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Orixás, deities of several major religions in the the African diaspora, of Yoruban influence. Besides Candomblé in Brazil and Santería in Cuba, Orixás figure in the pantheon of religions found in Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, and several Caribbean island states, as well as the African countries where they originated. Orixás act as intermediaries between humans and the supreme being, Olodumare (or Olorun), who rules over all. Every living being and natural phenomenon was created by Olodumare, and is therefore infused with his sacred energy, known as axe (ah-SHAY), or life-force. Because his powers and responsibilities are so vast, Olodumare does not involve himself directly in human affairs. Legend maintains that for this purpose he created the orixás. Each orixá embodies an aspect of Olodumare's creative power in personalized form, representing both natural phenomena and human qualities. Parables about the personified orixá help teach basic cultural values.

Orixá worship is an integral part of Candomblé, for it is through the assistance of the orixás that problems are analyzed and resolved. An individual may consult the orixás through the ancient system of divination known as Ifa, in which the answer to a problem is contained in a series of verses and parables, or may turn to other methods of divination. The individual orixás are also regularly invoked through possession ritual. The axe of each orixá may be tapped through songs, dances, and drum rhythms particular to them. In ceremonies called batuques, toques, or festas, orixás are summoned to temporarily possess initiated devotees, although they sometimes select an uninitiated individual of their own choosing. Once an orixá has arrived, it may communicate directly with worshippers or indirectly through the assistance of a senior initiate.

Every individual is said to have a special affinity with at least one orixá, who is considered the "ruler of the head" and a personal guardian. The relationship between a person and his or her orixá is symbolized by strings of beads (contas) worn around the necks of initiates and bearing each orixá's personal colors. Devotees bring gifts and offerings to orixás on the days sacred to them. Many rites of orixá worship have become part of Brazilian popular culture, such as Rio de Janeiro's annual tribute to Iemanjá, goddess of the sea waters, in which gifts and flowers are sent to the ocean on miniature boats with prayers for the new year.

Of the more than 600 orixás worshipped in Nigeria and Benin, little over a dozen major orixás are recognized throughout Brazil. Others have been developed in Brazil, sometimes through incorporation of indigenous deities. These other deities, such as the Negro Velho and various Exús of Umbanda, or the Caboclo (indigenous) deities of Candomblé Caboclo, function similarly to orixás, but are not considered part of traditional Candomblé.

Principal orixás of Afro-Brazilian Candomblé include:

guardian of crossroads and divine messenger. All ceremonies begin with an offering to Exú so that he will open the path of communication and carry the prayers of the devotees to the orixás. He is represented with red and black.
eldest orixá, symbol of creativity and purity, represented by the color white. Oxalá is regarded as the father of all orixás.
represented by thunder, lightning, and fire, symbolizing his passion and temper, although Xangô whose colors are brown, red, and white, is also known for his profound sense of justice.
orixá of hunters and the hunt, protector of ecological balance, symbolized by the color green. Oxossi is celebrated on Thursday.
deity of iron, metallurgy, tecnhologyand warfare, whose color is green.
orixá of smallpox and disease, his colors are red and black.
Mother of the orixás, associated with maternity and the sea (hence, her association with the Middle Passage among slaves). She isrepresented with clear blues and greens.
keeper of the rainbow.
warrior goddess, keeper of the winds, wife of Xangô, symbolized with the color red.
young goddess of sweetness, sensuality, beauty, and wealth, associated with fresh rivers and streams, also wife of Xangô. Associated with fertility, her colors are gold and yellow.

See alsoYoruba .


Raymundo Nina Rodrigues, O animismo fetichista dos negros bahianos (1935).

Donald Pierson, Negroes in Brazil: A Study of Race Contact at Bahia (1942).

Edison Carneiro, Candomblés da Bahia, 3d ed. (1961).

Roger Bastide, The African Religions of Brazil: Toward a Sociology of the Interpenetration of Civilizations, translated by Helen Sebba (1978), and O Candomblé da Bahia, 2d ed. (1978).

Gary Edwards and John Mason, Black Gods: Orisa Studies in the New World (1985).

Manuel Querino, Costumes africanos no Brasil, 2d ed. (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Daniel, Yvonne. Dancing Wisdom: Embodied Knowledge in Haitian Vodou, Cuban Yoruba, and Bahian Candomblé. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005.

Falola, Toyin, and Ann Genova. Orisa: Yoruba Gods and Spiritual Identity in Africa and the Diaspora. Trenton: Africa World Press, 2005.

Henry, Frances. Reclaiming African Religions in Trinidad: The Socio-Political Legitimatization of the Orisha and Spiritual Baptist Faiths. Barbados: University of the West Indies Press: London, 2003.

Lachatañeré, R. and Christine Ayorinde. Afro-Cuban Myths: Yemayá and other Orishas. Princeton: M. Wiener Publishers, 2003.

Nascimento, Abdias do. Orixás: os deuses vivos da Africa. Rio de Janeiro: IPEAFRO/Afrodiaspora, 1995.

Prandi, J. Reginaldo. Mitologia dos orixás. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2001.

Voeks, Robert A. Sacred Leaves of Candomblé: African Magic, Medicine, and Religion in Brazil. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997.

                                       Kim D. Butler