Note from BW of Brazil: We know that the religion of the Candomblé has been the source of repression for decades and its followers, temples and accessories have been the target of a rising, increasingly violent form of religious tolerance in the recent years. The mainstream media and long-time stereotypes have helped to continue associations of the religion with witchcraft, satanism, voodoo and evils spirits and many of its followers often feel the need to hide their beliefs and the spiritual system’s clothing for fear of their safety and even their very lives. For years, anthropologists from all the world have come to Brazil to get a better understanding of this often misunderstood religion, but what do its followers believe, what is its origin and where does the name come from? The article below won’t explain everything, but it is a basic intro and I will continue to explore its meaning, history and current practice in future articles.
Why is the worship of the orixá called Candomblé?
In 1830 some black women Ketu, Nigeria origin, belonging to the sisterhood of Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte (Our Lady of Good Death), gathered to establish a form of worship that preserved the African traditions here in Brazil. According to historical documents of the time, this meeting took place in the old Ladeira do Bercô; today, Rua Visconde de Itaparica, near the Barroquinha Church in the city of São Salvador – in the state of Bahia.
From this meeting, which was formed by several women, as was previously reported, a woman helped by Baba-Asiká, an illustrious African of the time, stood out:
– Íyànàssó Kalá or Oká, whose òrúnkó in the orixá was Íyàmagbó-Olódùmarè.
But the main motive of this meeting was to establish an Africanist cult in Brazil, because these women saw, that if anything was not done to their black and descendant brothers, they would have nothing to preserve the “orixá cult,” since blacks who arrived here were baptized in the Catholic Church and forced to practice thus the Catholic religion.
But how could they practice a cult of tribal origin, in a land far from its ìyá ìúú àiyé èmí, or the motherland land of their life, as Africa was called, by the ancient Africans?
First, they attempted to merge various African mythologies, dogmas, and liturgies. This cult, in Brazil, would have to be similar to the cult practiced in Africa, in which the main thing to enter its mysteries would be the initiation. While in Africa the initiation is often done in the middle of the forest, in Brazil, a mini-Africa was established, that is, the house of worship would have all the African orixás together. Unlike Africa, where each orixá is connected to a village, or city; for example: Xangô in Oyó, Oxum in Ijexá and Ijebu and so on.
But why was this cult called Candomblé?
This cult in the way it is practiced here and called Candomblé, does not exist in Africa. What exists there is what is called the cult of the orixá, that is, each African region worships an orixá and only initiates elegun or person of that orixá. Therefore, the word Candomblé was a form of denominating the meetings made by the slaves, to worship their gods, because it was also common to call Candomblé every party or meeting of blacks in Brazil. For this reason, the ancient Babalorixás and Yalorixás avoided calling the “cult of the orixás” Candomblé. They didn’t want to be mistaken for these parties. But over time the word Candomblé was accepted and began to define a group of cults coming from various African regions.
The word Candomblé has 2 (two) meanings among the researchers: Candomblé would be a phonetic modification of “Candonbé”, a type of atabaque (hand drum) used by the black people of Angola; or would come from “Candonbidé,” which means “praising, asking for someone or something.”
As a complementary form of worship, the word Candomblé began to define the model of each African tribe or region, as follows:
Candomblé of the Ketu Nation
Candomblé of the Jeje Nation
Candomblé of the Angola Nation
Candomblé of the Congo Nation
Candomblé of the Muxicongo Nation
The word “Nation” enters there not to define a political nation, since Jeje Nation did not exist in political terms. What is called the Jeje Nation is the Candomblé formed by the people coming from the region of Dahome and formed by the Mahin peoples.
The groups that spoke the Yoruba language among them, Oyó, Abeokuta, Ijexá, Ebá and Benin came to constitute a cult form denominated Candomblé of the Nation Ketu.
Ketu was a city like all the others, but in Brazil it started to designate the cult of Candomblé of Ketu or Alaketu Nation.
These Yorubas, when they fought with the Jejes peoples and lost the battle, became slaves of these towns, being later sold to Brazil.
When the Yoruba arrived in that region suffering and mistreated, they were called by the fons, ànagô”, which means in the fon language, “lice, dirty” among other things. The word with time changed and became nàgó and became accepted by the Yoruba peoples in Brazil, to define their origins and a form of worship. In fact, there is no political nation called Nagô.
In Brazil, the word nàgó came to call the Candomblés also of Xamba of the north region, better known as Xangô of the Northeast.
The Candomblés of Bahia and Rio de Janeiro came to be called the Ketu Nation with Yoruba roots.
However, there are variations of Nations, for example, Candomblé of the Efan Nation and Candomblé of the Ijexá Nation. Efan is a city in the Ijexá region near the Osobô and Oxum River. Ijexá is not a political nation. Ijexá is the name given to people who are born or live in the region of Ilexá.
What characterizes the Ijexá Nation in Brazil is the position that Oxum enjoys as the queen of that nation.
Just as there is a variation in Ketu, there is also in Jeje, for example, Jeje Mahin. Mahin was a tribe that existed near the town of Ketu.
The Candomblés of the Angola and Congo Nations were developed in Brazil with the arrival of these Africans from Angola and Congo.
From Maria Neném and later the Candomblés of Mansu Bunduquemqué of the late Bernardino Bate-folha and Bam Dan Guaíne many forms arose following traditions of cities like Casanje, Munjolo, Cabinda, Muxicongo and others.
In this study of Candomblé Nations, other forms of Candomblé could be reported, such as Nagô-vodun, which is a fusion of Yoruba and Jeje customs, and the Alaketu of its current leader Olga de Alaketu.
The Alaketu is not a specific nation, but a Yorubá Nation with origin in the same region of Ketu, whose history in Brazil is more than 350 (three hundred and fifty) years at the time of the ancestors of the house: Otampé, Ojaró and Odé Akobí.
The truth is that the Nigerian cult of Orixá, called Candomblé in Brazil, was organized by women for women. In the old houses of Candomblé in the old days, men did not enter the roda de dança (dance circle) for the orixás. Even those who became Babalorixás had a different conduct as to the roda de dança. In this way, the participation of men was purely circumstantial. Hence it is necessary to insert in the cult several positions for men, as for example, the positions of ogans.
Today, the word Candomblé defines in Brazil what we call an Afro-Brazilian cult, that is: “An African Culture on Brazilian Soil”.