Candomblé: The Yoruba Religion in Brazil


The African Diaspora played a role in the development of most states located in the New World or Americas, such as Argentina and Brazil. Today, we will look at one such diasporic group (the Yoruba people) who contributed significantly to the Brazilian culture. They brought religious influences to Brazil, giving rise to the Afro-Brazilian religion called the Candomblé.

Brief Description of Candomblé

Candomblé is an African diasporic faith or religion that developed in Brazil during the early 19th century. It arose through a process of blending or religious syncretism between the customary Yoruba religion of West Africa and the Roman Catholic form of Christianity. The Candomblé religion involves the veneration of spirits called Orixas. People identify these spirits both as Yoruba deities as well as Roman Catholic saints. There are several myths about these Orixas, which are subservient to a transcendent creator god called Oludumare. There is a belief that each individual has a tutelary Orixa who has been connected to them since before birth and who notifies or informs their personality.

Candomblé’s members meet in temples called terreiros. A central ritual involves practitioners singing, drumming, and dancing to encourage an Orixa to possess one of their members. They believe that through this possessed person or individual, they can communicate directly with an Orixa. Offerings to the Orixa involve fruit and the blood of sacrificed animals. People use various forms of divination to interpret or decipher messages from the Orixa.

Following Brazil’s independence from Portugal, the 1891 constitution enshrined religion’s liberation or freedom in the state, although the Roman Catholic establishment still marginalized the Candomblé religion, associating it with criminality.

In the 20th century, increased emigration spread Candomblé elsewhere in the New World. The late 20th century saw growing connections or links between Candomblé and related traditions in W. Africa and the Americas, such as Haitian Vodou and Cuban Santeria.

There are about two million Candomblé practitioners across the globe. Although smaller societies or communities exist elsewhere, most are in Brazil, particularly other South American regions. In Brazil and abroad, Candomblé has spread beyond its Afro-Brazilians origins, and individuals of several ethnicities practice it.

The Beliefs of Candomblé

Candomblé’s theology included or incorporates lesser deities termed the Exus. They are closer to humanity than the Orixas and thus more accessible to practitioners of the religion. In ritual contexts, the Exus are the slaves of the Orixas. In common parlance in Brazil, people often describe them as devils, but in Candomblé, they do not regard them as a force for absolute evil but rather believe that they can be bad and good acts. Practitioners believe that the Exus can close or open the roads of fate in one’s life and induce them to do things. The Caboclos are also present in the Candomblé religion.

Practitioners of the religion regard them as spirits of local people of the Americas. The Caboclos favor beet while the Exus prefer hard liquor and wine, particularly cachaca.

Candomblé’s belief concerning birth and the dead is that the otherworld is called Orun, and our world is known as aiye. The spirits of the dead are known as Egum. During vital ceremonies, priestesses and priests masquerade as Baba Egum, and there will be a presence of choreographed dances to become possessed of each ancestor’s spirit.

The religion of Candomblé also teaches the existence of a force known as Axe or ashe. Walker described Axe as the spiritual force of the Universe. Bahia called it sacred power and Wafer as a vital force. Johnson characterized it as a creative spiritual force with real material effects. Candomblé’s practitioners believe Axe can move around and can be transmitted or conveyed with a human being having either diminishing or growing supply. Practitioners have the belief that they can attract and share Axe during ritual acts.

On the grounds of ethics, morality, and gender roles, Candomblé’s teachings influence the practitioners’ daily lives. People interpret the problems that arise in an individual’s life resulting from disharmony in their relationship with their Orixa. Candomblé doesn’t include the duality of a concept of good as opposed to evil. Each individual needs to fulfill their destiny to the fullest to live a good life, regardless of what that destiny is. Candomblé teaches that any evil individual causes to others will return to the 1st person eventually.

The Egum are vital in regulating the moral code of Candomblé’s practitioners. It is their duty or responsibility to ensure that people continue with their past ethical standards till the present. This is regulated during worship ceremonies. When individuals become possessed of their ancestor spirit during the ceremony, they may act out scenes from the society or community to highlight bad and good actions in a public tribunal.

Male or female polarity is a recurring theme throughout the religion. Several roles within the Candomblé religion are in connection to members of a specific gender. For example, the shaving of an initiate’s head and animal sacrifice is for male practitioners, while female practitioners are responsible for domestic tasks or duties in maintaining the ritual space. Such divisions reflect broader gender norms in the Brazilian community. The religion also places taboos on the female practitioners while menstruating. However, the female practitioners can still wield some power as the leaders or heads of the terreiros. Some people have called it a female-dominated faith due to the significant number of women within it.

There is proof that the Candomblé religion is more accepting of sexual and gender non-conformity than mainstream Brazilian society. Although many prominent male priests in the Candomblé religion have been heterosexual, there’s a pervasive stereotype that most of Candomblé’s male practitioners are gays or. Gays have described the Candomblé faith as giving a more welcoming environment than forms of Christianity that people practice in Brazilian society. For example, the gays have cited stories of relationships between male Orixas such as Ossain and Oxossi, affirming male same-sex attraction.


The Practices of Candomblé (Shrines, Otas, Offerings, Animal Sacrifice, and Initiation)

The seat of the Orixa is known as assentamento. The holy or sacred stone is called an Ota. It possesses Axe and thus needs feeding. It’s the main component of the seat of an Orixa. People keep the Otas in ceramic jars together with ferramentos or metal objects associated with a specific Orixa and a mix of honey, water, and herbal preparations. These jars will often be in a room inside the terreiro. Practitioners have a belief that giving blood to their ritual paraphernalia renews the Axe of these objects.

Sacrificial offerings are called Ebos. The people offer food to the Orixa, often placing it at an appropriate location in the landscape. For instance, a freshwater stream place offering to Oxum. When placed in the terreiro, they leave the food in place for between one to three days, enough time for the Orica to consume the food’s essence. An Axogun, an individual who conducts animal sacrifices, will, for instance, sacrifice a bird for the benefit of a person and wipe the bird over the latter. He will then have the bird’s wings, legs and neck broken. Outside the Brazilian society, practitioners have faced difficulties in doing animal practice. For example, in Germany, the law prohibits it.

Practicing the Candomblé religion requires initiation. The religion focuses on a hierarchical system of initiations. Initiates in Candomblé are called filhos de Santo. They get a new name at their initiation, the nome de Santo, which indicates their tutelary Orixa’s identity. The initiatory process period varies between Candomblé houses but often lasts from a few weeks to months. The initiate goes to the terreiro, where they have a period of relaxation (the Descanso) so that they might become cool. One of the 1st acts during the initiatory process is to initiate a string of beads related to their Orixa. The necklace is colored depending on the tutelary Orixa of the initiate. White is for Oxala, dark-blue for Ogum, red and white for Xango. Individuals will wash the beads and sprinkle them with the blood of a sacrificed animal. They perceive the beads as a protector or defender of the wearer from danger.

The initiates get secluded in a room in the terreiro known as the Ronco, where they sleep on a straw mat. During this time or period, they learn various details of their associated Orixa, such as its dislikes, likes, appropriate drum rhythms, and dances that appeal to that deity. People will bathe them in water mixed with herbs and shave their heads. The period spent in seclusion or isolation varies. However, three weeks is standard or typical.

Candomblé includes several additional graded initiations, which are to happen one year, three years, and seven years after the initial initiatory ceremony. Those who have done seven years of initiatory rituals are known as Ebomi. At the end of the period (seven years), they receive the deca from their initiator. In practice, many adherents can’t afford to pay for these ceremonies at the specified period and instead take place after many years.


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