Note from BW of Brazil: The more one is able to de-program him or herself from thoughts and beliefs based on prejudicial teachings, the more fascinating a religion such as the Candomblé can become. And perhaps one of the most misunderstood orixás (orishas – deities) in the Candomblé has to be Exu. Misunderstandings over Candomblé or Umbanda as a whole along with misguided views of Exu have led to a sort of unequal culture war as ”warriors of Jesus” have taken it upon themselves to demonize and attack other religious belief systems that stray from their own values.
Exu (Èsù) is the perhaps the most controversial figure in the African pantheon, the most human of the orixás, he is the master of principle as well as transformation. Simultaneously the god of the earth and of the universe; Exu is actually the order, the one that multiplies and transforms itself into the elementary unity of human existence. Exu is the ego of each being, the great companion of man in the daily journey in this thing we call life.
Exu is undoubtedly the orixás that followers of Christianity will most often point to as ‘’proof’’ that Candomblé is a demonic religion associating this deity to that entity that Christians think of when they think of the devil; perceived as a god that became evil, Exu would be the one responsible for creating discord among human beings. But Exu is perhaps the most realistic portrait of human characteristics as he embodies the very contradictions and conflicts that make up our character. Just like human being, Exu is not completely bad nor completely good; and just like humans, he is also capable of love and hate, bringing together and driving apart, capable of instigating peace as well as war.
The religious or philosophical dualism that we find in monotheistic religions simply doesn’t apply in Candomblé, and also cannot be applied to Exu. Within the belief systems of African culture, there are no oppositions, in particular that which we believe to exist between between good and evil. As we all know, what is one thing to one person can be the polar opposite for another, as such, for success in life, we must be willing to offer the best of ourselves, and for followers of Afro-Brazilian religions, this can mean giving praise, doing the will of and giving thanks to Exu, and in turn hoping to attract manifestations of good fortune, love, and prosperity.
The funny thing about such a culture war is that what people don’t seem to realize is that within African-origin religions, there are numerous beliefs and character traits that are shared across religious convictions, which is the very reason why African descendants in the Americas were able to deceive their slave masters about their beliefs by matching the orixás with similar characteristics of Catholic saints.
The principle of giving and receiving also applies to Exu, who, according to mythology, if he is satisfied, he will reciprocate. When he shown apreciation, he can be the best one’s best friend, but disrespect or disregard him and he easily becomes one’s worst enemy, bringing misfortune, disaster and serious problems.
Considered the most importante orixá according to Yoruba beliefs, our world could not be understood without him because, as the Messenger, it is only through Exu that one can reach other orixás as well as the Supreme Olodumaré. Through his power communication, Exu is a master of every language and is the entity that allows the orixás and humans to communicate.
Exu has neither friends nor enemies and will Always be in the corner of those who are pleasing to him and are willing to reciprocate for favors he bestows upon those believe in him. Being the first to take on the form of individual existence, Exu was also born numerous times and can be the son of both Orunmilá or Oxum, depending on the moment of his rebirth. As such, it is no mere coincidence that in many kingdoms he is the first form endowed with individual existence.
When one is considered a child of Exu, typically such persons are cheerful, extroverts, clever, always good in life and, as Exu is the great communicator, also very sociable and know how to value friendship, usually having numerous dear friends. Exu’s children accordingly have good communication skills and have a certain degree of assurance that everything will change in their favor, as well as a great facility of avoiding confusion. Children of Exu are charming, and more often than not, manage to have their way. A person who has an adventurous sex life is probably also a child of Exu as these sorts of people enjoy this part of their lives with no shame. You can also believe that Exu’s children are people who don’t just say they’ll do something; they DO something.
Needless, life can hardly be boring for the child that carries the spirit of Exu. Enjoying the street life, the party, and the ongoing conversation, he is the orixá of pure joy. With such charactertistics, it’s cool to know that this particular orixá is being re-discovered among Brazil’s artists. And for good reason. For you cannot fully partake and enjoy something if you have negative feelings about it.
Brazilian music paves the way for Exu
Stigmatized, the orixá is gaining more and more evidence in the work of today’s leading artists, from Elza Soares to Baco Exu do Blues.
By Kamille Viola
He’s in the stage name of rapper Baco Exu do Blues and baptizes the rapper’s first album of 2017. He was recorded by Elza Soares on the album Deus é Mulher (2018). He is on Serena Assumpção’s album Ascensão (2016), in a track featuring Karina Buhr, Luê and Zé Celso Martinez Correa. On the album Metal Metal (2012), by Metá Metá. And inspired “Pra que me chamas?” by Xenia França, a song from the singer’s debut album, Xenia (2017). Demonized for centuries, Exu has been undergoing a change in symbolism around his name, being increasingly sung by our artists. A sign of the new times, the hashtag with his Instagram name has nearly 170,000 citations. Laroyê, the greeting to him, more than 85 thousand.
Diogo Moncorvo chose the stage name Baco Exu do Blues, honoring the Roman god of wine and drunkenness, the African orisha and the musical genre created by black Americans in the 19th century. His debut album is also called Esú (a rough spelling of the name of the orixá in the Yoruba language), as well as the third track on the album. The one that opens, “Intro”, also cites the African god: “Senti Exu/Virei Exu” (I felt Exu, I became Exu), sings the rapper. “Exu is the owner of the street / he was the one who came from there / his reign is from the lira people/messenger, he will help you”, says the ending point of the song. The same happens on the second track, “Abre caminho”, meaning ‘open the way’: “Open the way, let Exu pass / Excuse me, let karma of the scene pass / Don’t get on punk wheel without asking Exu / Don’t get in the sea without asking Iemanjá / Disrespect fé dos pretos (faith of the blacks), know why I am Exu”.
The artist even launched himself as Baco, meaning Bacchus, in 2015. By including Exu in his name, however, he saw things begin to advance in his career. “Exu, for me, is the way. You are my guardian, my protector. He is who understands and punishes my mistakes. And who celebrates and applauds my achievements, feel me? It is he who gives me his hand, who helps me, who rules me. Exu, to me, is kind of everything,” he sums up.
An adept of candomblé, singer Xenia França was another to reverence the orisha in her work. In her interviews, she says that the song “Pra que me chamas?” (What are you calling me for?) was composed after she was in Havana in 2013. “The expression of diaspora culture in the city was very clear, which was the only one I visited in Cuba. There were countless numbers of people initiated in Ifá. You knew that because you saw people all dressed in white, from umbrella to slipper: you can’t wear anything other than white. And then I started to realize that this religion was very linked to candomblé in Brazil,” she recalls.
The inspiration came from Callejon de Hamel, a tourist street dedicated to Eleguá, a Cuban entity corresponding to Exu. “There was an Exu seated on the wall, and written below it, ‘Why is it that you call me if you don’t know me?’ That was very strong for me. That was a big punch. We went back to Brazil and Lucas Cirillo, who is the other composer of this song (member of the band Aláfia and companion of Xenia), introduced me to the song and we finished it together. And what the music proposes to say and to question (and it’s not me questioning, is Exu, because Eleguá in Cuban santeria is correspondingly linked to Exu in Brazilian candomblé) is: why do you use the resources, the aesthetics, the music, in short, all Brazilian culture is forged on appropriations (of black culture) without foundation, without knowledge? What do you call me if you don’t know me? This is for a zillion things. This song is very special”, explains the artist.
Who is he?
In candomblé, Exu is the messenger orisha. He is responsible for communication between men and the orixás. “Exu makes the mistake right and what’s right turn into a mistake. There is a saying: ‘Exu killed a bird yesterday with the stone he only threw today’. To me, this phrase is ancestral memory, because when you remember the past, you do it from the lights of the present. Your gift will color, with stronger or softer tones, your memory. And then you bring this past to the present, because Exu is continuity, it is always,” teaches babalorixá Rodney William Eugênio, Pai Rodney de Oxóssi, anthropologist and doctor of Social Sciences at PUC-SP. In Umbanda, although there is also the orisha, the worship is done to entities, among them the so-called exus (and its female version, the pombagiras), who were once incarnated spirits and who work under the authority of the orixás, acting as intermediaries between them and the adept of the religion.
Pai Rodney: “Exu is the orisha closest to men, he is the one who is with people in everyday life. Exu likes the party, the good time, the drink, the good talk, the gossip” Exu gets into human things, he has the phallic element as a symbol, so he evokes this thing of sensuality,” says Pai Rodney. “This thing of linking Exu to the devil, in a way, was incorporated by African-based religions because people were afraid of the devil. So many times, at the entrances of the terreiros (temples), that image of Exu that resembled the devil was placed, was a way of evoking this fear that people had so that the terreiros would not be invaded. Syncretism was often used as an instrument of resistance,” he analyzes.
Rodney recalls that African-based religions have been persecuted since colonization until the 1970s, when the situation improved somewhat. “You had a lot of artists approaching them, singing the orixás in general, I think we had a huge growth of fans, there was an expansion in the Southeast, especially in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. This brought a change to the views and the deconstruction of some ideas that were in people’s minds. It was a moment when these religions took a leap forward,” he says. “However, the advent of the neo-pentecostal Christian churches, with all that spectacularization, even media, around the cults, where having a figure of the devil was very important for the type of rite that was done there, brought a new negative view around Exu. From the 1990s to the 2000s, it was a time when the vision around Exu also got worse and the prejudice increased a lot, the intolerance increased a lot, the disrespect increased drastically,” he denounces.
Edgar, who writes with Kiko Dinucci and recorded with Elza Soares the song “Exu nas escolas” (Exu in the schools), believes that the main change in Exu’s symbolism is happening in the vision that branquitude (whiteness) has of him. “Because the galera prea (black guys) always talked about Exu, and never treated him like a demon. So if you are seeing this change happen, it is because you are dancing samba on the road,” he says. “I’ll go in the macumba. My family always had the syncretism, because we live in a very difficult neighborhood, always had this evil of prejudice. Several people came to want to humiliate when the drumming happened at home. But I grew up in the middle of the beating of drums. My mother had a health problem, so we did many things. Exu is there and always has been, he is the transformation, not an energy of evil. He was demonized by the settlers, the people who arrived, understood nothing of what was going on, saw the statue with the phallus head, sexualized the thing and turned it into a demon. But he never was,” he explains.
Xenia França tells that, in her childhood, she even feared the orisha, so ingrained was the negative image, even in Bahia. Today she reveres this deity as a way of affirming her culture. “I have an Exu bead around my neck, I go to the Candomblé terreiro. I try to understand Exu, to demystify him inside my head what this orixá means. He is what most understands the human. It is an extremely technological, intelligent orixá. And he’s our friend. Within a context in which I am an artist who reveres my ancestry, I could not help but speak and put on the first track of my album, as it is done in a house of candomblé, a reverence for Exu,” she says. “I see other artists also talking about him in a very natural way and I believe it is our choice to transform Exu, to tell society that we are not afraid of him, that he is not a negative entity. Exu being related to the devil is a project of demonizing a culture,” she says.
The babalorixá (higher priest in Candomblé) points out that the intolerance of the last decades has made the artistic class, which has always been somewhat close to the African religions, felt obliged to position itself. Added to this is the growth of the decolonization movement of thought in the country. “It has to do with people’s engagement in the anti-racist struggle, understanding intolerance as a face of racism, and having fought it with the force of the law. Because January 21 was instituted as the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance because of a holy mother who died in Bahia after being attacked by supporters of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God,”he recalls. “These more progressive governments we had also engaged in the struggle, there was the law that forced the teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian and indigenous culture in the schools, the views were changing. And the followers of the religions of African origin, perceiving this movement, somehow took possession of the law, made it act and began to claim what is their right,” argues Pai Rodney.
He notes, however, that the approach of music to African-based religions today is different from that of the 1970s. “When you had artists recording terreiro points, inserting the songs of orishas and other tributes into their recordings as incidental music, it was something of a register of a culture, no doubt, but it was more for something folkloric than for that that I think it is today, which has to do with political engagement. For example, when you see Xenia França singing Exu, evoking Eleguá, ‘why do you call me if you don’t know me?’, that’s political. When you see Elza Soares saying ‘Exu in the schools’, that is politics. It has to do with a movement that leaves the terreiro and goes to universities, to the schools – because it has a large number of professors who are adepts of African-based religions and are engaged in the social movements of the black, Indian, and for housing. So, when we sing to Exu today, this song is political, even a protest song, so that you can give back to that orixá his humanity that was stolen, because it is the same as giving back to the black man the humanity that was stolen from him”, he compares.
Rodney is keen to point out that if it is wrong to associate Exu with the devil, he cannot be considered a saint either – no orixá is. They all have aspects that, if viewed from a Christian point of view, will cause shock. “We have to assume that the Nagô, negra, Yoruba, African ethics in general is not a Christian ethic. If you catch an orixá like Ogum, who is a warrior who, having water at home, washes himself of blood, you will know that he goes to war to kill. And if you go to Ogun’s house to kill him, he will kill you. This has to be understood within our tradition, of people who have the resistance, the need to fight for their own survival. It has to be understood within this logic. Now what is closest to reality: Christianity or candomblé? People are people like? Are they all prudish, saints, who don’t have a good side and a bad side? And then there’s this whole issue of talking about hypocrisy, preaching one thing and doing another, right? Because how can I preach love and stone a person who has a different religion from mine? How can I preach love, break into a terreiro and plunder it?” argues the babalorixá.
Courtesy of Trip