Afro-brazilian Religions

The black people who came as slaves from Africa to Brazil brought the religion Candomblé. Among them, two groups stood out: the Bantu (who came from regions such as Congo, Angola and Mozambique) and the Sudanese, who came from Nigeria and Benin (and who are known as the Iorubas, Nagôs and Jejes). However, the official religion in Brazil was Catholicism, brought by white people, from Portugal. Candomblé – an African religion that became Afro-Brazilian – was seen as witchcraft at the time. That is why it was prohibited and its practice was suppressed by the police authorities. Thus, blacks began to worship their divinity and follow their religious customs secretly. To disguise it, they identified their deities with the saints of the Catholic religion. For example, when they prayed in their language for Santa Barbara, they were worshiping “Iansã”. When they went to Nossa Senhora da Conceição, they were talking to “Iemanjá”. This process was called religious syncretism.

Candomblé has very beautiful rituals, performed at the rhythm of “atabaques”(musical instrument) and chants in Yoruba or Nagô languages, which vary according to the “orixá” being worshiped. Candomblé ceremonies are held at “terreiros” – which today are houses, backyards or temples. It was in clearings in the forest that slaves could express their religiosity. The rites are conducted by a father of a saint (who has the African name “Babalorixá”) or a mother of a saint (“Ialorixá”). Offerings and spiritual consultations are also made through the game of shells (a type of sea shell that is used as an oracle to guide and make predictions). Currently, the Candomblé “terreiros” that follow the religion, close to how it was in it’s origin, are in Bahia. Over time, this African religion practiced in Brazil acquired its own characteristics. “Caboclo” candomblé, for example, is a ritual that incorporates elements of the country and indigenous culture.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a few decades after the abolition of slavery in Brazil, a very important Afro-Brazilian cult originated in the city of Niterói, in Rio de Janeiro: “Umbanda”. It incorporates the practices of Candomblé, Catholicism and Spiritism. It is a more Brazilian, simpler and more popular cult, especially because its language is Portuguese and not African languages ​​or dialects. But Umbanda also suffered persecution. Many terreiros were invaded by the police and rituals were banned. However, with the Proclamation of the Republic, the Church and the State separation, it became harder for the police to discriminate against a religion. In addition, with the modernist movement and the valorization of popular culture, Afro-Brazilian religions became the object of interest and study by intellectuals who came out in their defense. In this way, Umbanda was less persecuted than before and gained many followers. For Umbanda, the universe is populated with spiritual entities that are called guides and communicate through an initiated person, the medium. The guides are presented as “pomba-gira”, “caboclo” or “preto velho”. The “caboclo” is the representation of the Brazilian indigenous and the “preto velho” represents the black in captivity. There are many differences in the way that religion is practiced in the various temples and terreiros of Umbanda and in the different regions of Brazil.