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Candomblé (Portuguese pronunciation: [kɐ̃dõˈblɛ], dance in honour of the gods) is an Afro-American religion, practiced mainly in Brazil by the "povo de santo" (people of the saint). It is a mixture of traditional Yoruba, Fon, and Bantu beliefs. Candomblé developed in the Portuguese Empire. It is syncretized with Roman Catholicism and includes Indigenous American traditions. It officially originated in Salvador, Bahia at the beginning of the 19th century when the first Candomblé temple was founded, but it traces back to the earliest days of the slave trade, when enslaved Africans brought their beliefs with them when they were transported to Brazil. Although Candomblé is practiced primarily in Brazil, it is also practiced in other Latin American countries, including Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Colombia, having as many as two million followers.
The religion was developed in Brazil with the knowledge of enslaved African priests who were brought to Brazil, together with their mythology, their culture, and language, between 1549 and 1888. It is an oral tradition and therefore has no holy scripture. Practitioners of Candomblé believe in a Supreme Creator called Oludumaré, who is served by lesser deities, which are called Orishas.[a] Candomblé practitioners believe that every practitioner has their own tutelary orisha which controls his or her destiny and acts as a protector. Music and dance are important parts of Candomblé ceremonies, since the dances enable worshippers to become possessed by the orishas. The rituals also involve offerings from the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms. There is no concept of good or bad in Candomblé; each person is required to fulfil his or her destiny to the fullest, regardless of what that is.
Candomblé is a syncretic religion of Brazilian origin; it is a mixture of traditional Yoruba, Fon, and Kongo beliefs and Roman Catholicism. In Latin America, orishas are syncretized with Roman Catholic saints. Candomblé is an oral tradition and therefore has not been put into text throughout the years. Only recently have scholars and "povo de santo" begun to write down its practices.
The word Candomblé means "dance in honour of the gods", and music and dance are important parts of Candomblé ceremonies. The name Batuque is also used to refer to the religion, especially before the 19th century, when Candomblé became more common. Both words are believed to be derived from a Bantu-family language, mainly that of the Kingdom of Kongo. Candomblé may also be called Macumba in some regions of Brazil, notably Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, although Macumba has a distinct set of practices more akin to European witchcraft.
Candomblé originated among enslaved Africans who were transplanted to Brazil during the slave trade. From the earliest days of the slave trade, many slave owners and Catholic Church leaders felt it was important to convert enslaved Africans. This was in order to fulfil their religious obligations but also to make the enslaved more submissive. Others also argue that enslaved Africans were religiously persecuted in order that they held no connection to a shared past.
Although the Church succeeded in many cases, not all slaves converted. Many outwardly practised Christianity but secretly prayed to their own God, gods, or ancestor spirits. In Brazil, adherents of Candomblé saw in the worship of saints a similarity with their own religion, and Bantu followers found a shared system of worship with Brazil's indigenous people and through this connection they re-learned ancestor worship. They often concealed the sacred symbols of their deities inside their Catholic saints. In addition to that, in the segregated communities of the country, it was easy to create Catholic fraternities where slaves would meet with each other. These meetings, however, were actually an opportunity for Candomblé worship to happen and for feasts to be held on special religious days. They were also opportunities for the enslaved to gather and plan rebellions against their masters.
Candomblé was condemned by the Catholic Church, and followers of the faith were persecuted violently right up through government-led public campaigns and police action. The persecution stopped when a law requiring police permission to hold public ceremonies was scrapped in the 1970s. The religion has surged in popularity in Brazil since then, with as many as two million people professing to follow the faith. It is particularly popular in Salvador, Bahia, in the northeast region of Brazil. Currently, many people from African countries visit Bahia in order to learn more about the faith of their ancestors. For many followers, Candomblé is not only a matter of religious belief but also of reclaiming the cultural and historical identity.
Brazilian slaves came from a number of African ethnic groups, including Igbo, Yoruba, Fon, Ewe, Kongo, and Bantu. Slave handlers classified them by the shore of embarkment, so the relation to their actual ethnicity may or may not be accurate. As the religion developed semi-independently in different regions of the country, among different ethnic groups, it evolved into several "branches" or nations (nações), distinguished chiefly by the set of worshiped deities, as well as the music and language used in the rituals.
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 practitioners believe that every person has their own tutelary deity which controls his or her destiny and acts as a protector. Each deity represents a certain force in nature and is associated with certain foods, colors, animals, and days of the week. A person's character or personality is strongly linked to their deity. Collectively, ancestors are called Egum in Brazil. During important ceremonies, priests and priestesses will masquerade as Baba Egum and specially choreographed dances will be performed in order to become possessed of each ancestor spirit.
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.
There is no concept of good or bad in Candomblé. Each person is only required to fulfil his or her destiny to the fullest, regardless of what that is. This is not a free ticket to do whatever the practitioner wants though. Candomblé teaches that any evil you cause to people will return to you eventually.
Egúm are important in regulating the moral code of Candomblé practitioners. It is their responsibility to make sure that moral standards of the past are continued in the present. This is regulated during worship ceremonies. When a person becomes possessed of their ancestor spirit during the ceremony, they may act out scenes from the community to highlight both good and bad actions in a sort of public tribunal.
There is also an Islamic-linked sect within Candomblé which was more common during the era of slavery 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 Indigenous American gods because they were seen as the "Orishas of the land". Finally, one should keep in mind that most practitioners of Candomblé through the times had European roots.
The Candomblé ritual 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 Orixás 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, "saint-children" invoke and "incorporate" Orixás, falling into a trance-like state. After falling into trance (the trance is entered by women in the group) 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. 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 (female mãe-de-santo or male pai-de-santo). 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 Candomblé houses, especially the larger ones, the head of the family is always a woman, the mãe-de-santo or ialorixá (mother-of-saint), seconded by the pai-de-santo or babalorixá (father-of-saint). The priests and priestesses may also be known as babalaos (interpreters of búzios), babas, and babaloxas. Some houses have a more flexible hierarchy which allows the male pai-de-santo to be the head priest. Often during the slave period, the women became the diviners and healers; the male slaves were constantly working and did not have the time to take care of daily instances. Or, nursing the children, the women were in the capacity of teaching the knowledge of their old traditions to the newer generations.
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 Candomblé, 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 ialorixá/babalorixá; 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 Orixá foods, becoming an iya or babalorixa themselves, or knowing all ritual songs, etc. The iyawos follow a 7 years period of apprenticeship within 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 an honorific title or religious post (oye in Yoruba). Once the iyawo has accomplished their 7th year cycle obligation, they become elders (egbomi in Brazil, which means my elder) within their religious family.
The Candomblée priesthood is divided into:
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