Note from BW of Brazil: Today is January 21st which is celebrated at the National Day against Religious Intolerance. Afro-Brazilian religions have a long and important history in Brazil but still today, practitioners of these religions continue to face persecution. While these attacks and acts of disrespect are seen as only cases of religious intolerance, many see the attacks as being rooted in racism. Allegiance to Afro-Brazilian religions is highly stereotyped by Brazilian society in general leading many to resort to hiding their religious faith. As it is associated with Africanity, it is yet another facet of Afro-Brazilian identity that has been under attack since the first Africans arrived in the 16th century. See the report below and get an understanding on why this law is so necessary.
January 21: National Day against Religious Intolerance
courtesy of Palmares
A way of preserving the traditions, languages, knowledge and values of the first black African slaves brought to Brazil, the religions of African origin were incorporated into Brazilian culture and have become an important feature of national identity. However, racism still tries to impede the cult to black ancestry making its followers repeated victims of prejudice and intolerance.
Aimed at curbing other discriminatory attitudes and, as an act in honor of Mãe Gilda (Mother Gilda), a symbol of one of the most striking cases of religious prejudice in the country, in 2007 Law No. 11.635 was enacted which makes the January 21st the Dia Nacional de Combate à Intolerância Religiosa (National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance). The date that is celebrated by all practitioners of religions of African origin, still serves as a reflection and motivation in the quest for freedom of religious worship and combating racism.
The limit of intolerance – In October 1999, Brazil witnessed one of the most drastic cases of prejudice against religions of African origin. The Folha Universal newspaper stamped on its cover a photo of Iyalorixá Gildásia dos Santos e Santos – known as Mãe Gilda – dressed in priestess clothing to illustrate an article whose title was: “Macumbeiros charlatões lesam o bolso e a vida dos clientes (Charlatan of macumba followers abuses the money and the lives of her clients.” Mãe Gilda’s house was invaded, her husband was verbally and physically assaulted, and her terreiro (temple) was plundered by evangelicals. Mãe Gilda wasn’t able to endure the attacks and after a heart attack, died on January 21, 2000. (Note from BW of Brazil: The charges were unfounded)
Check out what other religious leaders say about religious intolerance:
Mãe Jaciara – Successor of Mãe Gilda in the Axé Abassá de Ogum Terreiro, Mãe Jaciara is categorical when expressing her opinion. “The biggest problem for me as a Yalorixá of a terreiro of Candomblé is the prejudice that people have for history and the distorted image that they have in respect to Candomblé. People relate to our religion the practices of magias negras (black magic) and devil worship. It could not be further from the truth.”
Makota Valdina – Makota Valdina Pinto, of the Tanuri Junsara Terreiro in Salvador, Bahia, defends the right to religious belief guaranteed by Article 5, paragraph 6 of the Federal Constitution. “We cannot speak of intolerance without relating it to the racism practiced against Afro-Brazilian religions.”
Mãe Beata, meaning Blessed Mother – Daughter of Exu with Iemanjá, Mãe Beata of Yemanjá is a descendant of enslaved Africans and an advocate of African ancestry. “When I notice that someone is taking the conversation down the path of religious intolerance, I use respect and experience to defeat him/her. We need to raise awareness that Brazil is a mixture of all races and religions.”
Mãe Stella – Mãe Stella of Oxóssi, an Ialorixá of the Ilê Axé Opó Afonjá terreiro, founded in 1910 in São Gonçalo do Retiro, Bahia, said that their struggle is, and always will be, for equal rights: “I keep struggling so that the religion brought to Brazil by African people is duly respected.”