Candomblé in Bahia, origin and religiosity of the Bahian people

Candomble in Bahia
Candomblé in Bahia, origin and religiosity of the Bahian people

Candomblé is a religion derived from African animism where the orixás, voduns or nkisis are worshipped, depending on the nation.

Of totemic and family origin, it is one of the most widely practised African religions, with more than three million followers worldwide, especially in Brazil.

Candomblé has great practical value for everyday life, this ancient religion of the slaves stands in contrast to traditional religious systems such as Christianity and Buddhism.

And it sanctions identities, because every individual has an Orixá to whom they belong, who defines each person’s behaviour and inner desires, without distinguishing between good and evil.

In each one of us, there can be the maternal side of Oxum, the implication of Nana or the combativeness of Ogun.

Candomblé festivals take place all year round in Bahia. Each house, each nation (Keto or Nagô, Ijexá, Angola, Gêge, Cabinda, Congo, etc.), each group has its own cycle.

And in the gentleness and stillness of Orun, which are in constant harmony with Ayé, confirming the link between us and those who have passed on.

See also History of Afro-Brazilian religions in Bahia

Candomblé na Bahia, origem e religiosidade do baiano

Candomblé is a word of black-African origin that designates a meeting of cult followers, also known in other parts of Latin America where black slavery took place.

These candomblé meetings  are held in places prepared for such ceremonies, usually in rustic sheds and built according to certain precepts: the chants are generally in the Nagô language, rarely in Portuguese, and reflect the language of the people.

To the sound of chants and dances, the atabaques form the basis of the percussion music in candomblés, it is more than an African cult, it is part of a dogma, a cult and a morality, having its clergy, where it brings together the constructive elements of a religion.

When the African slaves were brought to Brazil to work on the plantations, the Portuguese authorities ordered them to be baptised within six months, but the blacks continued to worship their idols.

The colonisers were unable to make them Christians, as they clung to their beliefs and faith when they were freed, taking their primitive religion with them.

Finally catechised in a vague way, they were baptised, but they understood nothing of the religion they were forcibly taught, which confused their minds, because Catholicism had since become a means of disguising their traditional beliefs.

In reality, the saint was not worshipped, but the corresponding Orisha.

Everything was just a façade to hide a secret ritual.

Slavery developed an inferiority complex in black people, because the predominant white religion was part of a superior culture, in other words: that of the masters.

Whilst black people elevated their beliefs from a lower to a higher plane, syncretism was a phenomenon of ascension that was always desired more or less on the sly.

That’s why black Africans limited themselves to juxtaposing Catholic saints with the gods of their beliefs, considering them to be of equal rank, although perfectly distinct.

Candomblé has its own beliefs, deities, dignitaries, faithful, very complicated ceremonies, places of worship, altars and sacred objects.

Their Orishas (deities) in Candomblé personify a natural phenomenon (storm, thunder, rainbow, illness, etc.), a human activity (hunting, harvesting, etc.) or feelings (friendship, fidelity, etc.).

The king of these deities is Olorum, father of the gods, invisible and sovereign creator, who has passed on his powers to the Orishas who rule the world in his name, but they are a bit evil and should avoid his wrath.

Olorum has two sons, Obatalá (heaven) and Odudua (earth), and is surrounded by a court of deities who are the Orixás.

It’s impossible to pin down the precise date on which the introduction of black slaves to Brazil began, because for almost half a century before its discovery, the African slave trade was taking place in Europe, with Portugal as its headquarters.

Black slavery in Brazil was contemporaneous with its colonisation and its great traffic began just under 50 years after the discovery of Brazil.

These involuntary migrants brought with them their conceptions of the world, philosophy and religion: Jejes, Marrins, Yorubas, Fons, Angolas, Hausás, Fantis, Ashautis, Malês, Fulas, Congos, etc.

These are just some of the most representative races, each with their own beliefs.

But here, regardless of culture or ethnicity, they were mixed according to the interests of the slave traders, spreading little by little through the slave quarters of Bahia, Pernambuco, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and then into the urban centres.

For more than three centuries, black men, women and children from the African continent were brought in as slaves.

Until the advent of the Eusebio de Queiroz law, enacted on 4 September 1850, and even a few years later, members of various nations came to Brazil, bringing with them a whole cultural and religious tradition that greatly influenced the formation of the Brazilian people.

There are several published works on African religiosity in circulation in Brazil, but these publications, however, are a kind of guide for those who profess Candomblé, Pajelança and other branches of the spiritual sect, without, however, offering readers a folkloric view of what happens as a result of Candomblé.

The Bahian ethnologist Édison Carneiro, author of several studies on the subject, some of which include “Religiões Negras” (1936); Candomblés da Bahia (1948); Antologia do negro brasileiro (1950) is, to date, the greatest authority on the subject.

Many authors confuse the origin of these blacks, sometimes classifying them by tribes, sometimes by genetic names, sometimes by simple ports of origin.

Ministry of Finance Circular No. 29 of 13 May 1891, signed by then minister Rui Barbosa, ordered the incineration of all documents relating to black slavery in Brazil, thus preventing scholars and researchers from knowing the true origin of black Brazilians.

Because of the lack of documents, historians estimate that 3,600,000 were brought to Brazil, while Roberto Simonsen estimates 3,300,000 and Maurício Goular between 3,500,000 and 3,600,000 in the period 1538/1850.

The dignitaries of the gêge-nagô candomblés (small black nations from the Slave Coast, of the Iorube group) and congo-angola proudly claim their African ancestry, boast of the purity of their traditions and despise the candomblés “of the caboclos”, considering them abominable mixtures and accusing them of tainting the venerable rites with indigenous practices.

The most important candomblé ceremonies are accompanied by dances, melopoeia and animal offerings: sheep, goats, goats and chickens.

Between ceremonies they take place in the shed, which is often decorated with garlands and signs: Viva Oula or Viva Xangô.

The Orixás have the right to be worshipped every week and on the days determined by tradition, the filhos-de-santo present delicacies to their spells, fill the quartinhas with fresh water for bathing, and wear the saint’s pearl necklaces and colours.

Syncretism is an ancient phenomenon, since the beginning of colonisation we can already find it in the quilombo of Palmares, both in gestures or rites and in the similarity of African gods and saints.

But it’s also a general phenomenon throughout Catholic America, we find it in both Cuba and Haiti, in which case you can be an Orisha and a saint at the same time, and vice versa. Here they come together in African mysticism and Catholic mysticism.

In some cities like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, Afro-descendant religion tends to take on an increasingly magical aspect due to the influence of urban disorganisation.

The black person in contact with Catholicism, who had strong prayers addressed to saints to prevent certain illnesses or accidents, who multiplied ex-votos in chapels as a sign of a miracle, could not fail to recognise the existence of an undeniable force in the religion of their white masters.

Syncretism therefore takes on different forms according to the nature of the collective representations of assimilated peoples, and its laws are not general, but vary according to the cultures in contact.

The candomblé festival begins at dawn with the slaughter (sacrifice of animals) as a holocaust to the Orixás. This ceremony is of a private nature, and no outsiders who are not initiated into the sect are allowed to attend, with the Iabás (cooks) preparing all the meat from the sacrificed animals.

The Iabás (cooks) are responsible for preparing all the meat from the sacrificed animals. They take out the Erês and place everything ready, with a special preparation, together with the other dried food at their feet (settlement), the food corresponding to each Orixá.

It’s only in the late afternoon before dusk that the public ceremony begins, which takes place in a shed decorated with coconut leaves and paper banners.

In the centre of the candomblé yard is the Padé de Exu, an offering given to the messenger of the Orixás, the mediator between mortal beings and the gods. In any obligation, the first thing to be dealt with is Exu, so that the party runs in peace, harmony and his designs are fulfilled, and he can take care of the gate and not let in the evil spirits who might disturb the smooth running of the party.

Candomblé of Bahia, origin and religiosity of the Bahian people – Tourism and Travel Guide to Bahia, Salvador and the Northeast

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