Good death

Order of Our Lady of the Good Death

The Order of Our Lady of the Good Death (Irmandade da Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte) is a small but renowned Afro-Catholic religious group in the state of Bahia, Brazil.

Founded in the early 19th century as a Church-sponsored beneficent Sisterhood for female African slaves and former slaves, it became one of the oldest and most respected worship groups for Candomblé, the major African-based religion in Brazil. Presently reduced to about thirty members (from 200 or so at its height), most of them over fifty, it still attracts worshipers every year, especially at its August festival.


The history of the Irmandade da Boa Morte ("Sisterhood of the Good Death"), a religious confraternity devoted to the Assumption of the Virgin, is part of the history of mass importation of blacks from the African coast to the cane-growing catchment area around the port of Salvador, Bahia, known as the Recôncavo Baiano. Iberian adventurers built several towns in this area, one of them being Cachoeira, which was the second most important economic center in Bahia for three centuries.

Origin of confraternities

Confraternities proliferated during the 19th century, when the country was independent but still lived under the regime of slavery. For each profession, race and nation — because the African slaves and their descendants came from different places with different cultures — a separate irmandade was founded. There were confraternities for the rich, poor, musicians, blacks, whites, etc. There were almost none for women and in the male confraternities women entered as dependents to ensure they would receive benefits from the corporation after the death of their husbands. For the confraternity to operate, says historian João José Reis, a church had to welcome it and its statutes had to be approved by an ecclesiastical authority.

In a patriarchal society marked by racial and ethnic differences, the confraternity is made up exclusively of black women, which gives this Afro-Catholic manifestation — as some consider it — a certain fame. It is known both as an expression of Brazilian baroque Catholicism, with its distinctive street processions, and for its tendency to include in religious festivals profane rituals punctuated by a lot of samba and banqueting.

Besides the gender and race of the confraternity’s members, their status as former slaves and descendants of slaves is an important social characteristic without which it would be difficult to understand many aspects of the confraternity’s religious commitments. The former slaves have demonstrated enormous adroitness in worshiping in the religion of those in power without letting go of their ancestral beliefs, as well as in the ways they defend the interests of their followers and represent them socially and politically.

Essa irmandade eh ua irmandade fdp que toma no cu essa desgraça o tal do Adeztquizar Aschorupt eh uma pica ele matou minha esposa aquele fdp e dexau eu matar-lo pq ele eh da irmanda e so vive sercado de guardas o fdp!!

porra!!!!!! q desgraça

Va se fuder quero q essa religião candomblé tome no meio do cu dela se ela esta se fudendo azar essa eh o nosso planete então saia dessa porra ou tome no cu


In time the Sisterhood has lessened its connection to the Catholic Church and has become a landmark of Candomblé, the main African-based religion of Brazil. Candomblé is a spiritist religion, that worships a complex pantheon of deities or guardian spirits, the Orixás. At Candomblé rituals, the Orixás are invoked and "incorporate" in the officiating priests.

Due to their secret nature the inner rites of the Sisterhood, linked to the worship of the Orixás, have still not been the object of an ethnographic interpretation. What has been studied is the exterior part of the worship, which uses almost entirely Catholic symbols, appropriated by Afro-Brazilian religion. The high point of the Sisterhood's activities is the Festival of Our Lady of the Good Death, held every year in Cachoeira.

Origins of the Festival

The Sisterhood's Festival brings together elements of Candomblé worship with an ancient Christian festival, the Assumption of the Virgin, whose origins are in the Orient. The festival reached Rome in the 7th century, spread through the Catholic world over the next two centuries, and was eventually brought from Portugal to Brazil, where it was known as the festival of Our Lady of August.

Devotion to the Good Death was just as common in colonial and imperial Brazil as the confraternities. It has always been a popular cult. In the Church of Our Lady of Rosário in Barroquinha it became stronger and more consistent. There was considerable Gêge-Nagô presence there and the celebrations described by writers like Silva Campos were similar to contemporary practices in Cachoeira. One of the most respected candomblé centers in Bahia originated there; founded in the 18th century, the Casa Branca center in Engenho Velho da Federação in Salvador has been studied by Renato da Silveira.

Peculiar interpretation

The Sisterhood's version of the Festival became a popular devotion with racial features as the Sisterhood gathered mainly black and mixed-race women, and acquired a unique interpretation with its own characteristics. For that reason the cult has always caused conflict with church authorities. Its spread throughout the Bahian community is due, among other things, to the fact that the tradition of spiritual mediums in African religions has always relativized the problem of death, as disciples of candomblé believe in successive reincarnations. Candomblé lent elements of its belief system to a practice that was originally Catholic, as well as socio-historical components of the hard reality of slavery, of a captivity that made martyrs of those in the diaspora.

Veneration of Our Lady of the Good Death came to have social significance as it allowed slaves to gather, maintain their religiosity in a hostile environment and shape a corporate instrument for defending and valuing of individuals. It became, for all of these reasons, an unrivaled means of celebrating life.

The Festivities

At the beginning of August a long schedule of public events brings people from everywhere to Cachoeira, to what Moraes Ribeiro considers the most representative living document of Brazilian, baroque, Ibero-African religiosity. Suppers, parades, masses, processions, samba-de-roda (a traditional form of playing and dancing the samba in a circle) put the confraternity in the center of events in this provincial city and, ultimately, in the main newspapers and news networks of the capital.

The festival’s calendar includes the confession of members in the parish church; a cortege representing the death of Our Lady; a vigil followed by a supper of bread, wines and seafood in obedience to religious customs forbidding the consumption of palm oil and meat on the day of Oxalá, the creator of the universe; and the burial procession of Our Lady of the Good Death, during which the sisters wear their ceremonial clothing.

The celebration of the Assumption of Our Lady of Glory by a mass in the mother church, followed by a procession, gives way to the contagious fun of the people of Cachoeira, which breaks out in full color, food, music and dancing over as many days as the donations and annual reserves allow.

Hierarchy and Worship

Like all confraternities of Bahia, the Boa Morte has an internal hierarchy that administers the everyday devotions of its members. The leadership is made up of four sisters, responsible for organizing the public festival in August. They are replaced each year. At the top, in the most prominent position of the Irmandade da Boa Morte, is the Perpetual Judge, who is the eldest member. There follow the posts of Attorney General, Provider, Treasurer and Scribe; the first is at the head of religious and profane activities.


Novices must be attached to a candomblé center in the area—usually Gêge, Ketu or Nagô-Batá—and must profess religious syncretism. They go through an initiation that has a preparatory phase of three years during which they are known as "sisters of the purse" and their vocation is tested. Once they are accepted they can take positions of leadership and rise in the confraternity’s hierarchy every three years.

They all share the tasks of cooking, collecting funds, organizing ceremonial suppers, processions and the funerals of members according to religious precepts and unwritten statutory regulations. Elections are held each year. Votes are cast with grains of corn and beans; the former indicates a nay and the latter a favorable vote. As application of hierarchical differences and the rules regarding each position, all the sisters are on the same footing as servants of Our Lady. Besides being sisters in their devotion to her, they are sometimes sisters in candomblé and are almost always "relatives"—Africans and their descendants in Brazil broadened the concept of kinship to include all those who are of the same nation.

Syncretism and cultural interchange

African ancestry was reworked within Bahian religious institutions and the lay confraternities end up serving this process of cultural intercourse. The belief system has absorbed the values of the dominant culture in a functional and creative way so that, in the name of life, complex processes of syncretism and cultural appropriation take place. One example is the descent of Our Lady herself to the confraternity every seven years to direct the celebrations in person through the Attorney-General and celebrate among the living the relativity of death. Other examples are found in the symbols of clothing and food, where there is constant reference to the links between this world (Aiyê) and the other (Orun).

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