Note from BW of Brazil: The Candomblé (1) is an Afro-Brazilian religion that has a history that is thoroughly connected to the history, culture and treatment of the black population. Like black Brazilians, the religion has faced persecution, stereotyping and at times violent repression. And also like the Afro-Brazilians, the Candomblé is seen by much of society as a sign of shame and a reminder of Brazil’s long connection to Africa due to its enslavement of 4-5 million Africans between the 16th and 19th centuries. Similar to other cultural practices of the African Diaspora, Candomblé, while long persecuted by white elites and middle classes, it has for many years also had a strong following of whites and in recent years, like the popular Brazilian funk music style, it is being experienced by a parcel of the white population as something ‘hip’. But for any black followers of the religion, the idea of their belief system suddenly becoming something cool for the hipster crowd is a blatant disrespect to a cultural practice that hundreds of thousands of black ancestors who fought tooth and nail to preserve a part of their history and identity. Are we seeing another example of cultural appropriation as the numerous examples we’ve seen recently? Check out what Janaina Grasso has to say in the piece below. For an introduction to highly misunderstood religion, be sure to see the documentary on Candomblé below, with full English subtitles.
Candomblé is tradition, ancestry and resistance
By Janaina Grasso
For starters, there’s nothing hip about being of a religion of African origin. It is not ‘alternative’ or ‘in style religion’. What amazes me is to see how the media still sustains the superficiality and continues to represent aspects of black culture in an emptied, stereotypical, distorted way. These religions have traditions, foundations and rules in its existence.
When you receive an invitation to be interviewed in a magazine, there is no guarantee how the content will be presented. But associating your interview with a story that presents the Candomblé and Umbanda as in style religions and as if this made you “alternative” is pitiful.
We need to portray ourselves in another way, with more critical and more respect. They want to talk about young people in the Candomblé and Umbanda? Identify that these are religions of African origin, they have origins, they have tradition, memory, history and structure. They resist from generation to generation. They are cultural heritages.
Spreading empty and stereotypical information is a disservice. What level of instruction and information do they want to spread, and for whom? This is a representation that we no longer accept in silence. Enough!
Mentions of the African origin religions should be done with seriousness and respect, regardless of the motivations of each one. I also think that entering a life of African origin religion, knowing all the richness and complexity that exist in them implies having a conduct in favor of the right to equity, since these religions have as a fundamental axis collectivity and plurality.
The religions of African matrix, Candomblé and Umbanda, remain alive thanks to much resistance. They face a secular racism and discrimination. How many Candomblé houses are destroyed by religious intolerance and violence? How much racism does one face day to day to be part of a religion of African origin, a matrix that welcomes its adepts regardless of race, sexual orientation, social class or any other criteria of exclusion.
Being part of a religion of African origin means joining the causes and struggles that we assume by a historic compromise.
Being part of a culture that is historically violated implies having a critique and reflecting on how our participation in it is. Being a part of it is walking along with processes of equity, too. It is thanks to affirmative action for example, that more and more black people have access to the university. It is also in this space that our intellectual and active production on the representation and role of our own stories happen.
Ancestry is another key point that cannot be overlooked. In the cult religions of the orixás (deities), the elders play a fundamental role in the life of the house. It is with the older that you learn to respect hierarchy in a Candomblé house, you learn to be patient and learning comes with time.
I am native to the island of Itaparica, in Bahia, one of the places where traditionally the worship services to ancestry and Egungun in Brazil take place. My family, especially my great-grandfather Cassimiro, was dedicated to the worship of Egungun and ancestry to his death. He was a priest in the worship of Egungun. My grandfather was Ogan for many years.
Candomblé is part of my history as a child. I am the daughter of orixá, this religion made me be born in my spirituality. In the numerous rituals of Candomblé’s there are precepts, obligations, time to start the rituals, prayers, baths and greetings. The precepts are not easy especially for those who are young. It was not for me. I, for example, had my initiation as a daughter of an orixá at 18 years. For a year, I had to live in seclusion (time dedicated time to the orixás to exercise protection and direct influence on the initiated).
In this period of seclusion I had to, for 6 months, deprive myself of sex, alcohol, some specific foods, make an offering of my orixá every Monday, could not attend parties, dances, stay out after midnight etc. There are numerous fundamental rules, referring to an example of the many existing rituals in the Candomblé. I could cite many here. It’s no joke being the child of orixá.
I don’t see how I can be ‘hip’ because my faith for having a family religion, passed on from generation to generation, as an inheritance. Thanks to the orixá, I met a new world.
Respect our histories!
Brazilian Candomblé – English subtitles
Candomblé is a religion based on African beliefs which is particularly popular in Brazil. It is also practiced in other countries, and has as many as two million followers. The religion is a mixture of traditional Yoruba, Fon and Bantu beliefs which originated from different regions in Africa. It has also incorporated some aspects of the Catholic faith over time. A religion which combines elements of many religions is called a syncretic religion. Enslaved Africans brought their beliefs with them when they were shipped to Brazil during the slave trade. The name Candomblé means ‘dance in honor of the gods’. Practitioners of Candomblé believe in one all powerful God called Oludumaré who is served by lesser deities. These deities are called orixas. (They can also be called voduns and inkices.) Candomblé practitioners believe that every person has their own individual orixa which controls his or her destiny and acts as a protector. Music and dance are important parts of Candomblé ceremonies. Specially choreographed dances are performed by worshippers to enable them to become possessed by the orixas. There is no concept of good or bad in Candomblé. Each person is only required to fulfil his or her destiny to the fullest, regardless of what that is. Candomblé is an oral tradition and therefore has no holy scriptures. The first official temple was founded at the beginning of the 19th century in Salvador, Bahia in Brazil. The ceremony depicted on the video is a “Xirê”, a praisal to the 16 more common Orishas that goes for about 6 or 7 hours and is open to the non initiated persons. In the days preceding the Xirê, a series of internal rituals take place at the “Axé” or “Ilê” (both terms used to refer to each House of Candomblé)