Posession par un orisha Autel de Santeria Prêtre de Santeria
Percussioniste - Santeria Umbanda - Brésil Umbanda-Brésil (lieu saint dédicacé
aux "vieux noirs" morts pendant la période
- Orishas or Orixás, a pantheon of deities in the traditional Yoruba religion of Nigeria and in Yoruba-derived religious traditions in the African diaspora. The name for these deities is spelled differently depending on language and culture areas—orisa in Yoruba, orixá in Portuguese, and orisha in Spanish—and they are also often known colloquially as santos, or saints.
The orishas are not equal to the sky god (Olodumare) nor do they supplant him, but rather they are semi-independent divinities capable of working their own will with or without the propitiation (which often takes the form of the delivery of offerings to) or supplication of human beings. They are believed, however, to act in accordance with the wishes of Olodumare, but they often appear autonomous in their behavior and in how they are worshiped and propitiated. Although their names are the same in all areas, they are spelled differently. For reasons of consistency, this essay uses the most common Cuban-derived spelling, unless otherwise indicated.
The religion based on the worship
of the orishas is known by several names. In urban Brazil, especially Bahia,
Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo, one form is called Candomblé
and another Umbanda. There is a significant difference between these two
in that Umbanda incorporates a great deal of the spiritism, or European
philosophy developed by the French writer known as Alan Kardec, with a
complicated pantheon of spirits that are not orishas. Spiritism is a type
of spiritual practice which originated in France in the mid-19th century,
and which combines the summoning of disincarnated spirits, healing, and
the practice of charitable activities.
Further, in Umbanda, humans negotiate neither with God nor with the orishas, who are considered too remote, but rather with a cohort of lesser spirits. Farther north in Brazil, in Recife, the religion is known as Xangó, as in Trinidad, where the same term is spelled Shango. Both Xangó and Shango refer to a specific orisha, Changó (see below). In the United States and Cuba, the orisha religion is called Santería, which is a colonial term imposed by the Spanish and maintained in academic and journalistic literature. Terms more frequently used by practitioners in the United States and Cuba are Regla de Ocha, or Ocha, or simply, "the religion."
Divination forms one of two primary activities in the orisha religion. The divination system most frequently used is the 16-cowrie shell system (dilogun). It is through this system that the orishas speak and their will can be determined. Typically the diviner throws the cowrie shells onto a special tray. Then, depending upon their position and upon whether they land with the cowrie shell's opening up or down, he determines the significance of the toss. Each orisha corresponds to a specific number and sign, which is determined according to how the cowrie shells fall. In this way, the diviner ascertains the problem or situation facing the practitioner, what is causing the problem, and which orisha will help.
Another more complicated system of divination is called Ifa, which is the tool of the high priests, the babalawos. Ifa divination contains 256 signs, or odu, and each sign contains hundreds of verses, each potentially pertaining to the individual's destiny. Here the position of the cowrie shells, or often the position of several necklaces tossed onto a sacred tray, determines which odu is to be interpreted and applied to the particular question or problem put to the babalawo. Ifa divination is consulted in all major life changes, such as birth, marriage, and death. Ifa divination can be used for everyday consultations, but also for determining the destiny of the person in a ritual called Mano de Orúnmila (Hand of Orúnmila) for men and Kofa for women. Ifa divination relays the words and advice of the orisha Orúnmila, who also is in charge of the 16 cowries. Orúnmila never comes to earth, however, and speaks only through Ifa divination. Apparently, Orúnmila was insulted by the youngest of his 16 sons, who refused to bow to his father (the appropriate greeting to a senior family member in Yoruba culture) and who believed himself as wise and talented as his elder. Orúnmila removed himself to heaven and refused to come back. After being entreated by his children to return to earth, Orúnmila sent instead 16 palm nuts, which would speak in his absence. The palm nuts became the system of divination known as Ifa.
After finding out the origin of the petitioner's problem and which orisha to propitiate, through further divination the diviner determines what type of offering should be given to the orisha to ensure his or her help. An offering is called an ebo. This cycle of divination and ebo represents the fundamental, daily praxis of worship in the orisha religion. Since the orishas are manifestations of energy and the embodiment of the forces of nature, it is this energy that is harnessed through ebo to work on behalf of the practitioner.
The other major activity in
the orisha religion is possession. Here, the orishas visit the earth and,
to do so, they must borrow the body of a devotee who has been ritually
prepared and trained to receive them. Mediums can enter a trance state
and begin channeling the orisha at any time, whenever the orisha wants
to come, but this activity mostly occurs within the context of a party
for the orisha. At these parties, called festas in Brazil and tambors in
the United States and Cuba, people gather to hear drumming and singing,
and specific members of the group, or "house," dance.
In Brazil, festas are highly choreographed performances. The members of the house dance in a circle (roda or roça); the women wear fine traditional dress consisting of several heavily starched petticoats under a brightly colored, full skirt and a lace blouse. They are then wrapped with a large cloth (pano da costa), which extends from chest to knees, and finally the costume is tied just under the armpits and tightly across the breasts with a long strip of cloth. The head is always covered with a scarf, often made of lace.
The dancers dance in order of length of time initiated. Songs and dances specific to the orishas are performed in a predetermined order. Interestingly, the order corresponds to that of the Cuban tradition. After the songs have been performed to each orisha, and generally not before, the dancers begin falling into trance and become possessed by their orishas. In Brazil, most mediums present become possessed with their orishas.
At this point, the mediums are cared for by special priestesses called ekedes, whose role is to take care of the belongings of the persons in trance, to bring them out of trance when necessary or at the orders of the house leader, to wipe the sweat off their faces as they dance, and to adjust their clothing. Ekedes go through a similar initiation process as that of a medium, but unlike the medium their head is not shaved, as it was determined through divination that they were not destined to become possessed. There is no official position in the Cuban tradition analogous to the ekede, but frequently a medium brings trusted assistants who essentially perform the same function with him or her to tambors to watch out for the medium while he or she is in trance.
After the orishas appear and possess their mediums, they dance a little bit and then are taken away from the scene of the dancing and are dressed in ritual clothing specific to their attributes and colors. They are subsequently brought back out to dance and to dispense advice to those present. In the United States and Cuba, the orishas are allowed to remain as long as they care to a tambor, and individual supplicants seek their advice. In Brazil, however, they speak much less to individual guests, and they are not accorded the freedom to come and go but are handled skillfully by the ekedes. Each orisha dances for a few songs only, and at the end of the performance they leave. In the Cuban tradition, generally only one or two orishas come and take possession of a medium at any one tambor, and they stay much longer, being the center of attention while they are at the tambor.
Each orisha has certain attributes corresponding to a natural phenomenon. Changó is represented by lightning and thunder; Oyá or Yansan by the wind; Orisha Oko by the farm or agriculture in Cuba and the United States and by the home in Brazil; Agayú by the volcano; Ochún by the river and sweet water; and Yemayá by the sea (in Trinidad, these aspects of Yemayá and Ochún are reversed). Many orishas live in the forest and can be worshiped in wooded areas or urban parks. These include Osain, the herbalist and doctor, and Ochosi, the hunter. Ogun, the solitary warrior, divinity of iron and the forge, can be found wherever transportation facilities are located, especially train tracks and stations, and in contemporary times is thought to inhabit airports. Eleguá, the trickster, is the lord of the crossroads. His offerings are frequently taken to a crossroads.
The warrior orishas include Eleguá, Ogun, and Ochosi. Members of the religion in the Cuban tradition who have not yet been initiated into the priesthood can be dedicated to, or "given to," these orishas, along with Osun, the guardian of one's destiny, in a ritual known as "giving the warriors." There does not appear to be an analogous initiation in Brazil. In fact, Eleguá in Brazil, where he is known as Exú, is treated completely differently than he is in Caribbean culture. This is one of the most interesting discrepancies in a comparative study. In the Cuban tradition, Eleguá is a trickster and causes many problems, such as car trouble or other problems in travel, or inexplicable confusions. He is the orisha of choices, and he must be propitiated first, before all other orishas, so that he is kept content and so that he does not play disruptive jokes. Although considered dangerous, he is something of a childlike orisha in that he likes toys and candy. He manifests in his devotees at tambors, is taken along on vacations, and is kept close to his keepers—inside the house behind the door to guard the home, where practitioners can ask him for protection before exiting.
In Brazil, however, Exú is thought of as quite maleficent. There, he also lives behind the door or preferably outside at the front gate. He is also propitiated first, but this is done in order to send him away so that he will not disrupt rituals and festas. He is sent away at least three hours before a festa begins: for example, the ceremony to propitiate Exú usually takes place at approximately five o'clock in the afternoon for a nine o'clock festa. In Brazil, Exú is regarded with absolute respect mixed with a little terror. The idea of giving him candy and toys and keeping him nearby is met with horrified looks. Speaking to him or propitiating him by spraying rum on him prior to leaving the home is considered disturbing him and thought to cause problems by "calling" him to accompany one.
The orishas all have their
favorite foods, colors, and numbers. Offerings as well as material culture
adhere to these specific preferences. A typical food offering for Changó
might be okra cooked with cornmeal; for Oxun of Brazil one might cook a
dish of black-eyed beans or for Ochun of Cuba, a pastry soaked in honey.
The food and colors of Obatalá (Oxalá in Brazil) are all
of the strictest purity and white, such as the whites of eggs and cocoa
butter. Oyá or Yansan uses brown, and Babaluaié, the orisha
of smallpox, uses purple and burlap in Cuba and the United States, and
raffia in Brazil.
Material culture in the orisha religion is quite rich. Practitioners of Ocha, from the very earliest initiations, all wear strings of beads in the specific colors of the orishas. Generally, a newcomer starts with five necklaces, called elekes, which pertain to Obatalá (white), Changó (red and white), Ochún (yellows, gold, and coral with possibly a few single green and blue beads), Eleguá (black and red), and Yemayá (blue, crystal, and silver). Bead wearing in Brazil is at once more casual and more formal: casual wearing of the beads can be observed among nonmembers who simply are fond of the religion from the outside; and initiates wear long heavy strings, often of 21 strands held together at points by larger beads. The colors in the two areas are very similar; the notable exceptions are the beads for Ogun (green and black in the Cuban tradition and dark blue in Brazil). In Brazil, further, one does not wear beads for Exú.
Costumes for the orishas are very elaborate in both Brazil and in the Cuban tradition. In the Cuban initiation, the novice must have seven new white outfits, consisting of a full petticoat, an overskirt, and a lace blouse. During the party for the new initiate on the third day, he or she wears a very elaborate costume in the colors of the orisha to whom the initiate is dedicated. These clothes are usually in 19th-century colonial style, with long full skirts, puffed sleeves, and tight waists for the women; the men wear tunics with loose pants. The preferred fabric is heavy satin, and the costumes are decorated with sequins, lace, appliqués, and are often heavily and beautifully beaded. In Brazil, the preferred decoration is lace, as making lace is a skill that remains fairly common and available, although increasingly expensive, as are the fabrics. Clothing design in Brazil, as described above, is an intriguing combination of the colonial with the African: colonial skirts and blouse are worn below an African pano da costa, which is tied on top. In both traditions, covering the legs is very important for modesty.
The orishas each have Catholic saints to which they correspond as well. Changó, for example, corresponds to Saint Barbara in most areas. Other correspondences are not uniform and vary regionally, even within the same country. This phenomenon occurred from the first entry of the orisha religion to the diaspora. Most slave-receiving areas were Catholic, and slaves were required to embrace the faith of their masters. Since Catholicism already had an established cult of saints, it was easy for slaves to view the saints as manifestations of their orishas and worship them in this guise. The orishas, therefore, are also known from colonial times as the saints (los santos or os santos). This subterfuge has caused the religion in all areas, particularly Trinidad, often to be described in academic discourse as "syncretic," that is, a melding of two traditions (see Colonial Latin America and the Caribbean).
The more research scholars do, however, the clearer it becomes that the two traditions are not melded at all but are kept very strictly apart. For example, in Ocha homes there may be an altar to the Catholic saints and family ancestors on which are placed glasses of water, crucifixes, images of saints and pictures of deceased relatives, candles, and flowers. In another space, on the floor, there may be a shrine to the egun, the ancestral African dead. For the egun, there may be candles, servings of food, coffee, rum, and cigars. But the two shrines are never under any circumstances combined. Also, at missas, or seances where non-orisha spirits are contacted, all manifestations of the orisha religion, such as the elekes, are removed.
In Brazil, Candomblé
ceremonies have no Catholic saints represented whatsoever, although one
might see an image or a lithograph of a saint corresponding to the orisha
who rules the house. Special Catholic masses figure in Candomblé
and Ocha ritual festivity, but these are always held in separate spaces.
Masses on the first Friday of every month are held at the Church of Nosso
Senhor do Bomfim in Bahia in honor of Oxalá, who corresponds loosely
to Jesus Christ. However, it is unclear that the mass is being said for
Christ, since it is Oxalá who is mentioned in the homily, and fireworks
are set off (a common means in Brazil to attract the attention of the orishas).
In the ritual context, however, no Catholic processes or imagery appear.
- Shango, an African-derived
religion practiced in Trinidad that developed during the 19th century;
Shango is also the name of a Yoruba deity worshiped in African-derived
religions such as Candomblé and Santería (Changó;
There are several dozen Shango centers in Trinidad with thousands of regular devotees, and an additional number of less consistent participants and clients. Reflecting its origins among the Yoruba, who were brought to Trinidad as slaves or who arrived there from other islands in the West Indies, the people who practice Shango call themselves "Yoruba people" and call the religion "Yoruba work." Practitioners of Shango often attend Catholic, Protestant, and Shouter (also known as Spiritual Baptist) churches as well.
Shango, Cuba's Santería, and Brazil's Candomblé share many elements, because of their common Yoruba origins. All of these religions feature the worship of a pantheon of deities (called "orishas" in Santería and Candomblé, "orisas" in Yoruba, and "powers" in Shango), and the ritual use of drumming, dance, and singing. In all cases, these Yoruba deities manifest themselves when they possess their devotees during specific rituals, and they are appeased and worshiped through dance, song, and sacrifice. (Though Shango takes its name from one particular deity — Shango, the god of thunder — the religion involves the worship of several other deities.) In the Yoruba religion from which the Shango, Candomblé, and Santería religions derive, each orisa was worshiped in a distinct temple, and was associated with particular geographical features and historically specific lineages. The deities of the three derived religions, however, are worshiped in one common center and are seen as the embodiment of less specific forces of nature. Practitioners of these three religions are also believed to "belong" to particular "powers," who control their fate and who must be appeased through worship and the observance of particular ritual requirements and proscriptions. All three religions are also largely devoted to invoking the blessing and assistance of the orishas in order to solve the problems faced by their devotees in this life, and are less concerned with the issues of sin and absolution, and life after death, that are such central features of Christian religions.
Shango, Candomblé, and
Santería have all used elements of Roman Catholicism. Most prominently,
the symbols, statues, and iconography of particular Roman Catholic saints
have been used to stand for Yoruba deities with whom they share similarities.
For example, in Shango, the deity Shango himself is often represented by
statues of Saint John the Baptist, while Abatala is symbolized by Saint
Benedict, and Ogun by Saint Michael (these correspondences vary within
particular Shango temples and are not consistent between Candomblé,
Santería, and Shango).
Because its history differs, Shango differs from Candomblé and Santería in other essential respects as well. Reflecting its development in Trinidad, a former British colony, Shango has been more deeply influenced by Protestant Christian religions, not just by Roman Catholicism. According to the scholar George Eaton Simpson, Shango has thus become a more "syncretized," or hybrid, religion. For example, in contrast with practices in Vodou shrines in Haiti and Candomblé centers in Brazil, the African symbols used in Shango are not kept in a separate room from the "Christian" ones. Recently, Shango has been increasingly influenced by the Shouter religion, with which it shares certain similarities, such as the high value placed on the direct experience of the divine.
Each Shango center holds one
big annual meeting in addition to the smaller rituals held for particular
powers, which are performed three or four times a year. The Shango cult
center consists of a shrine area with five or more shrines for the most
important powers; a chapelle, or small cult house; and a palais, where
healing ceremonies are held. Shango involves the worship of some non-Yoruba
powers as well, like Mama Latay and Gabriel. These powers have certain
characteristics that define their personalities and the objects and colors
they use. For example, the colors of the deity Shango are red or yellow
and red; he dances in the fire and carries a whip (i.e., when his devotees
are possessed by him they carry his iconic whip). He receives bulls, rams,
red or white cocks, and white pigeons as sacrifices, and is said to be
quiet, peaceful, and charitable. Other powers are Ogun (Saint Michael),
Oshun, (Saint Philomena or Saint Anne), Shakpana (Saint Francis, Moses,
or Saint Jerome), and Emanja (Saint Anne or Saint Catherine).
In Trinidad, someone becomes a devotee of a certain deity when he or she is possessed by it in a ceremony; when that power assists someone with an illness or a problem; or when it is a family tradition to worship that power. Nevertheless, there is no direct relationship between the deity's personality and the devotee's character. The same deity can even provoke different reactions in the same devotee. The powers punish their followers for behavior they do not like, and they reveal their will in dreams or through the interpretations of Shango priests and priestesses.
The Shango center's large annual ceremony begins on Tuesday night with a prayer meeting. Eshu, the trickster, who is the divine messenger among the deities, is always invoked first and appeased, then dismissed lest he cause too much trouble. Then other male and female powers are invited to appear at the ritual in turn, beginning with Ogun. From time to time, rum or water is poured in the four corners of the palais by a ceremonial assistant or a possessed person. Each person who is possessed by a particular power gets the ritual paraphernalia associated with the deity from the chapelle and comes back to dance near the shrine of the deity. Drumming, dancing, and possessions last all night. People identify the powers through the rhythms played by the drums and from the songs the possessed people sing, the objects they bring back from the chapelle, and the way they behave. The most important stimuli for the possessions is the different beats played on the drums.
In addition to Shango worship
in Trinidad, there is also a religion in Grenada called Shango which features
the worship of Yoruba deities. The Xangô religion in northeastern
Brazil is also Yoruba-derived and broadly similar. Overall, the worship
of Shango in Trinidad, as well as in other parts of Latin America and the
Caribbean, is one of the more lasting religious legacies of Africa in the
New World, and is testament to the deep religious conviction and perseverance
of generations of Afro-Caribbeans and Latin Americans.
- CUBAN SANTERIA
In contrast to Haitian Vodou, but
like Candomblé in Brazil and Shango in Trinidad, Cuban Santería
is based on the Yoruba pantheon of deities, or orishas. A large proportion
of the 700,000 Africans brought to Cuba were Yorubas, including numerous
priests and priestesses. As in Brazil and Trinidad, enslaved religious
leaders established followings in Catholic religious brotherhoods, then
moved out of them to create a religion that was both a continuation of
traditional African practices and an adaptation to the new needs and experiences
of the present. Santería is now practiced in the residences of priests
or priestesses who act as godfathers or godmothers to families of mediums.
These fictive kin groups, which may include as few as six, and as many
as 30 or 40 people, are structured by seniority of initiation into mediumship.
Mediums become possessed by one or more of the orishas.
The orishas of Santería are selective reinterpretations of the Yoruba pantheon. Among the Yoruba, Eleguá is an erotic, phallic god invoked in rituals of fertility. In Cuba, in the form of Eleguá, the god has lost these associations, for slaves had little incentive to encourage their own fertility. He has become more sinister, for he may now help to kill and poison enemies and masters. As the gatekeeper to the other gods, he has come to be associated in Cuba with Saint Peter, the Catholic saint who holds the keys to heaven. In Cuba, too, as in Haiti, Ogun is associated with resistance; but unlike in Haiti, where resistance became revolution, the Cuban Ogun avoids overt rebellion. Ogun's traditional connection with warfare became transmuted in Cuba into the sentiments of passive resistance and a burning thirst for justice. His rituals include, symbolically, the chains of enslavement and torture, and the machetes and picks of slave labor. His Catholic counterpart became Saint John the Baptist, in part because this figure wished to bring about a revolution without being able fully to do so himself.
There are a number of Yoruba divinities
that govern water, whether the ocean or rivers; these goddesses tend to
have strongly sexual overtones and to be associated with the celebration
of fertility, large families, and many descendants. In Cuba, too, there
is Yemayá, the spirit of the ocean and salt water, and Oshún,
the spirit of rivers and sweet water. Here, however, these figures are
not about creating and celebrating large families. Yemayá exemplifies
the sober virtues of motherhood—caretaking, wisdom, nurturance—and is associated
with the Virgin Mary. Oshún has become a goddess of youthful beauty
and coquetry. Hers is not a sexuality that aims to create large families
but rather to remind devotees of the limits of vanity. She too is associated
with one of the advocations of Mary.
Of special importance in Cuba is the spirit of Babalú-Ayé. In Africa this is a minor, secondary divinity, but in Cuba, where death and disease under slavery became rampant, this healing god became prominent. Not surprisingly, he became identified with Saint Lazarus, the Catholic saint who is the patron of skin diseases. Thus in the end, the pantheon of African deities that once existed to express and celebrate the intense joys and hopes of life have become in Santería expressions of the longing to overcome oppression and reminders of the limits of human power, desire, and bodies.
- BRAZILIAN UMBANDA
Umbanda, fast becoming one of the most widely practiced religions in Brazil, emerged in the 1930s as a syncretism (or fusion) of Yoruba-based Candomblé religion, Catholicism, and European spiritism. It has been suggested that Umbanda reflects the special aptitude for syncretism of the descendants of Bantu and Angolan slaves. Whether or not this is the case, it is clear that in Umbanda, in contrast to the Yoruba-derived religion of Candomblé, the orishas have been relegated to a distant spiritual plane. In their place, three main types of spirits descend to earth and possess mediums. These are the Caboclos, spirits of people who once walked upon Brazilian ground and breathed Brazilian air, and now, in death, perform works of charity through their intermediaries, the mediums who belong to cult centers.
Caboclos are the spirits of deceased indigenous people. They are admired for their skill in hunting and warfare and their knowledge of the forest. Above all, they are respected as proud and courageous for having resisted slavery. When they possess mediums, their demeanor is haughty, even arrogant. They perform magical healing and offer advice and assistance for the unemployed and people battling the bureaucracy. Pretos velhos ("old blacks") are old Brazilian men and women who died while still enslaved. They are characterized not by the fearsome might of the orishas, or even the pride of the caboclos; they are, rather, humble, loving, gentle, and patient. They walk slowly and hunchbacked, sit down in order to consult with their petitioners, speak in soft, stereotyped slave Portuguese, and puff on pipes. Their specialty is offering warm advice to people faced with domestic conflict. The third main category of Umbanda spirits are the exús. These are spirits of people, above all, slaves and marginalized blacks, who died unresigned to their lot. They were petty thieves and tricksters who now, in death, make trouble on command and set obstacles in the paths of their petitioners' enemies. They are inherently untrustworthy, often charging handsomely for their knavery. They refuse to conform to the ideal of the subordinate black. As Roger Bastide, a French expert on Afro-Brazilian religion, put it, "this 'bad Negro' is nothing other than the image of the runaway slave."
This pantheon has tended to be interpreted
by scholars as embodying racist stereotypes of blacks: the good black is
the docile, submissive one; the bad black is the rebellious one; the dignified
caboclo Indian is the one who preferred death to enslavement. These may
well be the meanings attributed to the caboclo and preto velho spirits
by the religion's lighter-skinned practitioners. There is evidence, however,
that black practitioners interpret the pantheon differently. In particular,
some black mediums have developed relationships with the spirit of Zumbi,
the great 17th-century leader of runaway slaves. For them, Zumbi is both
an exú and a preto velho. He appears in their cult centers and teaches
the pretos velhos the "true" history of slavery in Brazil: how, for instance,
the emancipation of slaves did not occur through the good will of the white
ruling class, as is taught in Brazilian grade schools, but rather through
the struggles and resistance of slaves themselves (see Abolition and Emancipation
in Latin America and the Caribbean). These mediums say they know that the
pretos velhos suffered under slavery and never felt resigned to it. "They
never accepted it," said one medium, "but what could they do? They just
nodded and said 'Yes, sir.' But in their hearts they did not accept it."
Zumbi's mentorship of the pretos velhos, and his own dual identity as exú
and preto velho, reveal that for black adherents of Umbanda, the pretos
velhos always retain, just below the surface, the potential to rebel.
The examples of Vodou, Santería, and Umbanda show that the religious traditions of Africa were not transferred to the New World in static form. Rather, slaves and their descendants in Latin America and the Caribbean selected from and reshaped the meanings of the old beliefs to make sense of, and to cope with, the devastation and exploitation of New World slavery and racism. The spirit of the Old World helped them, in the end, to discover, develop bonds with, and, to a certain extent, be healed by the spirits of the New.
- Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian
religion developed primarily by West African Yoruban slaves and their descendants
in northeastern Brazil.
Scholars distinguish three major types of Candomblé in Brazil, each of which is associated with different nações (literally "nations," which refer to the African ethnic group origins of the Candomblé): the Gêgê-Nagô Candomblé, the Angola-Congo Candomblé, and the Candomblé de Caboclo. The first is based on Yoruban and Fon religious traditions and languages, while the others are based on diverse Bantu and Brazilian sources. There is a great deal of variation both between and within these three types of Candomblé, but all are strongly influenced by Yoruban beliefs and rituals. This article attempts to discuss the elements common to all three variants of Candomblé (see Religions, African, in Brazil).
Large numbers of Yoruban slaves
from Nigeria and Benin were brought to Brazil during the 18th and early
19th centuries (see African Ethnic Groups in Latin America and the Caribbean).
They believed in one Supreme Being, known as Olorun or Olodumaré,
and numerous intermediary spiritual beings, known as orixás, which
were in broad terms similar to the Christian God and Catholic saints of
the Portuguese colonizers. Slaves recognized that some of the saints shared
symbols and characteristics with their orixás and began to identify
some of their orixás with the saints. For example, they identified
Omolú, or Obaluaiyé, the orixá of smallpox and epidemic
diseases, with Saint Lazarus the leper. This syncretism actually blended
African and Catholic religious traditions in some Candomblé, while
it was only superficial in others. In either case, it allowed them to secretly
worship their African deities behind the façade of the saints and
contributed to the formation of a religion known as Candomblé, whose
closest counterpart in the New World is Santería.
In Candomblé, a devotee "belongs to" multiple orixás, who control the devotee's destiny and act as his or her protectors. The orixás are intermediaries between humans and Olodumaré, the creator of the universe. As the children and servants of Olodumaré, the orixás are all related by a common mythology, which is used to explain the social relations between people who worship different orixás. People's actions are understood individually in terms of their personal orixás. What a devotee does, eats, and wears on a daily basis is often influenced by his or her orixás, which are associated with specific days of the week, foods, animals, and colors. In addition to respecting the preferences of their orixás, devotees usually exhibit personal qualities akin to those of their orixás. For example, a devotee of Xangô, the orixá of thunder and lightning, will tend to be proud, aggressive, and stubborn, all of which are characteristic traits of this orixá. In this way, orixás often determine their devotees' behavior and daily decisions.
A spiritual force referred
to as axé sustains Candomblé. Devotees increase their axé
by carrying out daily devotional rites and through possession ceremonies.
During these ceremonies drummers play a sequence of rhythms, each corresponding
to the orixá being summoned, while devotees sing songs and execute
dance steps associated with their personal orixás. The songs and
dances collectively reenact the mythology of the orixás and individually
reflect the human activity and aspect of nature that an orixá oversees.
For example, the choreography of Oxóssi, who presides over hunting
and the forest, involves the hunting and capturing of game. During these
ceremonies the orixás often descend into the bodies of their devotees,
inducing an animated state of possession in which the devotees dance.
Candomblé' centers of worship are called terreiros (grounds), and they encompass a sacred indoor and outdoor space with sanctuaries for the orixás, saints, and/or Indian-like spirits called Caboclos. The head of the terreiro is either a priest, sometimes referred to as a babalorixá or a pai de santo (father of the orixá), or a priestess, called an ialorixá or a mãe de santo (mother of the orixá). This religious leader is traditionally a black woman who, in addition to being responsible for the spiritual well-being of the Candomblé members and the terreiro's material needs, uses divination to communicate with the orixás. To ascertain an individual's personal orixá or to help find a solution to a devotee's personal problem, the mãe de santo will toss 16 cowry shells whose resulting patterns reveal the will of the orixás.
Some Candomblé members only visit the terreiro for such consultations, while others go through an elaborate initiation process that lasts several months and eventually allows them to be possessed by an orixá. During this induction period, initiates are kept in a secluded room where they learn the songs, dances, and mythology of their orixás. In addition, their bodies are ritually prepared with herbal baths and drinks to receive the orixás. Initiation culminates in a ceremony marking the spiritual rebirth of the initiate, who becomes what is sometimes referred to in Portuguese as a filho or filha de santo (son or daughter of the orixá). In Yoruba, initiates are called iaôs. The initiation process creates a family of devotees related by spiritual rather than genetic ties.
In Brazil the predominantly black state of Bahia continues to be the cradle of Candomblé. Although the religion is openly practiced today, historically its practice has been covert because of repression by church and state officials. Beginning in the 19th century, police raided Candomblé houses of worship, confiscating its possessions and arresting its members. The repression of some Candomblé lessened in the 1930s, when participants in two Afro-Brazilian congresses advocated the preservation of Candomblé as part of Brazil's African heritage. In addition, some terreiros deliberately recruited prominent figures in Bahian society as their ogãs, or lay protectors, which lessened persecution against them to a certain extent. But it was not until Brazil officially declared its commitment to fostering religious freedom in the 1970s that Candomblé devotees began to practice their religion openly.
Following a 1983 conference on the orixá tradition and culture in Salvador, Bahia, some Candomblé priests and priestesses proposed doing away with the Catholic elements in Candomblé, principally the imagery of the saints, which they regard as no longer necessary for the worship of their African deities. Today, whether or not to de-syncretize Candomblé continues to be a hotly debated issue.
Source : Microsoft Encarta Africana