Afro-Brazilian Religions

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AFRO-BRAZILIAN RELIGIONS . The religious landscape of Brazil is rich and varied. It includes the Roman Catholicism that arrived with the Portuguese colonizers, Spiritism influenced by nineteenth-century French philosopher Allan Kardec, twentieth-century evangelical Protestant movements, and the Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism that immigrants from Asia, the Middle East, and Europe introduced to the nation. While all of these traditions have engaged and been transformed by Brazilian social realities, it is perhaps the religions of African influence that have been most strongly associated with the country's popular culture and most deeply resonant of the particularities and complexities of Brazilian national identity.

Candomblé, Umbanda, Xangô, Tambor de Mina, Tambor de Nagô, Terecô, Pajelança, Catimbó, Batuque, and Macumba are among the names by which Afro-Brazilian religions are known in various regions of the nation. Most of these traditions have roots in nineteenth-century Brazilian slave societies and are the creation of enslaved Africans and their descendants. The religions developed as part of blacks' efforts to make sense of an experience of extraordinary disjunction and to create instruments that would sustain the deepest sources of their own humanity in the midst of great personal and collective trauma.

In some places, Afro-Brazilian religious communities emerged in connection with quilombos, outlying fugitive slave settlements. In others, they grew in the context of danced, processional celebrations of saint's days and holy days when plantation workers were given a sorely needed respite from the intensity of their labors. Often, in cities, communities formed in the small homes and rented rooms of African religious leaders; providing a refuge for worship, communal gathering, healing, and even organizing ways to resist slavery.

Origins, Commonalties, and Distinctions

There are a number of important distinctions among the traditions, but there are also significant commonalities. Afro-Brazilian religions share an emphasis on ritual and medicinal healing, cultivation of intense and intimate relationships to spiritual entities, and mutual aid. The religions are also marked by a concept of obligation and reciprocity between human beings and the ancestral/spiritual energies who are gods, saints, orixás, nkisis, voduns, caboclos, guides, and other sacred personages accommodated and celebrated within the ritual communities. Furthermore, Afro-Brazilian religions are all essentially mediumistic, where the central rite in many ceremonies is a crossing from one kind of consciousness to an ontologically different one, facilitated by sacred percussive music and dance. The occasion of possession or trance enables devotees to experience a profound closeness to the orixás who have claimed them and who accompany the initiates in their journey through life.

These religions also share, to greater or lesser extents, a combination of influences from West and Central African traditions, native Amerindian cultural and religious practices, popular Catholicism, and Spiritism (Espiritismo ). Their uniquenesses derive from the specific combination of elements composing their rituals, orientations, and meaningsincluding the historical, geographic, and cultural environment in which each was formed. Candomblé, for example, formed in the late eighteenth and early to mid-nineteenth centuries in and around the northeastern port city of Salvador, Bahia. Because West Africans from the Yoruba and Dahomey kingdoms (present-day southwestern Nigeria and Benin) and their descendants were most prominent among the population of slaves, former slaves, and free people of color in the area at that time, Candomblé developed with strong elements of Yoruba and Ewe-Fon ritual organization, language, and mythology. Umbanda, a more recent phenomenon dating from the 1920s, drew heavily on Candomblé, Spiritism, Catholicism, and persistent black and Indian folk representations in popular culture. Initially based in the industrializing cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the new religion addressed the needs of both a workforce migrating from the rural areas and a developing, self-conscious middle class.

Xangô, a religion very similar in history and appearance to Candomblé, emerged in Recife in the state of Pernambuco. Tambor de Mina shows especially strong Dahomean influence and was organized in the nineteenth century by blacks who worked in the coastal economy in the state of Maranhão. Tambor de Nagô, situated in the same area, draws from a Yoruba resource base. Terecô (also called Tambor de Mata), another Afro-Brazilian religion found in Maranhão, was created by slaves on cotton plantations of the inland area around the city of Codó and is distinguished from the Maranhense coastal traditions by the addition of Angolan and Cabindan ritual elements. A variety of Afro-Brazilian religious practices in the extreme southern state of Rio Grande do Sul and in the Amazonian region are known by the general name Batuque. Macumba is another generic term for Afro-Brazilian religions, used especially in Rio de Janeiro; though it is sometimes pejorative.

In the arid inland northeast and the Amazonian north, interactions between blacks and Indians produced a remarkable sharing of ritual and pharmacopoeic knowledge. There, more so than elsewhere in the country, Afro-Brazilian religions are inheritors of indigenous Amerindian cultural and spiritual orientations. The exchanges created a number of religions that, while incorporating elements of African traditions, are heavily dedicated to the cultivation of indigenous Amerindian spirits and particularly strongly focused on ritual healing, often using tobacco and jurema, a root beverage which facilitates altered states of consciousness. Among these Afro-Indigenous traditions are a black or African Pajelança (as distinguished from a more "purely" Indian Pajelança) and Catimbó. Many of the Afro-Brazilian religions use West and Central African languages as liturgical idioms. Most common are Yoruba, Kikongo, Kimbundu, and Fon, although ritual traditions with the strongest Amerindian and Catholic influence conduct rites in Portuguese.

Another important class of Afro-Brazilian religions are the black lay Catholic confraternities that historically served as mutual aid societies and provided ritual opportunity and space for blacks to venerate saints to which they felt especially drawn. One of the best-known examples is the Irmandade da Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte (the Sisterhood of Our Lady of the Good Death). Like others founded at various points from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries in different regions of Brazil, this organization was dedicated to helping its members defray funereal expenses; assist each other during illness; and, when possible, purchase manumission from slavery. In the late twentieth century, a chapter in the Bahian town of Cachoeira became renowned for its annual three-day processional feast celebrating the Virgin Mary's bodily assumption to heaven. Membership in the irmandade consists exclusively of Afro-Brazilian women, many of whom are priestesses of Candomblé as well as Catholic acolytes.

On the island of Itaparica, across the bay from Salvador, are ritual communities that cultivate the spirits of male ancestral dead, the Eguns. This society is distinct from Candomblé, although many members are also prominent in Candomblé rites. Like traditional Egungun cult practices in Nigeria and Benin, the ritual communities on Itaparica island periodically summon the presence of ancestors who have passed over to the orun (the spiritual world), honoring and remembering them, keeping their connections to current generations vital. The Egun rites, although restricted to males in both Africa and Brazil, are believed to have been created by a female orixáOyá, whose special responsibility is the care of spirits of the deceased.

Demographic Issues

Most devotees of Afro-Brazilian religions are members of the Brazilian working classes. Although blacks have historically been in the majority as participants and leaders in the religions, since the 1950s people who claim no African ancestry have increasingly joined the ranks of adepts. In some parts of southeastern Brazil there are ritual communities where more than half of the members are white. There are also Asians, Europeans, other Latin Americans, and blacks from the United States and the Caribbean who are attracted to Afro-Brazilian religions and who have been integrated into its communities. The religions continue to provide devotees an alternative space for the cultivation of connections to ancestral sources of strength, healing, and mystic/ritual approaches to the resolution of the everyday problems of modern life. They also offer access to deeper, more multifaceted, and more respected personal identities, an important resource for individuals who are severely marginalized by the political, racial, and economic structures of a profoundly unequal society. This characteristic of Afro-Brazilian religions perhaps explains the notable participation of gay men and lesbians, as both initiates and leaders, in various ritual communities.

The Brazilian national census of 2000 indicates that devotees of Afro-Brazilian religions constitute 3 percent of the country's total population. Scholars of the religions, however, have calculated the figure at closer to 8 percent. They caution that the true number of devotees is to some extent hidden behind the categories Catholic and Spiritist because many individuals who practice Afro-Brazilian religions refer to themselves publicly as participants in what are often seen as more acceptable faiths. In fact, some devotees, like the members of the Boa Morte irmandade, are part of more than one religious tradition. This double-consciousness, so to speak, is understandable given that historically, Afro-Brazilian religions had to constitute themselves in public relationship to Catholicism in order to survive. Several early Candomblé communities were established by members of black lay Catholic confraternities. Devotees of Tambor de Mina, Candomblé, Batuque, and Xangô all created parallels between the African divinities and Catholic saints, and often organized their own liturgical calendars around the Church's feast days.

Early Research

The study of Afro-Brazilian religions by academics began in the last years of the nineteenth century with the work of Raimundo Nina Rodrigues, a forensic physician based in Bahia, whose specific interest was the phenomenon of possession in Candomblé as a psychological pathology. In spite of his conceptual prejudices, Rodrigues did important work to document the formation of early Candomblé communities. His pioneering investigations were followed by those of his student Arthur Ramos, who broadened the geographic focus of Afro-Brazilian religious and cultural studies beyond Bahia, and helped situate the developing discipline in the context of Brazilian anthropological and sociological debates. Another early observer of Afro-Brazilian religion was Manuel Querino, a black art professor and essayist who, in the first three decades of the twentieth century, wrote extensively about Bahian popular cultural traditions. French sociologist Roger Bastide did the first comprehensive sociohistorical examination of major Afro-Brazilian religions, bringing an acute insight into the evocative and subtle metaphysics represented in the traditions. Others who made significant early contributions include Brazilian scholars Nunes Pereira, Gonçalves Fernandes, João do Rio (Paulo Barreto), Edison Carneiro, Octavio da Costa Eduardo, and Rene Ribeiro; French photographer and anthropologist Pierre Verger; and Americans Melville Herskovits, Ruth Landes, and Donald Pierson.


Candomblé and Umbanda are the most widespread and well-known Afro-Brazilian religions. As the best documented of the older Afro-Brazilian rites (and a direct forerunner of Umbanda, the largest of the traditions), Candomblé occupies a position of some prestige. Its oldest communities in Bahia have become the standard by which many other groups are measured. From its origins in northeastern Brazil in the last century of slavery, Candomblé expanded to many areas of the nation, carried by migrating workers to the industrializing cities of south and southeast Brazil. The central features of the religion have changed little in its expansion and continue to revolve around the cultivation of orixás, nkisis, and voduns, which are recognized as divinities, elements of the natural world, and aspects of human per-sonality.

Candomblé is a hierarchical, initiatory religion with little moral dichotomy of good versus evil but with a strong ethical sense based in African values of reciprocity and ancestral/spiritual obligation. There are six major divisions within the tradition, organized as ethnic/liturgical "nations": Ketu, Ijexá, Jêje, Angola, Congo, and Caboclo. In their initial manifestations in the nineteenth century, the African nations of Candomblé represented the Yoruba (Ketu and Ijexá), Ewe (Jêje), and Bantu (Angola and Congo) ethnic identities of many of the individuals associated with ritual communities. Over the course of the development of the religion, and as larger numbers of Brazilian-born participants entered the ceremonies, the identity of Candomblé nations became a liturgical/ritual designation and not a genetic or clan-based one.

The Caboclo Candomblé is an additional division that specifically and extensively cultivates Amerindian ancestral spirits in addition to those of African origin. It is a more recent development, dating from the early twentieth century and prominently incorporating Brazilian national symbols such as the country's flag, its green and yellow colors, and the use of Portuguese as the language of ceremony. Because of the strength and prestige of Yoruba-based candomblés, the Yoruba term orixá (orisha) has become the most common descriptor of African spirits cultivated in the religion. Nonetheless, in the contexts of their own rituals, the Ewe and Bantu nations of Candomblé call the spirits by other namesvoduns (among the Jêje) and nkisis (among the Congo and Angola communities).

In Brazil, the most commonly cultivated orixás of the Yoruba pantheon are Exú, orixá of the crossroads who controls communication between human beings and the world of the spirits; Ogun, warrior god of metals and the forest who is the path-breaker; and Oxôssiancient head of the Kêtu kingdom, a hunter orixá characterized by mental acuity. Omolû or Obaluaiye is orixá of the earth and of both illness and healing. Ossâin is guardian of herbs and herbal wisdom and Oxumarê is the serpent deity associated with life cycles of renewal. Another warrior energy, Logun-Ede, is son of Oxôssi and Oxum and shares their qualities. Xangô, the much beloved ancient king of Oyo, is orixá of fire, justice, storm, and friendship. Oxum is the orixá of sweet waters, creativity, beauty, and abundance. The energetic female warrior orixá Oyá, or Iansã, is associated with storm, transformation, and the spirits of the dead. Iemanjá, patroness of salt water, is an orixá of maternal strength and protection. Obá is another river deity, also a fierce female warrior energy; and Euá, a river nymph orixá, is associated with youthful grace and a fighting spirit. An ancient female energy, Nana Burukû, is orixá of still, muddy waters. Oxalá, father of the other orixás, is the principle of peace and protection.

Candomblé ritual communities, or terreiros, exist in a variety of forms. Older or more prosperous communities often feature a series of buildings that include "houses" for the deities; living and cooking space for members of the community; a large hall, or barracão, for conducting ceremonies, and both garden and uncultivated spaces for essential plant resources. Newer and more urban terreiros and those with fewer material resources are often incorporated into the homes of religious leaders, where the living room may be used as the barracão.

Most ritual communities involve a small number of participants; generally no more than fifty, except in the case of the oldest "mother houses" of Bahia from which many Candomblé terreiros around the country descend. Ceremonies open to the public may attract several times the number of actual members, and nonmembers may frequent the terreiro for spiritual advice and ritual assistance on a wide range of mattersincluding physical health, psychological stability, personal relationships, financial difficulties, and employment issues. Extensive traditions of ritual and medicinal pharmacopoeia support trabalhos (spiritual healing works) and many new adepts, as well as clients, are attracted to the religion by the reputation of priestesses and priests for successful intervention in problematic cases.

When a pai or mãe de santo (priest or priestess) is approached, the first step is often a consulta, a private divinatory session, in which the religious leader will consult the orixás by means of the jogo de búzios, an oracle of cowrie shells. Reading and interpreting the shells, the mãe or pai de santo diagnoses the problem and, after determining if it is within the purview of the religion's resources to address it, prescribes a remedy. This may be as simple as an herb bath and an offering of flowers or food at the seashore or as complex as the eventual need for a full initiation into the priesthood.

Individuals who are to be consecrated to the service of the orixásthose who will receive the orixás into their bodies and others who will attend and assist themare, in a sense, called to that service. Cases of persistent (and sometimes undiagnosable) illness are often seen as signs from the orixá that an individual must undergo initiation. This is understood as both a duty and a blessing; an inherited ancestral/spiritual obligation which, if respected, brings well-being to the individual, her family, and the larger terreiro community; and if ignored can result in increased suffering.

Most terreiros follow a fairly strict organization of ritual responsibilities according to gender and length of initiation. At the pinnacle of the terreiro leadership is the mãe or pai de santo the head priestess or priestwhose authority is unchallenged in the context of the ritual community. Other titles for these individuals depend on the specific ritual language and tradition of each house: iyalorixá and babalorixá (mother and father of the orixás) are terms used in the Yoruba-based candomblés; nenguankisi and tatankisi (mother and father of the nkisi) are used in the Congo and Angola candomblés; and doné and doté (chief priestess and chief priest of the voduns) in Jêje candomblés. Initiated members of the communities are filhos and filhas de santo (children of the saint).

The majority of Candomblé devotees are women, and some terreiros have a long-standing tradition of exclusively consecrating women as supreme leaders of the community. Indeed, the place of women as utmost ritual authorities in many terreiros is a distinguishing characteristic of the religion. Candomblé communities have often been recognized as "privileged" women's spaces in Brazilian society.

Beyond the chief sacerdotal positions there are explicit ritual roles designated for males and others for females. In the Yoruba-based Candomblé communities, among the most common posts held by women, after that of the high priestess, are the iyakêkere or mãe pequena (small mother), the second-highest leadership role, assistant to the high priestess or priest; ekedis, initiated women who do not receive the orixás but who assist those who do in a variety of ritual circumstances; and ebomis, a general term for initiates who have celebrated seven years or more of consecration to the orixá. Iawôs, "wives" of the orixá, are devotees specifically consecrated to receive the deities in their bodies and become their vessels in the human community, undergoing a lengthy, obligatory process of training. Iawôs can be male or female, although they are overwhelmingly women in Bahia. Abiãs, the most junior-level members of the community, are individuals who are being prepared for initiation and who have undergone one or more fairly simple rituals of spiritual fortification, the obi or bori. Like iawôs, abiãs can be male or female, but again, are predominately women and girls.

Specifically male roles include babalorixá, or chief priest (in terreiros where a male is the head rather than a female); ogãs, initiated men who do not receive the orixá but who assist the terreiro community in a variety of ways, from infrastructure and physical maintenance to financial and political influence; axogún, ritual slaughterer of votive animals; and alabês, drummers. Finally, all members of the terreiro are considered children of the mãe or pai de santo and they are expected to relate to each other as family, including, sometimes, adherence to prohibitions against sexual relations and marriage within the ritual community.

The central rites of Candomblé are a series of initiations, periodic reinforcements of the spiritual energies of both devotees and orixás, and a cycle of annual ceremonies in honor of the orixás. Among the first rituals a new initiate experiences are the banho de folhas (ritual cleansing bath with herbs), lavagem de contas (consecration of beaded necklaces in herb mixtures sacred to the orixás), and obí com agua, an offering of kola nut and water to the orixá who most closely accompanies each devotee. Other rituals related more directly to the process of initiation, or fazer santo (literally "to make the saint"), are designed to reinforce the spiritual link between devotee and orixá as well as to prepare the new initiate to properly receive and care for the orixá that enters her body in a ceremony. The rites associated with initiation, obrigações, are renewed in one-, three-, and seven-year cycles.

Each terreiro conducts a sequence of annual celebrations for the patron orixás of the house. These festas are the major public ceremonies of the religion. Initiated members who receive the orixá (iawôs and ebomis ) circle the barracão in festive ritual dress: beautiful lace and embroidered blouses, panes of cloth with stripes or lace designs wrapped around their chests, wide skirts of lush and beautiful fabricstheir fullness accentuated by starched underskirtsand the contas, beaded necklaces in the colors and patterns associated with the various divinities. The women dance barefoot, in a counterclockwise ring, varying their steps and gestures in accordance with the rhythms played on sacred drums, atabaques: a different rhythm for each orixá. The drums are accompanied by a metal bell, agogô, and songs calling the orixás to join their devotees in the circle of dancers.

After a while, the spirits begin to descend, temporarily occupying the bodies of their adepts. In the moments of transition, some devotees are in perceptible discomfort, clearly demonstrating that the process of sharing their physical being and consciousness with another entity is an immensely taxing effort. Others seem to make the shift almost imperceptibly; under all but the closest observation, the moment of change passes unnoticed. As the orixás arrive, they are ushered out of the barracão and into back rooms where they are dressed in their own ritual clothes, in colors, textures, and designs that clearly identify each: red and white for Xangô; light blue for Iemanjá; raffia palm and burlap for Omolû; white for Oxalá. They reemerge wearing beaded crowns that cover their eyes. They carry the implements associated with their dramatic and interwoven mythologies: Oxum's mirror and fan; Oyá's horsehair whisk; Ogun's sword and shield. They dance into the small hours of the morning, pausing to receive ritual greetings and to offer hugs and parental caresses (and sometimes a concise word of advice) to members of the community and guests.

The public festas, as well as the private internal rituals of the terreiros, are ceremonies whose intent is to renew the axé, the essential spiritual force and life force, that is believed to reside in all forms of being in the universe. In communion with the orixás and the ancestors, in the practice of reciprocal exchangefood, music, flowers, water, dance, singing, and even the ritually open bodies of devoteesthe energy of life is nourished and renewed for all who depend on that energy for their own continued existence and well-being.

In Candomblé, as in most of the Afro-Brazilian religions, ritual knowledge is primarily transmitted in oral and corporeal forms. Among devotees, very little is written down and most learning happens simply by rote experience and being present. A popular saying in the religion is "Quem pergunta no Candomblé não aprende" (She who asks questions in Candomblé doesn't learn). Knowledge passes as much from hand to hand in the conduct of daily tasks as from mouth to ear. The appropriate comportment in ceremonial as well as everyday contexts is one of manifest, corporeal respect for elders and for the orixás. This means that devotees with fewer years of initiation should defer to those who have more. Candomblé ceremony involves an elaborate etiquette of greeting and respect for elders that, even outside of the explicitly ritual context, requires initiates to acknowledge and ask the blessing of their elders and give special prostrated reverence to the chief priestess or priest.

Outside of the hierarchy of individual terreiros, there is no external organizing structure that dictates standards of ritual activity for Candomblé communities. Each house is independent and the leadership answers only to the orixás and to tradition. In some states there are licensing bodies to insure "authenticity" and affirm the training of pais and mães do santo, but these do not set policy. This is true of the other Afro-Brazilian religions as well. The absence of a larger governing organization means that each ritual community is essentially autonomous. Correspondingly, there is little institutional support for the religions beyond informal (but important) networks of friendship, mutual respect, and the rumors, reports, and inter-terreiro conversations that serve significantly as a kind of standardizing influence, especially among communities of the same Candomblé nation.


Since the 1950s, Umbanda has had the largest and most diverse participant base among the Afro-Brazilian religions. Emerging in Rio de Janeiro in the 1920s and 1930s, it quickly spread throughout the nation, attracting devotees across a range of ethnic, racial, gender, and class identities. The ability to gain such a variety of adepts was related in part to its extraordinary capacity to incorporate elements from a vast resource base of spiritual traditions. Emerging from a foundation in Congo-Angola and Caboclo candomblés, Umbanda maintained a basic structure of orixá worship with increased emphasis on Catholic and Spiritist symbolic and conceptual elements. The new religion conspicuously assimilated prayers, invocations, and veneration of Jesus, Mary, and various saints from the Catholic tradition. It also embraced philosophical aspects of Spiritism such as dualist ethics, reincarnation, karma, and the cultivation of a great many spiritual guides who assist devotees in a variety of concerns. Perhaps most significantly, among the new religion's spiritual entities were many associated with the contradictions and complexities of Brazilian modernity.

These included the pretos velhos, spirits of old black slaves whose long-suffering lives of labor conferred upon them a wisdom about the world that they share easily with devotees who approach them for advice and counsel. The caboclo spirits, already developing in Candomblé by the 1920s, emerge with an even vaster influence on Brazilian popular culture through their incorporation in Umbanda, where they represent the power of the untamed forest, remarkable healing capacities, courage, and a kind of romanticized essential Brazilianness of identity. Other guias (spiritual guides) of Umbanda further represent marginality and subalterity in relation to the occidental white standardthe Exús and Pomba Giras (female versions of Exú) associated with the unpredictability of street life and the crossroads; the Ciganos (Gypsies), Boiadeiros (Cowboys), and Marinheiros (Sailors); and an ever-increasing variety of other folk figures whose appeal arises in part from their distance from official authority and their proven ability to negotiate, resist, and survive in the face of great adversity.

In the years immediately preceding Umbanda's founding, most Afro-Brazilian religions still suffered significant persecution. Police raids with arrests and confiscation of sacred objects were not uncommon and economical and political elites waged ideological battles against the ritual practices which were seen as at best exotic nuisances, and at worst threats to the stability and enlightenment of the country. Much of the prejudice against black religions in Brazil occurred as part of a larger system of discrimination against black people and Afro-Brazilian culture as well. This was a period when an ideal of embranquecimento (whitening) was promulgated as a way to move the nation toward greater development and "civilization." New devotees to Umbanda were, perhaps unconsciously, looking for ways to minimize the direct association of their religion with the scourge of blackness.

Umbanda's publicly accessible altars feature symbols of Catholic saints, Indian caboclos, and pretos velhos, whereas the altars to the orixás are often in less obvious parts of the terreiro or house. Umbanda does not generally employ votive sacrifices in its rituals and the ceremonial clothing is simpler than that of Candomblé. In some terreiros, hand clapping and a capella singing replaces the use of drums. By the close of the twentieth century, Umbanda in large cities had developed a kind of New Age character of anonymous therapeutic support that served both middle-class and poor devotees. One view of the religion is that it operates on the border between Afro-Indigenous ritual and Christian rationalism; between modern psychological therapy and shamanism. Interestingly, since the 1980s Umbanda has been losing adepts to Candomblé and other Afro-Brazilian religions seen by some as more "authentic" and more ritually powerful because of their stronger cultivation of African spiritual energies.

Influence on Popular Culture

The influence of Afro-Brazilian religions extends deeply into popular culture in Brazil, belying the limitations of the relatively small number of formal adepts. As elsewhere in the African diaspora, like the United States and Cuba, black religious expression in Brazil has become the foundation for many elements of national culture. Brazilian music and dance forms, culinary traditions, literary tropes, and folk icons draw heavily from Afro-Brazilian roots, where sacred and secular artistic traditions blend almost seamlessly. The characteristic palm oilbased and expertly spiced Bahian cuisine reflects central ingredients in the sacred foods of the orixás. The resonant, multitextured percussive music and movements of samba have early-twentieth-century roots in the circle dance vernacular entertainments of rural northeastern Brazil and the favelas (ghettos, shantytowns) of Rio de Janeiro. Those dancers and musicians were often also participants in Afro-Brazilian religious life, extending their aesthetic sensibilities across both cultural manifestations.

Afro-Brazilian religions are a distinctly New World phenomenon reflecting the history, geography, and cultural and political encounters of the nation's varied peoples. They were created from, and are continually modified by the materials participants find available to best negotiate the challenges and possibilities of life where they live it. At the opening of the twenty-first century, one of the major challenges the Afro-Brazilian religions face is a vehement aggression by some neo-Pentecostal Protestant sects. As the terreiros, centers, and ritual houses of Afro-Brazilian religions seek the resources to address this newest challenge to their existence and meaning, they will draw on the wellsprings of ancestral força and axé which have seen them through other days at least as difficult as this.


Bastide, Roger. The African Religions of Brazil: Toward a Sociology of the Interpenetration of Civilizations. Baltimore, 1978. Bastide's classic sociological study of Afro-Brazilian religions was the first comprehensive effort to examine the role and meaning of religions of African origin in the historical and contemporary life of Brazilian society. Bastide examines the metaphysics, central rites, and organizational structures of all major Afro-Brazilian religious traditions.

Carybé. Os deuses africanos no candomblé da Bahia/African Gods in the Candomblé of Bahia. 2d ed. Salvador, Brazil, 1993. An extraordinarily beautiful artbook of watercolor paintings of the ritual life of Bahian Candomblé terreiros; the book includes iconographic images of the orixás, sacred instruments, ceremonial clothing, and elements of the initiation process. Essays on the history of Candomblé and the characteristics of the gods are in Portuguese and English.

Dantas, Beatriz Góiz. "Repensando a pureza nagô." Religião e Sociedade 8 (1982): 1520. An important essay urging the reconsideration of the idea of "Yoruba purity" as the ideal of Afro-Brazilian religions. Emphasizes the role scholars have played in privileging West African over Central and Southern African models in the religions and suggests that this influence has in turn affected oral traditions in many of the older terreiro communities. In Portuguese.

Eduardo, Octavio da Costa. The Negro in Northern Brazil: A Study in Acculturation. New York, 1948; reprint Seattle, 1966. An anthropological examination of Afro-Brazilian familial and community life in the state of Maranhão. The book focuses particularly on religious beliefs and practices and is a classic study of Tambor de Mina and other northern Brazilian religions of African influence.

Harding, Rachel E. A Refuge in Thunder: Candomblé and Alternative Spaces of Blackness. Bloomington, Ind., 2000. This book describes the historical development of Candomblé in the context of nineteenth-century Bahia, focusing on the role of the religion as a resource of alternative identity, community, and connection to ancestral traditions for slaves and their descendants.

Johnson, Paul. Secrets, Gossip, and Gods: The Transformation of Brazilian Candomblé. New York, 2002. This book examines the way that broader cultural and market forces in Brazil have precipitated changes in Candomblé. It particularly explores the role of secrets in maintaining prestige and developing foundational knowledge in the religion.

Landes, Ruth. The City of Women. New York, 1947; reprint, Albuquerque, 1994. This is a pioneering anthropological study of Candomblé emphasizing particularly the role of women and homosexual men in leadership and participation.

Nascimento, Abdias do. Orixás/Orishas: Os Deuses Vivos da Africa/The Living Gods of Africa in Brazil. Philadelphia, 1997. A collection of paintings by artist/statesman Abdias do Nascimento. The book also contains essays by several important scholars and critics of Afro-Brazilian culture and religion. In English and Portuguese.

Prandi, Reginaldo, ed. Encantaria Brasileira: O livro dos mestres, caboclos e encantados. Rio de Janeiro, 2001. This edited collection of essays discusses a number of lesser-known Afro-Indigenous religious traditions of Brazil with good regional representation and both sociological and anthropological perspectives. In Portuguese.

Santos, Juana Elbein dos, and M. Deoscóredes. "Ancestor Worship in Bahia: The Egun-Cult." Journal de la Societé des Americanistes 58 (1969): 79108. This essay discusses shrines for the cultivation of ancestral spirits on the island of Itaparica across the bay from Salvador, Bahia.

Sodré, Muniz. O terreiro e a cidade: A forma social negro-brasileira. Salvador, Brazil, 2002. This book is an engaging reflection on Afro-Brazilian religious thought and practice as an influence on Brazilian popular culture and as a means of resistance against racism. In Portuguese.

Verger, Pierre. Dieux D'Afrique: Culte des Orishas et Vodouns a L'Ancienne Cote des Esclaves en Afrique et a Bahia. Paris, 1995. Photographic study of the cultivation of African orishas and voduns in both West Africa and Bahia by one of the major scholars of Afro-Brazilian religion. In French.

Voeks, Robert. Sacred Leaves of Candomblé: African Magic, Medicine, and Religion in Brazil. Austin, Tex., 1997. A scholarly examination of the role of ritual and medicinal healing in Afro-Brazilian religion; includes traditional formulas for cleansing and healing baths as well as interviews with practitioners.

Walker, Sheila. "'The Feast of the Good Death': An Afro-Catholic Emancipation Celebration in Brazil." SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women 3, no. 2 (1986): 2731. The essay describes the history and development of an important black lay Catholic sodality which has close ties to Afro-Brazilian religions.

Wimberly, Fayette. "The Expansion of Afro-Bahian Religious Practices in Nineteenth-Century Cachoeira." In Afro-Brazilian Culture and Politics: Bahia, 1790s to 1990s, edited by Hendrik Kraay. London, 1998. A historical examination of rituals of celebration, healing, and cultivation of African deities in a plantation town in northeastern Brazil.

Rachel E. Harding (2005)