“It’s not religious intolerance and is indeed racism”, says bàbá during roundtable on violence against the sacred spaces of African-oriented religions like Candomblé

Religions of African origin such as Candomblé have been persecuted for centuries in Brazil
Religions of African origin such as Candomblé have been persecuted for centuries in Brazil

Note from BW of Brazil: African oriented cultural practices such as the musical style Samba, the martial art  capoeira and adherence to the candomblé religion have for centuries been either negatively stereotyped or outright outlawed by Brazilian elites until it was discovered that these practices could be exploited in some way. Candomblé and capoeira have both been used as means of tourist attractions while Samba was adapted as the national music as a means of uniting the nation and the vehicle for the promotion of the myth of a “racial democracy”. It is impossible to truly know Brazil without these three important cultural legacies (1). But maintaining them, candomblé and capoeira in particular, have been a struggle. The Salvador Central website, for example, reveals this about candomblé:

The practice of candomblé was at one time prohibited in Brazil (unofficially for centuries, and then officially by law between 1937 and 1945, during the Estado Novo of dictator Getúlio Vargas, who at the same time ironically, as part of his plan for the manipulation of the popular consciousness as a means for the further consolidation of his power, promoted Brazilian music and music which promoted Brazil, e.g. Ary Barroso’s Aquarela do Brasil), and thereafter in Bahia a licence was required, the same that was required by nightclubs and gambling establishments. After a personal appeal by Mãe Stella of Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá to the governor of Bahia (Roberto Santos, in office from 1975 to 1979), this requirement was lifted, and new terreiros sprouted — for the most part among the more humble neighborhoods — like singing flowers weaving to the lovely melodies and gloriously complicated rhythms calling down to Salvador Iansã and Yemanjá, Dandalunda, Oxossi and Xangô…

Note from BW of Brazil: The struggle for respect for the practice of candomblé continues today as houses of worship (terreiros) have been the target of constant violence over the years and those who practice it also face discrimination. Indeed, in Brazilian society today, it is still common that black people, whether actual followers of the religion or not, are referred to with nicknames generally viewed as pejorative like “macumbeira”. The story below simply shines a spotlight on many have known for a number of years. On a more positive note, music has always been a part of candomblé and its rhythms are instantly recognized by anyone familiar with the religion. At the end of the article please check out a few rituals and performances by artists who have either been long associated with candomblé or in the case of singer/actress Thalma de Freitas has a respect for the art form.

“It’s not religious intolerance and is indeed racism,” says Bàbá Paulo Cesar Oliveira

by Dennis Oliveira *

Bàbá Paulo César Oliveira, of the Centro Cultural Orunmila, in Ribeirão Preto, said on the morning of October 31 that the violence against the sacred spaces of African traditions don’t configure as acts of religious intolerance but as acts of the crime of racism. The statement was made at the second table of the XIV Alaindê Xirê (Seminário e Festival Internacional de Culturas Africanas e Afrobrasileiras or International Seminar and Festival of African and Afro-Brazilian Cultures) being held this week in Ile Ilê Afro Brasileiro Odé Loreci, in Embu das Artes (state of São Paulo).

Paulo Cesar Oliveira (center) at a table on religiosity in public spaces of the XIV Alaindê Xirê in Embu das Artes (state of São Paulo)
Paulo Cesar Oliveira (center) at a table on religiosity in public spaces of the XIV Alaindê Xirê in Embu das Artes (state of São Paulo)

For him, the term religion cannot be applied to the traditions of African origin because the word religion comes from the Latin re-ligare (reconnect oneself, reconnect). “We never disconnected ourselves from the sacred that is an experience in traditions of the Judeo-Christian matrix.” Paulo César considers it a “shot in the foot” to reduce these acts to instances of religious intolerance. “The traditions of African origin make up the universe of our people, black people in Brazil. As black people, we lay claim to public policy. This is perfectly appropriate in a secular state because it is not public policy to a particular religion,” he concludes.

Candomblé (2)

In this reasoning, Oliveira considers that the aggressions that houses and practitioners of Candomblé and Umbanda have suffered constitute instances of racism, therefore criminally punishable.

Candomblé - oxum

Earlier, Rachel Baptista, PhD in anthropology, presented her study about teaching materials of Law 10.639/03 which uses some symbols of African traditions to explain certain content. Because of this, Rachel says that many professional educators have resisted adopting this material by considering that they become apologists of “evil”, demonstrating the biased view on these traditions.

Terreiro do Gantois in Salvador, Bahia
Terreiro do Gantois in Salvador, Bahia

Professor Jocélio Teles of the Federal University of Bahia, presented part of his survey on the houses of Candomblé in the Salvador (capital of Bahia) region, stating that were about 1,300 were catalogued. Teles said that many of them have suffered assaults of all kinds, from invasions and destruction of sacred places and objects, verbal and physical aggression on the priests, priestesses and practitioners. Moreover, Teles argues that many homes (of worship) have been pressured by the government with threats of expropriation and the land/real estate speculation industry. The articulation of capital and religious fundamentalism of certain Christian organizations carry out these attacks.

Mapping of terreiros in Salvador, Bahia. There are more 1,300 terreiros in Salvador, Bahia
Mapping of terreiros in Salvador, Bahia. There are more 1,300 terreiros in Salvador, Bahia

Teles, however, highlighted some institutional advances like actions of the Ministério Público (Public Ministry prosecutors) and concern about existent religious intolerance in several official documents.

Municipality of Embu releases a brochure

Opening the event, on Wednesday, the city of Embu das Artes presented the “Cartilha de Orientação para Legalização de Casas Religiosas de Matriz Africana (Guidance Booklet for Legalization of Religious Houses of African Matrix)” containing the steps for the legalization of homes and thus becoming able to obtain some benefits that certain municipalities offer religious spaces such as tax exemptions.

candomblé - oxum (2)

The XIV Alaindê Xirê continues until Saturday, the day in which the first National Plan for Sustainable Development of Traditional Peoples and Communities of African Matrix will be presented, besides the presentation of the delegation of musicians and the presenting of the Alaiandê Xirê award of this year. At the opening session of the 30th, there was a salute to Logunedé by Nigerian priestesses Omoryieba Silifatu Lasisi and Mopelola Osunfunmike Oladejo and an exhibition of Bàbá Ògúndáre, bàbálorisá of Ile Ode Loreci, on the worship of this orisá in Brazil.

* Dennis de Oliveira is a professor at the School of Communication and Arts at the Universidade de São Paulo (University of São Paulo) or USP.

Source: Salvador Central, Revista Fórum


1. A number of articles on this blog have featured topics having to do with elements of candomblé and its importance in Brazilian cultural context. See here for examples.

Clip of Candomblé ritual in the Castelo Branco neighborhood of Salvador, Bahia

Candomblé group from Irará, Bahia, Brazil, on the beach of Rio Vermelho (Salvador) during the Festa de Yemanjá.

Os Tincoãs – Cordeiro de Nanã

Clara Nunes – Nanaê, Nanã, Naiana

Mariene De Castro – A Deusa Dos Orixás

Mateus Aleluia and Thalma de Freitas – Cordeiro de Nanã

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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