Candomble is one of the most common Afro-Brazilian religions practiced today, after Umbanda. Its origins date to the beginnings of slavery in Brazil in the 16th century, when the Portuguese introduced priests and nuns to the practices of the slaves, to the 19th century, when Brazil abolished slavery in 1888. It is a religion that unites various African beliefs while retaining certain religious aspects of the Catholic Church.
It is said that the word Candomble comes from the African Bantu language in which “ca” means use or custom, “ndomb” is the color black and “le” refers to the home or a place. This means that Candomble could mean, “place of the blacks’ customs,” although others suggest that the term comes from “kandombele,” which means to adore. It is a syncretic religion because it combines beliefs of the African Yoruba, Fon and Bantu peoples with some aspects of the Catholic religion. The fusion with Catholicism was important in preserving Candomble because that is how the slaves got around their restrictions. For example, when they prayed to a saint in the Catholic Church, they were really praying to their Orixá, or African god. Escaped slaves helped preserve many of the practices of Candomble that still exist today. There are various forms of the religion, based on ethnicity. Practice usually involves playing drums and using the language of worship and the names of the Orixás.
The site where the ceremonies are conducted is called a terreiro, or a saint’s house. The oldest is the White House and it was founded in 1830 in Salvador da Bahía. Barracaô is the name of the main room in the terreiros where the worshippers gather during the ceremonies. There are common rooms, like living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms. There are also saints’ rooms where the altars are located along with objects and symbols of the Orixás. It is in these rooms that the worshippers make their offerings to the Orixás.
Candomble can appear to be a party because of the drumming and dancing that make up an essential part of the ceremonies. No meeting is held without these two important elements. They believe in a superior god called Oludumare and in the Orixás, which are also called voduns and inkices — divinities that are often compared to the saints in the Catholic Church. Followers of the religion believe that each person has his own Orixá, which controls his destiny and act as a protector. The Orixás are considered divine ancestors and, unlike the Catholic saints, they have human characteristics such as vanity, strong tempers, they are playful, maternal, and jealous. They have their own personalities that are associated with elements of their culture and nature, such as fire, air, water, land, forests and iron instruments.
Because the religion is handed down orally, there is no written liturgy. Candomble is governed by the Catholic calendar. One of the most popular festivals among practitioners is the Festival of Iemanja during New Year’s Day. On that day, worshippers of the Orixá Iemanja gather in great numbers on the beaches of Brazil and make offerings as prayers to the goddess of the sea.
Author: Christian D. Camacho Castro
Published: May 20, 2012.
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