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Afro-Brazilian Candomblé

African sculpture of a god of war and death

Candomblé is an African-originated religion that is practiced primarily in Brazil, but also in other countries in Latin America, Europe and the Caribbean. African slaves from the Yoruba, Ewe, Fon, and Bantu tribes, among others, whom the Portuguese brought to Brazil during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, brought their African religious beliefs and practices with them. These beliefs and practices gradually evolved into the many variations of religious practice now commonly referred to as Candomblé. Although Candomblé adherents were persecuted for centuries, Candomblé is now recognized as an established religion in Brazil. Alas, Pentecostal televangelist Edir Macedo hates Candomblé.

Practitioners of Candomblé believe in one all powerful God called Oludumaré who is served by lesser deities. These deities are called orixas. (They can also be called voduns or inkices.) Candomblé religious practice focuses on the worship of orixás—deities derived from the African deities. Each orixá has a distinct personality, and one or more patron orixás, identified by a priest, choose each Candomblé adherent at birth. Some of the major orixás include Exu, Ibeji, Omolu, Oxóssi, Oxum, Xangô, and Yemanjá.

Some variations of Candomblé incorporate elements from Christianity, and some orixás are identified with analogous Catholic saints. This process of cultural mixing is known as syncretism. In recent years, the diminishment of religious prejudices in Brazil has given rise to a tendency within Candomblé to reject the Christian elements of the religion and to strive for a system of beliefs and practices based exclusively on African elements. For example, Mãe Stella de Oxossi, the iyalorishá or high priestess of Ilê Axé Opo Afonjá, one of the oldest Candomblé terreiros (places of worship) in Bahia, has devoted herself to putting an end to syncretism.

Candomblé rituals are led by a pãe de santo (high priest) or mãe de santo (high priestess) and often take place in terreiros. Some terreiros take the form of park-like grounds with houses in which members of the community live. In the first and private part of the ritual, initiates and aides prepare the clothes to be worn during the ritual and adorn the place of worship with the colors favored by the orixás to be honored. In addition, they prepare the food to be served. In the second and public part, each participant invokes an orixá, entering into a trance-like state. After recovering from the trance, the participant performs a dance symbolic of the orixá's attributes, while the leading male priest sings about the spirit's deeds. The ritual ends with a banquet.

Candomblé has surged in popularity in Brazil since the 1970s, with as many as two million people professing to follow the faith. It is particularly practiced in Salvador da Bahia, in northeastern Brazil. Interestingly, many people from African countries visit Bahia in order to learn more about the faith of their ancestors. For many followers it is not just a matter of religious belief but also of reclaiming the cultural and historical identity which slavery stripped them of. Africans and Brazilians should ignore the false gospel of Edir Macedo and his scandal-plagued Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

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