of the Americas. In rarer cases, caboclos are linked to other contexts, portrayed as being from the sea or from foreign countries such as Italy or Japan. Almost exclusively portrayed as being male, the caboclos are believed to dwell in a forest land called Aruanda, which is also inhabited by flying snake-like reptiles called cainanas. The caboclos favor beer, whereas the exus prefer wine and hard liquor, especially cachaça; the caboclos are also characterised as smoking cigars. Those practitioners who have tried to "re-Africanize" Candomblé since the late 20th century have tended to reject the caboclos as being of non-African derivation.
Birth and the dead
The otherworld is termed orun; the world of humanity is called aiye. Death is personified in the figure of Iku. A person's inner head, in which their tutelary orixá is believed to reside, is called the ori.
The spirits of the dead are called egums or eguns. Those who are only recently deceased are termed aparacá, while after they have been "educated" by receiving sacrifices they become babá. Precautions need to be taken regarding these entities, for they have the power to harm the living. Sometimes they will seek to help a living individual but inadvertently harm them. The contra-egum is an armband made of plaited raffia which is sometimes worn to ward off these dead spirits. Possession by egums is considered rare, but does happen.
Candomblé teaches the existence of a force called ashe or axé. Walker described axé as "the spiritual force of the universe", Bahia called it "sacred force," and Wafer as "vital force". Johnson characterised it as "a creative spiritual force with real material effects." Practitioners believe axé can move around, and thus can be transmitted, with a human having either a growing or diminishing supply. Practitioners believe that they can attract and share axé during ritual acts. Blood contains axé in its most concentrated form.
Morality, ethics, and gender roles
The teachings of Candomblé influence the daily life of its practitioners. Problems that arise in a person's life are often interpreted as resulting from a disharmony in an individual's relationship with their orixá.
Male/female polarity is a recurring theme throughout Candomblé. Many roles within Candomblé are linked to members of a specific gender. For instance, both animal sacrifice and the shaving of an initiate's head are usually reserved for male practitioners, while female practitioners are typically responsible for domestic duties in maintaining the ritual space. Such divisions mirror broader gender norms in Brazilian society. Taboos are also placed on women while menstruating. However, women can still wield significant power as the heads of the terreiros, and some have called it a female-dominated religion because of the large number of women within it.
There is evidence that Candomblé is more accepting of sexual and gender non-conformity than mainstream Brazilian society. Although many prominent male priests in the religion have been heterosexual, there is also a pervasive stereotype that the majority of Candomblé's male practitioners are homosexual. Male homosexuals have described the religion as offering a more welcoming environment for them than forms of Christianity practiced in Brazil. They for instance have cited stories of relationships between male orixás, such as Oxôssi and Ossain, as affirming male same-sex attraction.
Johnson noted that Candomblé was a "ritual-centric" religion, whose practitioners often regard it as a religion "of right practice instead of right doctrine", in that performing its rituals correctly is deemed more important that believing in the orixás. Johnson noted that Candomblé devoted "little attention" to "abstract theologizing". Rituals are often focused on pragmatic needs regarding issues such as prosperity, health, love, and fecundity; they often begin long after the advertised starting time. Those engaging in Candomblé include various initiates of varying degrees and non-initiates who may attend events and approach initiates seeking help with various problems. Johnson characterised Candomblé as a secret society, as it makes use of secrecy.
Houses of Worship
Buildings in which Candomblé is practiced are called terreiros ("houses"), ilês, or ilê orixás. These range in size from small houses to large compounds, and consist of a series of rooms, some of which are considered off-limits to non-initiates. They contain an altar to the deities, a space to perform ceremonies, and accommodation for the priests or priestesses. The floor is deemed sacred, consecrated to the tutelary orixá of the house. The bakisse is the "room of the saints", a storeroom containing both ritual paraphernalia and the assentamentos of the orixás, while the roncó ("retreat room") or camarinha is used during initiations. One room, the barracão ("big shed"), is where public rituals, including acts of divination, take place; those which lack such a room may use a yard for public rituals. The terreiro will often have a cumeeira, central pole in the structure believed to link our world with the otherworld of the orixá. This stands above the entoto ("foundation") of the terreiro, a space which is periodically "fed" with offerings. The terreiro's enclosure may have a tree dedicated to Tempo, onto which strips of white cloth have been affixed, as well as a place set aside for the souls of the dead, termed the balé, which is usually at the back of the terreiro grounds. Each terreiro is distinct and operates autonomously, often disbanding when their chief priest or priestess dies. Most venerate between twelve and twenty orixás.
In Candomblé, a male priest is known as a babalorixá, a female priestess as iyalorixá, or alternatively as a makota or nêngua. The choice of term used can indicate which nation of orixá a person worships. A priestess running a terreiro is a mâe de santo (mother of saints), a priest who does so is a pai de santo (father of saints). These "parents of saints" are often known for seeking to exert considerable control over their initiates, who are expected to submit to their authority. A priest or priestess is in charge of the terreiro and is not constrained by external religious authorities. The prominent place of priestesses within Candomblé has led some observers to describe it as a matriarchal religion, although such a characterisation has been disputed. The priest and priestess is assisted by others, including the iyakekerê ("little mother"), or the "little father". Other roles in the terreiro include the iyabase, who prepares food for the orixás, and the alabê (musical director). The membership of a terreiro is conceived as a "family" and its initiates consider each one another to be 'brothers' and 'sisters' in the orixá (irmãos de santo). Sexual or romantic relations between members of the terreiro is usually forbidden, although happen nevertheless. Being initiated connects an individual to the historical lineage of the terreiro; this lineage is linked to the axé of the terreiro, an axé that can be transferred from a mother-terreiro to a new one being established.
The community of a terreiro is called an egbé. There can be enmity between terreiros, for they compete with one another for members, and defection of individuals from one to another being common. Public ceremonies take place at the terreiros where both initiates and non-initiates can attend to celebrate the orixás. At these, food is offered to specific orichas while the rest is shared among participants, with the latter thereby gaining some of the ache of the orichas. These public rites are both preceded and succeeded by a range of private ritual acts. Most of the rituals that take place at the terreiros are private and open only to initiates. Walker believed that it was these that represented "the real core of the religious life of the Candomblé community."
African-derived terms are used in ritual contexts, although do not exceed one thousand words. In general, words Yoruba origin predominate in the Nagô-Ketu nations, those from Ewe-Fon languages are most common in Jeje nations, and words from the Bantu languages dominate the Angola nation. Yoruba is used as a ritual language, although few practitioners understand the meanings of these Yoruba words. There are no specific sacred texts. Ritual objects are regarded as loci and accumulators of ashe, although this supply needs replenishing at various intervals. Each terreiro is also regarded as having its own ashe, which is strengthened by the number of initiates it has and the number of rituals it carries out.
Priests and priestesses are regarded as intermediaries between the orixás and humanity. Becoming initiated implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between the new initiate and the orixás. Some evidence suggests that the proportion of female priestesses grew over the course of the 20th century.
The orixá are "seated" within objects in the terreiro. These are then stored, either all together in one room or, if space permits, in separate rooms. Women initiates who do not enter trance but assist those who do are called ekedi; their male counterparts are termed ogan. A prostration before the priest or priestess, or before someone possessed by an orixá, is termed a dobalé; prostrating before one's mother or father of the saint is called iká.
Shrines and otás
An altar to the orixás is called a peji. It contains an assemblage of objects termed the assentamento ("seat") of the orixá. This usually consists of various items placed within an enamel or earthenware basin. The key part of the assentamento is a sacred stone known as an otá. This otá possesses axé, and thus requires feeding. These are kept in ceramic jars alongside ferramentos, or metal objects associated with specific orixá, statues of the associated Roman Catholic saints, and a mix of water, honey, and herbal preparations. They may also include hair from the initiate to whom they belong. The assentamento can be stored in the home, or inside the terreiro's bakisse room. There, the assentamentos of the initiates may be arranged on a multi-level altar, which is decorated with ribbons, colored lights, and flowers.
Ritual objects are sanctified with a herbal infusion called amaci. Practitioners believe that in giving blood to their ritual paraphernalia it renews the axé of these objects. In Brazil, various stores specialise in paraphernalia required in Camdomblé.
Offerings and animal sacrifice
Offerings are known as ebós, and are believed to generate axé which then gives the orixá the power to aid their worshippers. Material offered to the orixás or lesser spirits in these ebós include food, drink, fowl, and money; when animal sacrifice is not involved, a food offering is termed a comida seca. When a ceremony starts, practitioners typically provide a padé, or propitiatory offering, to the orixá Exu. Food is offered to the orixá, often being placed at an appropriate location in the landscape; offerings to Oxum are for instance often placed by a freshwater stream. Specific foodstuffs are associated with specific orixá; a mix of okra with rice or manioc meal, known as amalá, is considered a favourite of Xangô, Obá, and Iansã. When placed in the terreiro, food is typically left in place for between one and three days, sufficient time for the orixá to consume the essence of the food. The ritual payment of money, often accompanying the sacrifices, is termed dinheiro do chão ("money for the floor"). As part of this, money is placed onto the floor and often splattered with blood, before being divided among the participants of the rite.
Candomblé entails the sacrifice of animals to orixás, exus, caboclos, and eguns. The individual who conducts the sacrifice is known as an axogun or axogum. The animal will often have its neck cut with a knife, or in the case of birds, its head severed. After the animal is killed, its blood is spilled onto the altar; its organs are then often removed and placed around the "seat" of the orixá. Following the sacrifice, is it common for divination to be performed to determine if the sacrifice has been accepted by the spirits. Other body parts will then be consumed by the participants of the rite; the exception is if the sacrifice was for eguns, which is instead left to rot or placed in a river. Some of the food may then be taken away, to be left in the forest, thrown into a body of water, or placed at a crossroads; this is referred to as "suspending a sacrifice". Bird sacrifices are sometimes performed not as an offering, but as part of a ritual cleansing; the bird will sometimes be wiped over the human requiring cleansing; it will then have its legs, wings, and finally its neck broken. In these cases, the bird is not then eaten. Outside Brazil, practitioners have faced challenges in performing animal sacrifice; in Germany, for instance, it is banned by law.
Practicing Candomblé requires initiation, and the religion is structured around a hierarchical system of initiations. To be initiated is referred to as feito, while the process of initiation is termed fazer cabeça ("to make the head"). Initiates in Candomblé are known as filhos de santo ("children of the saints"). At their initiation, they are given a new name, the nome de santo (saint's name), which usually indicates the identity of their tutelary orixá. Many individuals arrive at Candomblé through problems in their lives, such as sickness. A priest or priestess will use divination to determine the cause of the problem and its remedy, sometimes revealing that initiation into the religion will fix the issue. If a group of individuals are being initiated together, they are termed a barco ("boat").
The length of the initiatory process varies between Candomblé houses but usually lasts from a few weeks to a few months. The initiate is first brought to the terreiro, where they are left for a period of relaxation, the descanso, so that they might become 'cool', as opposed to 'hot'. They will be dressed in white clothing; a small bell may be attached to them to alert others if they leave the terreiro. One of the first acts during the initiatory process is to give the initiate a string of beads associated with their orixá. The necklace is colored according to the tutelary orixá of the initiate; white for Oxalá, dark blue for Ogum, or red and white for Xangô, for instance. These beads will be washed and sprinkled with the blood of a sacrificed animal. These beads are sometimes perceived as protecting the wearer from harm.
The initiate is then secluded in a room in the terreiro called the roncô, during which time they are termed an îao. In the roncô, they sleep on a straw mat, eating only bland food; often they will not be permitted to speak. During this period they are taught the various details of their associated orixá, such as its likes and dislikes and the appropriate drum rhythms and dances that invoke that deity. The time spent in isolation varies, although three weeks is typical. They will be bathed in water mixed with herbs, especially their head, which will then be shaved.
The initiate is then taken into a neighbouring room, where altars have been set up. A drummer plays while pre-existing initiates sing praise songs. Animals are sacrificed, including from a four-legged animal, and some of the blood may be touched on parts of the initiate's body. The initiate's head is then shaved and two cuts made into the apex of it with a razor; a mix of animal blood and herbs may be added to the incisions. This is done to allow the orixá entry into the head. A cone of wax, the adoxu, is then placed on the wound to stem the bleeding; the head will then be wrapped in cloth. Depending on the terreiro, cuts may also be made on the tip of the initiate's tongue, on their back, upper arms, thighs, buttocks, and the soles of their feet. With the incisions made, the orixá is "seated" within the individual's head during the assentar o santo ritual.
Following the initiation, the new initiate may be presented to the rest of the community through a public "coming-out" ceremony, the saida. Along with their white clothes, their body will be covered in white spots. During this, they may be expected to give the name of the marca of their tutelary orixá, which they are supposed to have discovered via a dream. In the panán, the initiate is symbolically re-taught mundane tasks, a ritual sometimes followed by an auction in which the initiate is symbolically sold to their spouse or a member of their family, a reference to the era of slavery. On the following Friday, they are expected to attend mass in a Roman Catholic church, known as the romaria. Finally, a senior member of the terreiro will lead the initiate, still wearing white, back to their home. Over the course of the following year, the initiate may conduct further "obligations" to build their relationship with the orixá.
Candomblé includes a number of additional, graded initiations, which are expected to take place one year, three years, and then seven years after the original initiatory ceremony. Over the course of this they are expected to learn to receive all of their tutelary orixa. Those who have performed seven years of initiatory rituals are called ebomi or ebame. At the end of the seven years, they "receive the decá" from their initiator, being given a tray of ritual objects; this enables them to go and form their own temple. In practice, many adherents cannot afford to pay for these ceremonies at the specified time and they instead take place many years after.
Music and dance is a fundamental element of Candomblé. The drumming will often take place all night. Participants are expected to wear white, with women wearing skirts. Three main types of drum are employed, the largest being the rum, the middle-sized being the rumpi, and the smallest being the lé. These drums are understood as living and need to be fed. The head drummer is known as the alabê. Many terreiros maintain that women should not be involved in this ritual drumming, although others reject this tradition. In some rituals, practitioners will drink a concoction containing jurema, a mildly hallucinogenic plant, which is sometimes mixed with the blood of sacrificed animals.
The state of vertigo signalling the onset of trance is known as barravento. As the trance begins, practitioners often experience a body spasm termed the arrepio ("shiver"). Practitioners believe that when an individual is possessed by a spirit, they have no control over the latter's actions. Within Candomblé, it is regarded as a privilege to be possessed by an orixá. A common Bahian way of referring to the possession is receber ("to receive"). As it entails being "mounted", being possessed is regarded as being a symbolically female role. For this reason, many heterosexual men refuse initiation into Candomblé; some believe that involvement in these rites can turn a man homosexual. Among practitioners, it is sometimes claimed that in the past men did not take part in the dances that lead to possession. Often, those believed possessed by an orixá will not eat, drink, or smoke, emphasising their aristocratic disposition, and that they will also rarely if ever speak. When they dance, it will often be stylized and controlled. Many terreiros prohibit photography of those undergoing a possession trance.
Practitioners may fully prostrate themselves before the possessed. Those possessed by an orixá may deliver predictions and prophecies. The style of speech adopted by the possessed will be influenced by the type of spirit believed to be possessing them. Those deemed to be possessed by caboclos will often smoke cigars, and sometimes place gunpowder into the palm of their hand, which they then light with their cigar to cause an explosion. A false trance is known as an equê. Those who do not go into a trance are known as ogâs if male, and equedes if female.
Although the precise nature of the liturgical calendar varies between terreiros, Candomblé features a yearly cycle of festivals or feasts to the orixás. These are sometimes private and sometimes open to the public. These are typically held on the Roman Catholic saint's day associated with the saint linked to a particular orixá. The main festival season begins in September, with the feast of Oxala, and continues through to February, when the feast of Yemanja takes place. During Yemanja's Day (2 February), practitioners commonly load boats full of offerings, which are then taken out onto the water and thrown overboard; this festival has become increasingly popular among the public in parts of Brazil. Festivals for the caboclos usually take place on 2 July, the day which marks Bahia's independence from Portugal.
Some terreiros hold public festivals for both the orixás and the caboclos, although some only hold them for one of these two categories of spirit. Public festivals for exus are rarer. The tone of the event differs depending on which spirit category is being honoured; those for the orixás have more of a fixed structure and a greater formality, while those for the caboclos are more spontaneous and have greater interaction between the spirits and the human participants. In the Nagô-Jeje nation, the Waters of Oxala ritual is performed at the start of the liturgical year; it involves bringing fresh water, sometimes from a well, to the terreiro to purify and replenish the assamentos.
The most common form of divination in Brazil is the jogo dos buzios ("shell game"), which is performed by both men and women. Both men and women are permitted to practice this. It entails throwing cowrie shells onto the floor and then interpreting answers from the sides onto which they have landed. It is common for 16 shells to be thrown, and then a further four to confirm the answer provided by the first throwing. Another common divinatory practice involves slicing an onion in two and dropping the pieces to the ground drawing conclusions from the face onto which they fall; alternatively a kola nut may be cut into quarters and read in the same way. Although rare in Brazil, Ifa is also practiced, although exclusively by men.
Individuals will often approach a priest or priestess seeking a remedy to a problem in their life, such as sickness. The priest or priestess will conduct a divinatory rite, the jogo de búzios, involving the throwing of shells to ascertain the cause and remedy. The remedy will often entail a herbal bath or giving an offering to a particular orixá or lesser spirit, although may necessitate initiation into the religion. The herbal baths involve an infusion known as abô.
One type of ceremony is known as the bori. This entails placing food on the individual's head to feed the orixá that is believed to partially reside within the cranium. This may be conducted to bolster the individual's health and well-being or to give them additional strength before an important undertaking. Another is the "cleansing of the body" rite, designed to remove an egum that is troubling an individual.
Funerals and the dead
Following a senior practitioner's death, their fellow terreiro members will conduct axexé, a series of rituals which transform the deceased into an ancestral spirit of the terreiro's own pantheon. This ensures that they do not become a potentially dangerous wandering spirit. A wide range of offerings, including sacrificed animals, are given both to the dead individual and to accompanying orixás and other spirits during the axexé. A Roman Catholic mass will also be performed.
Candomblé formed in the early part of the nineteenth century. Although African religions had been present in Brazil since the early 16th century, Johnson noted that Candomblé, as "an organized, structured liturgy and community of practice called Candomblé" only arose later.
Candomblé originated among enslaved Africans who were transplanted to Brazil during the Atlantic slave trade. In various African societies, accused criminals, those in debt, and prisoners of war were among those enslaved. The first African slaves to arrive in Brazil did so in the 1530s. Brazil received a larger number of enslaved Africans than any other part of the Americas; Bahia had the highest concentration of these enslaved Africans in Brazil. The precise number of Africans brought to Brazil is not known, although conservative estimates usually argue that the number was around four million. Between 1775 and 1850, the majority of the enslaved people brought to Brazil came from the Gulf of Benin, largely in what is now Benin and Nigeria. Many of those brought from this area were speakers of Yoruba languages. On being brought to Brazil, these slaves were divided into "nations", primarily on their port of embarkation rather than their original etho-cultural identities. This process meant that Africans of different cultural backgrounds, regions, and religions were thrown together under a unifying term such as "Nagô", the latter used for those exported from the Bight of Benin. This meant that the deities venerated in different regions in Africa were brought together as part of the same pantheon. Whereas in Africa, people had generally venerated deities associated with their specific region, these commitments were broken up by the process of enslavement and transportation. A 17th and 18th century ritual that incorporated drumming and spiritual possession, known as a Calundu, is believed to be an influence of Candomble's drumming works.
The Roman Catholic nature of Brazilian colonial society, which allowed for a cult of saints, may have permitted greater leeway for the survival of traditional African religions than were available in Protestant-dominant areas of the Americas. Many of the slaves learned to classify their orixás in relation to the Roman Catholic saints and the calendar of saints' days. There is no evidence that the slaves simply used the cult of saints to conceal orixá worship, but rather that devotees understood the two pantheons as comprising similar figures with similar abilities to fix certain problems. Some ecclesiastical figures in the Roman Catholic Church saw the syncretisation as a positive step in the process of converting the Africans to Christianity. Among slave owners, there was also a belief that allowing the slaves to continue their traditional religions would allow old enmities between different African communities to persevere, thus making it less likely the slaves would unify and turn against the slave-owners. It was also thought that allowing the slaves to take part in their traditional customs would expend energies that might otherwise be directed toward rebellion. However, as steps were taken to convert the African populations to Christianity in Brazil, many Africans had been converted before being brought to the Americas.
Although the Church succeeded in many cases, not all slaves converted. Many outwardly practiced Christianity but secretly prayed to their own God, gods, or ancestor spirits. In Brazil, adherents of Candomblé saw in the Catholic veneration of saints a similarity with their own religion. Bantu followers found a shared system of worship with Brazil's indigenous people, and through this connection they re-learned the ancestor worship that was part of their own traditional systems. They often concealed the sacred symbols of their deities inside figures of their Catholic saints. In segregated communities of the country, it was easy to create Catholic fraternities where slaves would meet with each other. These meetings, however, were an opportunity for Candomblé worship to be practiced and for feasts to be held on special religious days. They were also opportunities for the enslaved to gather and plan rebellions against their masters.
After enslaved Africans successfully led the Haitian Revolution, there were growing fears about similar slave revolts in Brazil. The 1820s and 1830s saw increased police repression of African-derived religions in Brazil. Laws introduced in 1822 allowed police to shut down batuques, or drumming ceremonies among the African population. It was during this period that the Engenho Velho ("Old Sugar Mill") terreiro was established; it was from this group that most Nagô terreiros descended. Various records indicated that Creoles and Whites were also sometimes taking part in the rites which the police were suppressing.
In 1822, Brazil declared itself independent of Portugal. Under British pressure, the Brazilian government passed the Quieróz law of 1850 which abolished the slave trade, although not slavery itself. In 1885 all slaves over the age of 60 were declared free and then in 1888 slavery was abolished entirely. Although now free, life for Brazil's former slaves rarely improved. A significant role in the creation of Candomblé were several African freemen who were affluent and sent their children to be educated in Lagos. One of the oldest terreiros was the Ilê Axé Iyá Nassô Oká in Salvador, established by Marcelina da Silva, a freed African woman; this was probably active by the 1830s.
Brazil's first republican constitution was produced in 1891; based on the constitutions of France and the United States, it enshrined freedom of religion. However, Afro-Brazilian religious traditions continued to face legal issues; the Penal Code of 1890 had included prohibitions on Spiritism, magic, talismans, and much herbal medicine, impacting Candomblé. The authorities continued to shut down terreiros, claiming they were a threat to public health. The late 19th century saw the first terreiros open in Rio de Janeiro, a city then seeing a rapid expansion in its population. The period also saw various upper-class white Brazilians seeking out Candomblé.
20th and 21st centuries
Candomblé became increasingly public in the 1930s, partly because Brazilians were increasingly encouraged to perceive themselves as part of a multi-racial, mixed society in the midst of President Getúlio Vargas' Estado Novo project. Vargas approved the presidential Law Decree 1202, which recognized the legitimacy of terreiros and allowed them to practice. The Penal Code of 1940 gave additional protections to some terreiros.
By 1940, Johnson argued, Candomblé in its contemporary form was discernible. The 1930s saw a proliferation of academic studies on Candomblé by scholars like Nina Rodriguez, Edison Carneiro, and Ruth Landes. The growing literature, both scholarly and popular, helped document Candomblé but also contributed to its greater standardisation. The religion spread to new areas of Brazil during the 20th century. In São Paulo, for instance, there were virtually no Candomblé terreiros until the 1960s, reflecting the very small Afro-Brazilian population there, although this grew rapidly, to the extent that there were around 2500 terreiros in the city in the late 1980s and over 4000 by the end of the 1990s. Some practitioners became increasingly well known; the priestess Mãe Menininha do Gantois was often seen as a symbol of Brazil. She had made efforts to improve the image of her terreiro, establishing an administrative directorate to facilitate public relations in 1926. During the 20th century, various organizations emerged to represent the terreiros, notably the Bahian Federation of the Afro-Brazilian Cults, the National Institute and Supreme Sacerdotal Organ of Afro-Brazilian Culture and Tradition, and the Confeence of the Tradition and Culture of the Orixás.
By the late 20th century, Candomblé was increasingly respectable within Brazil. This was partly fuelled by well-educated Afro-Brazilians embracing their previously stigmatised cultural heritage. By the early 21st century, tourist literature increasingly portrayed Candomblé as an intrinsic part of Brazilian culture. References to the religion's beliefs became more apparent in Brazilian society; Varig Airlines for instance used the tagline "Fly with Axé." In the closing decades of the 20th century, some practitioners sought to remove Roman Catholic-influenced aspects from the religion to return it to its West African roots. The prominent priestess Mãe Stella Azevedo for instance called on adherents to renounce all Roman Catholic saints and transform Candomblé into a more purely African tradition. Many of those emphasising this Afrocentric perspective were white middle-class practitioners, who re-emphasised Africa as a new source of authority because they had little standing with the predominantly Afro-Brazilian Bahian Candomblé establishment. Many terreiros distinguished themselves from this approach, arguing that to abandon the Roman Catholic elements would be to abandon an important part of their religious ancestry. When the Internet emerged, various terreiros set up their own websites.
In 2010, there were a recorded 167,363 practitioners in Brazil. The religion has also established a presence abroad, initially in other parts of Latin America like Argentina and Uruguay, and from the 1970s in Portugal. Since then, Candomblé has appeared elsewhere in Europe, including in Spain, France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. In Brazil, Candomblé is a largely urban phenomenon. It is generally found among the poor, although there are terreiros whose membership is largely middle-class or upper-class. Most practitioners are poorer, black women; various anthropologists have observed a far higher number of females than males in the terreiros they studied. Despite its Afro-Brazilian origins, Candomblé has attracted those from other ethnic backgrounds; by the 1950s it was being described as a religion of mulattos and whites as well as blacks, while in a country like Germany it has attracted white followers with no Brazilian heritage.
It has also been claimed that Candomblé offers a sense of empowerment to people who are societally marginalised; some practitioners have cited its tolerance of homosexuality as part of its appeal, especially in contrast to evangelical Christianity's typical condemnation of same-sex sexual activity. Male practitioners are often stereotyped as being gay, and it has attracted many male homosexuals as practitioners; in Rio de Janeiro for example the gay male community has had longstanding links with the terreiros, which have often been seen as part of a gay social network. Many gay men who have joined have cited it as offering a more welcoming atmosphere to them than other religious traditions active in Brazil. Various lesbians have also been identified as practitioners, although the anthropologist Andrea Stevenson Allen argued that they rarely received the same level of affirmation from the religion as their gay male counterparts.
Many practitioners of Candomblé already have a family link to the tradition, with their parents or other elder relatives being initiates. Others convert to the movement without having had any family connections; some of those who convert to Candomblé have already explored Pentecostalism, Spiritism, or Umbanda; some Umbandists feel that they can go "deeper" by moving towards Candomblé. Many describe having been ill or plagued with misfortune prior to being initiated into Candomblé, having determined through divination that their ailments would cease if they did so. Johnson noted that Candomblé appears to appeal to those who identify strongly with an African heritage; some black people in Germany have been attracted to it because they feel it is a more authentically African religion than the forms of Christianity and Islam now dominant across Africa. Some like that it makes them feel part of a community.
Within Brazil, Candomblé's influence is most pervasive in Bahia, and practitioners in Rio de Janeiro and Sâo Paulo often regard Bahian terreiros as being more authentic, with deeper fundamentos. It is "most widely practiced" in the Bahian city of Salvador, a settlement that practitioners sometimes regard as a holy city. Several thousand terreiros exist in Salvador. In Bahia, it is the Nagô nation that has the largest number of houses and practitioners.
Although lineages are independent, practitioners have formed umbrella organisations, called "federations", in most Brazilian states. These represent practitioners in their dealings with the government and society more broadly. They have also established a national organisation, the Conference of the Tradition and Culture of the Orixás (CONTOC), through which to represent their interests.
Reception and influence
Since the 1960s, Candomblé has featured in various films, such as The Given Word (1962) and The Amulet of Ogum (1974), as well as documentaries like Geraldo Sarno's Iaô (1974). The Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado makes repeated references to Candomblé throughout his work. In the 1980s, the American writer Toni Morrison visited Brazil to learn more about Candomblé. She subsequently combined ideas from Candomblé with those of Gnosticism in her depiction of the religion pursued by "The Convent", an all-female community in her 1991 novel Paradise. Themes from the religion have also been included in the work of Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha. References to the religion also appeared in Brazilian popular music. For instance, Maria Bethânia and Gal Costa's song "Prayer to Mãe Menininha" made it into the country's chart.
Brazil's Roman Catholics have mixed opinions of Candomblé, with some expressing tolerance and others expressing hostility to the presence of Candomblé practitioners at mass. Pentecostalism presents itself as an avowed enemy of Candomblé, regarding it as diabolical.
Candomblé has been described as a much maligned religion. Johnson noted that many academics who have studied Candomblé have sought to portray it in the best light possible, so as to counter racist and primitivist stereotypes about Afro-Brazilians. Academic studies have in turn influenced the way that the religion is practices, helping to establish "correct practice" among divergent groups. Many terreiros own copies of academic studies of Candomblé by scholars such as Pierre Verger, Roger Bastide, and Juana Elbein dos Santos. Various practitioners own books on Candomblé and other Afro-American religions, including those written in languages they cannot understand, as a mean of presenting an image of authority.
Although objects associated with Candomblé were initially found only in police museums, thus underscoring the stereotypical association between the religion and criminality, as it gained greater public acceptance such objects eventually came to be featured in museums devoted to folklore and Afro-Brazilian culture. From the 1990s onward, practitioners began establishing their own museum displays within their terreiros. For instance, the bedroom of the famous Candomblé priestess Mãe Menininha do Gantois, located within her Bahia terreiro, was converted into a memorial within in 1992 and then formally recognised as a heritage site in 2002. Candomblé practitioners have also lobbied other museums to change the way that the latter display items associated with the religion. For instance, practitioners successfully called upon the Museum of the City of Salvador to remove some otá stones from public display, arguing that according to the regulations of the religion such items should never be visible to the public.
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