CANDOMBLE: Brazilian slaves came from a number of African geographic regions and ethnic groups, including Igbo, Yoruba, Fon, Ewe, Kongo, and Bantu…
CANDOMBLE: (Dance in honor of the Gods) is a syncretic religion, practiced mainly in Brazil by the “Povo De Santo” (People of the Saint), among people of African descent and sometimes of mixed race. Candomblé officially originated in Salvador, Bahia at the beginning of the 19th century, when the first temple was founded. Although Candomblé is practiced primarily in Brazil, it is also practiced in other Latin American countries, including Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Colombia, having many followers.
Candomblé developed in a creolization of traditional Yoruba, Fon, and Bantu beliefs brought from West Africa by enslaved captives in the Portuguese Empire. Between 1549 and 1888, the religion developed in Brazil, influenced by the knowledge of enslaved African priests who continued to teach their mythology, their culture, and language. In addition, Candomblé absorbed elements of Roman Catholicism and includes Indigenous American traditions.
As an oral tradition, it does not have holy scriptures. Practitioners of Candomblé believe in a Supreme Creator called Oludumaré, who is served by lesser deities, which are called Orishas. Every practitioner is believed to have their own tutelary Orisha, which controls his or her destiny and acts as a protector. Music and dance are important parts of Candomblé ceremonies, since the dances enable worshippers to become possessed by the Orishas. In the rituals, participants make offerings from the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms. Candomblé does not include the duality of good and evil; each person is required to fulfill his or her destiny to the fullest, regardless of what that is.
The name Batuque is also used to refer to the religion, especially before the 19th century. After that, Candomblé became more common. Both words are believed to be derived from a Bantu-family language, mainly that of the Kingdom of Kongo. Candomblé may also be called Macumba in some regions of Brazil, notably Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Macumba has a distinct set of practices more akin to European witchcraft.
History: Candomblé originated among enslaved Africans who were transplanted to Brazil during the slave trade. From the earliest days of the slave trade, many slave owners and Catholic Church leaders felt it was important to convert enslaved Africans. They believed this would fulfill their religious obligations and lead the enslaved to be more submissive in their status. Some historians suggest that Africans were forced to give up their traditional religions to cut their ties to their pasts. Many outwardly practiced Christianity but secretly prayed to their own God, gods, or ancestor spirits. In Brazil, adherents of Candomblé saw in the Catholic worship of saints a similarity with their own religion.
Bantu followers found a shared system of worship with Brazil’s indigenous people, and through this connection they re-learned the Ancestor worship that was part of their own traditional systems. They often concealed the sacred symbols of their deities inside figures of their Catholic saints. In segregated communities of the country, it was easy to create Catholic fraternities where slaves would meet with each other. These meetings, however, were an opportunity for Candomblé worship to be practiced and for feasts to be held on special religious days. They were also opportunities for the enslaved to gather and plan rebellions against their masters.
The religion has surged in popularity in Brazil since then, with as many as two million people professing to follow this faith. It is particularly popular in Salvador, Bahia, in the northeast region of Brazil, which is more isolated from other influences and had a high percentage of enslaved Africans. For many followers, Candomblé is not only a matter of religious belief but also of reclaiming the cultural and historical identity of ethnic Africans, although their separate tribal identities have been obscured by peoples being mixed in communities during and after slavery.
Brazilian slaves came from a number of African geographic regions and ethnic groups, including Igbo, Yoruba, Fon, Ewe, Kongo, and Bantu. As the religion developed semi-independently in different regions of Brazil, among different African ethnic groups, it evolved into several “branches” or nations. These are distinguished chiefly by their set of worshiped deities, as well as the music and language used in the rituals.
The division into nations was also influenced by the religious and beneficent brotherhoods. These fraternities, organized along ethnic lines to allow priests to preach who had learned the slaves’ native languages, provided a legitimate cover for slave reunions. Ultimately they may have aided the development of Candomblé.
Candomblé practitioners believe that every person has their own tutelary deity which controls his or her destiny and acts as a protector. Each Deity represents a certain force in nature and is associated with certain foods, colors, animals, and days of the week. A person’s character or personality is strongly linked to their deity. Collectively, Ancestors are called Egum in Brazil. During important ceremonies, priests masquerade as Baba Egum and specially choreographed dances will be performed in order to become possessed of each Ancestor spirit.
Candomblé does not include the duality of a concept of good opposed to evil. Each person is required only to fulfill his or her destiny to the fullest in order to live a ‘good’ life, regardless of what that destiny is. This is not a free ticket to do whatever the practitioner wants, though. Candomblé teaches that any evil a person causes to others will return to the first person eventually.
Egúm are important in regulating the moral code of Candomblé practitioners. It is their responsibility to make sure that moral standards of the past are continued in the present. This is regulated during worship ceremonies. When a person becomes possessed of their ancestor spirit during the ceremony, they may act out scenes from the community to highlight both good and bad actions in a sort of public tribunal.
The Candomblé ritual has two parts: the first is the “preparation”, attended only by priests and initiates, which may start a week in advance of a major ceremony. Second is the main event, a festive public “mass” and banquet that starts in the late evening and ends around midnight.
In the first part, initiates and aides wash and iron the costumes for the ceremony, and decorate the house with paper flags and festoons, in the colors favored by the Orixás that are to be honored on that occasion. They also prepare food for the banquet. Some domestic animals are slaughtered; some parts reserved for sacrifice, the rest is prepared for the banquet. On the day of the ceremony, starting in the early morning, cowrie-shell divination (jogo de búzios) are performed, and sacrifices are offered to the desired Orixás, and to the messenger spirit (Exú in Ketu).
In the public part of the ceremony, “saint-children” invoke and “incorporate” Orixás, falling into a trance-like state. After falling into trance the priest-spirits perform dances symbolic of the Orixá’s attributes, while the Babalorixá or father of saint leads songs that celebrate the spirit’s deeds. The ceremony ends with a banquet.
Candomblé music, an essential part of the ritual, derives from African music. The word Batuque, for instance, has entered the Brazilian vernacular as a synonym of “rhythmic percussion music”.
Candomblé temples are called houses , plantations , or yards . Most Candomblé houses are small, independently owned and managed by the respective higher priests . A few of the older and larger houses have a more institutional character and more formal hierarchy. There is no central administration. Inside the place of worship are the altars to the Orixás or Pejis.
Candomblé priesthood is organized into symbolic families, whose members are not necessarily relatives in the common sense. Each family owns and manages one house. In most Candomblé houses, especially the larger ones, the head of the family is always a woman.
*** Often during the slave period, the women became the diviners and healers; the male slaves were constantly working and did not have the time to take care of daily practices. Or, when caring for children, the women had the chance to teach the knowledge of their traditions to the newer generations.
The seclusion period for the initiation of an Iyawo lasts generally 21 days in the Ketu nation, and varies depending on the nation. The Iyawo role in the religion is assigned by a divination made by her/his Iyalorixá/Babalorixá. An Iyawo may be assigned to care for neophytes in their initiation seclusion period, become an expert in all the Orixá foods, or learn all ritual songs, etc. The Iyawos follow a 7-year period of apprenticeship within which they offer periodical sacrifices in order to reinforce their initiation links, in the form of the so-called ‘obligations’ of 1, 3 and 7 years. At the 7th year, the Iyawos earn their title and may obtain an honorific title or religious post. Once the Iyawo has accomplished their 7th-year cycle obligation, they become elders within their religious family.
Reference Resources: Universio De Candomble = Futuro-Yawo = Ko Si Ewe-Ko Si Orisa =