Candomblé (pronounced /kɐ̃dõˈblɛ/)is an African-originated or Afro-Brazilian religion, practiced chiefly in Brazil. The religion largely originated in the city of Salvador, the capital of Bahia. Although Candomblé is practiced primarily within Brazil, it is also practiced in neighboring countries and is becoming more popular worldwide. The rituals involve the possession of participants by Orishas, animal sacrifices, healing, dancing and drumming. Candomblé draws inspiration from a variety of the peoples of the African Diaspora, but it mainly features aspects of Yoruba orisha veneration.
In the Yoruba language, God, the Supreme Being, has various names such as Olodumare, Eleda, Olofin-Orun, Eledumare and Olorun. God is worshipped along with the veneration of the orishas. The Orishas are said to "mount", or possess the participant during rituals. The religion came to Brazil is derived from certain practices in Yorubaland in West Africa. Today, this is in the area of the countries of Nigeria, Republic of Benin and Togo. This was not a single group, but several, united by a common language and culture. Their indeginous spiritual practices were mostly brought over during the Atlantic slave trade by those dedicated to the veneration of the orishas.
The Yoruba slaves were referred by various names in the Americas such as Anago, O Lukumi and Nago. In many parts of the Latin America, Orishás are now referenced with Christian saints, most commonly Catholic. This religion, like many African religions, is an oral tradition and therefore has not been put into text throughout the years. Only recently have scholars and people of this religion begun to write down their practices. The name Batuque is also used, especially before the 19th century when Candomblé became more common. Both words are believed to derive from a Bantu-family language, mainly that of Kongo Kingdom.
Although originally confined to the slave population, banned by the Catholic church, and even criminalized by some governments, Candomblé thrived for over four centuries, and expanded considerably after the end of slavery in the late 1800s. The idea that the Candomblé church is a unit is incorrect, however. The original Candomble temple, terreiro, was established in early 19th century Bahia. It developed from three freed African women, Iya Deta, Iya Kala, and Iya Nasso, and many call it a true matrilineal society. They first established the Candomble headquarters in Bahia called Engenho Velho. However, this was not meant to last, and after dispute after dispute candombles split from one another; therefore, this established hundreds of different candombles. These different candombles mixed ideas and practices with local Afro-Brazilians and created distinct attributes for certain candombles. The different candomblés, today, are known as nações, or nations, including Candomblé de Ketu, Candomblé de Angola, Candomblé de Jejé, Candomblé de Congo, Candomblé de Ijexa, and Candomblé de Caboclo. It is now a major, established religion, with followers from all social classes and tens of thousands of temples. In recent surveys, about 2 million Brazilians (1.5% of the total population) have declared Candomblé as their religion. However, in Brazilian culture, religions are not seen as mutually exclusive, and thus many people of other faiths participate in Candomblé rituals regularly or occasionally. Candomblé deities, rituals, and holidays are now an integral part of Brazilian folklore.
Candomblé may be called Macumba in some regions, notably Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, although Macumba has a distinct set of practices more akin to European witchcraft. Candomblé can also be distinguished from Umbanda, a religion founded in the early 20th century by combining African elements with Kardecism; and from similar African-derived religions such as Quimbanda, Haitian Vodou, Cuban Santería, and Obeah, which developed independently of Candomblé and are virtually unknown in Brazil.
The division into nations was also influenced by the religious and beneficent brotherhoods (irmandades) of Brazilian slaves organized by the Catholic Church in the 18th and 19th centuries. These fraternities, organized along ethnic lines to allow preaching in the slaves' native languages, provided a legitimate cover for slave reunions, and ultimately may have aided the establishment of Candomblé.
The following list is a rough classification of the major nations and sub-nations, and their sacred languages:
Candomblé is a polytheistic religion and worships a number of gods, derived from African deities:
Candomblé deities have individual personalities, skills, and ritual preferences. Following the African belief systems from which Candomble is derived, every person is born with a "patron" deity. Usually after a reading with cowry shells by a priest such as a Babalawo (father or master of the mysteries), skilled in divination, or from having been possessed by the deity, the person undergoes initiation into the mysteries of that deity. The deities (except God, the Supreme Deity) manifest themselves by possession trance on the priests during Candomblé rites, when the initiate's body is used by the god to dance and communicate with the humans in attendance.
Altogether, the various nations of Candomblé retain a number of the deities still venerated in Africa. There are many similarities between some deities of different nations: e.g. Bantu Kabila, Ketu Oxósse and Jejé Otulu are all hunters and have the same symbolic colors. In Candomblé, however, they are considered different deities.
On the other hand, deities from one nation may be acculturated as "guests" in houses and ceremonies of another nation, besides those of the latter. Some nations assign new names to guest spirits, while some retain the names used in the nation of origin.
However, religious persecution may not be the only reason for Candomblé's syncretism. While Christians denied the Divine status of the Orixás, there was no reason why believers of Candomblé could not regard Jesus and Christian Saints as being powerful deities.
There is also an Islamic-linked sect within Candomblé which was more common during the slave days in Brazil. Slaves coming from West Africa had been acculturated with Muslim traditions. These Malês set aside Fridays as the day to worship deities as do the Muslims for prayer and meditation. Malês were the instigators of many slave revolts in Brazil leading in all white with amulets and skull caps as in traditional Islam.
In this regard, it is worth noting that some Candomblé rites have also incorporated local Native American gods — which, to the Church, were just as pagan as the Orixás — because they were seen as the "Orishas of the land". Finally, one should keep in mind that many (if not most) practitioners of Candomblé through the times had not only African roots but European ones as well.
Although syncretism still seems to be prevalent, in recent years the lessening of religious and racial prejudices has given rise to a "traditionalist" movement in Candomblé, that rejects the Christian elements and seeks to recreate a "pure" cult based exclusively in Africa.
The Candomblé ritual (toque) has two parts: the preparation, attended only by priests and initiates, which may start a week in advance; and a festive public "mass" and banquet that starts in the late evening and ends around midnight.
In the first part, initiates and aides wash and iron the costumes for the ceremony, and decorate the house with paper flags and festoons, in the colors favored by the Orixas that are to be honored on that occasion. They also prepare food for the banquet. Some domestic animals are slaughtered; some parts reserved for sacrifice, the rest is prepared for the banquet. On the day of the ceremony, starting in the early morning, cowrie-shell divinations (jogo de búzios) are performed, and sacrifices are offered to the desired Orixás, and to the messenger spirit (Exú in Ketu).
In the public part of the ceremony, children-of-saint (mediunic priests) invoke and "incorporate" Orixás, falling into a trance-like state. After having fallen into trance, the priest-spirits perform dances symbolic of the Orixá's attributes, while the babalorixá or father of saint (leading male priest) leads songs that celebrate the spirit's deeds. The ceremony ends with a banquet.
Candomblé music, an essential part of the ritual, derives from African music and has had a strong influence in other popular (non-religious) Brazilian music styles. The word batuque, for instance, has entered the Brazilian vernacular as a synonym of "rhythmic percussion music".
Candomblé temples are called houses (casas), plantations (roças), or yards (terreiros). Most Candomblé houses are small, independently owned and managed by the respective higher priests (father- or mother-of-saint). A few of the older and larger houses have a more institutional character and more formal hierarchy. There is no central administration. Inside the place of worship are the altars to the Orixás, or Pejis.
Candomblé priesthood is organized into symbolic families, whose members are not necessarily relatives in the common sense. Each family owns and manages one house. In most houses, especially the larger ones, the head of the family is always a woman, the mae-de-santo, or ialorixá, mother-of-saint in Candomblé , seconded by the pais-de-santo, or babalorixá father-of-saint.The priests and priestesses may also be known as ialorixá, babalorixá , babalaos (interpreters of búzios), babas, babaloshas,and candomblezeiros. Some houses have a more flexible hierarchy which allows the father-of-saint to be the head priest. Often during the slave period, the women became the diviners and healers which was not part of African tradition; however, the male slaves were constantly working and did not have the time to take care of daily instances.
Admission to the priesthood and progression in the hierarchy is conditioned to approval by the Orixás, possession of the necessary qualities, learning the necessary knowledge, and performance of lengthy initiation rites, which last seven years or more. There are generally two types of priesthood in the different nations of Candomble, and they are made up of those who fall in trance by the Orixá (iyawo) and those who do not (Oga - male/Ekeji - female). It is important not to confuse the meaning and usage of the Yoruba term iyawò (bride in Yoruba) with other African derived religions that use the same term with different meanings.
The seclusion period for the initiation of an iyawo lasts generally 21 days in the Ketu nation and varies depending on the nation. The iyawo's role in the religion is assigned by a divination made by her/his babalorixá/ialorixá; one function that an iyawo can be assigned for is to take care of neophytes as they in their initiatic seclusion period, becoming an expert in all the Orisa foods, becoming an iya or babalorisa themselves, or knowing all ritual songs, etc... The iyawos follow a 7 years period of apprenticeship whithin which they offer periodical sacrifices in order to reinforce their initiatic links in the form of the so-called obligations of 1, 3 and 7 years. At the 7th year, the iyawos earn their title and can get a honorific title or religious post (oye in Yoruba). Once the iyawo has accomplished their 7th year cycle obligation, they become elders (egbon in Yoruba, egbomi in Brazil, which means my elder) within their religious family.
The other priesthood is reserved for those who do not fall in trance. Ogas and Ekejis do not endure the same path to eldership as do iyawos; they are regarded as elders immediately after their initiation. Their role is to help the baba/ialorixá in different specific ritual tasks like drumming, singing, cooking, taking care of the orixá shrines and when he/she comes down in possession trance, etc... Ogas and Ekejis usually do not go on to become baba/ialorixá, nor do they open their own temples or have filhos de santo (they do not initiate others).
Upon the death of an ialorixá, the successor is chosen, usually among her "filhas-de-santo", usually by means of divination using consecrated cowrie shells that are considered to be the mouthpieces of the Orixa cowrie shell. However the succession may be very disputed or may fail to find a successor, and often leads to splitting or closing down of the house. In some terreiros (like Gantois, Alaketu, Terreiro do Cobre and now, the Oxumarê), the leadership is inherited by a late ialorixá's female blood relative (usually one of her own daughters). Only a handful of houses in Brazil have seen their 100th anniversary. Among the oldest that are still existent are Ilé Axé Iyá Nassô Oká (literally, "White House at the Old Sugarmill"), in Salvador, Bahia, and the Casa das Minas in São Luís, Maranhão (ca. 1796).