Candomblé in Brazil

old drawing about candomblé in brazil. headline: "o candomblé é uma reiligião tradicional do brasil"

Brazil is an excessively big and diverse country that has always welcomed foreigners. By mixing the customs and cultures of the multiple ethnicities that have lived here, Brazilians created new and unique traditions of their own. And since you’re learning Portuguese, why not take the time to learn about one of them? In today’s Dica we’ll talk about Candomblé in Brazil, its history and some of its beliefs. So, let’s jump into it!

History of Candomblé in Brazil

The word candomblé means ‘house of dancing with atabaques‘. It’s a religion that stems from African traditions and it’s practiced predominantly by the so-called ‘saint’s people’ (povo de santo). Candomblé developed as a religion in Salvador during the 18th century. Yet its roots are far older than that.

Candomblé emerged from a mixture of regional African deities. As slaves came to Brazil and grouped together, their religious beliefs started to merge. Back then, however, those foreign religions frightened the Portuguese colonizers. The Portuguese tried to repress African traditions, and candomblé adherents equally tried to hide their faith. Therefore, they started to associate their African deities (orixás) with Catholic saints, since they functioned as a kind of disguise. That association exists to this day, although some followers have fought against this association.

By disguising itself as some form Catholicism, candomblé survived through colonial and imperial times. Nowadays, it’s the religion of an estimated 0.3-1.5% of Brazilians. Despite being a minor religion, candomblé in Brazil is an important part of the country’s African cultural heritage.

Tradition of Candomblé in Brazil

women wearing traditional candomblé clothing.
Women wearing traditional Candomblé clothing. Picture by André Koehne at Wikicommons.

Candomblé is a religion with a strong oral tradition. Therefore, there is no holy book nor scripture. Its practitioners believe in a Creator called Olorum and deities called Orixás, often associated with Catholic saints. Rituals always include singing, dancing, and playing percussion instruments. Where mass takes place in a church, Candomblé rituals take place in terreiros. Offerings are a widespread practice too, sometimes including the sacrifice of animals.

Candomblé in Brazil and Its Orixás

The orixás are a very important part of Candomblé. They are deities that represent the forces of nature. In addition, they each have their own traits and personalities. Every person has an orixá that guides them!

But how does someone know which Orixá is their helper? Well, many people discover which Orixá will guide them – even if they can still pray and ask for other Orixás’ help – in two different manners. The first is asking for help from an experienced medium at a trustworthy terreiro. This person will recommend a ritual to you or play búzios for you, which will help to select your Orixá. The second way is through being baptized.

But how does that work? Well, a baptism is when someone chooses Candomblé as their religion and is reborn in a ritual to live among its guidance. The preparation for the baptism involves, among other rituals, lighting candles to ask for blessings and bathing with specific herbs to clean the person’s body.

It doesn’t matter how a person discovered their Orixá. Their Head Orixá (Orixá de Cabeça) will help and provide guidance in their current life. Not only that, but someone’s orixá can influence their recommended diet, habits, and clothing at religious events! So now, why don’t we take a look at some of the most well-known orixás in Brazil?

Oxóssi: represents the forests and knowledge and holds the balance in nature.

Yemanjá: queen of the sea, mother of many other orixás, she represents fertility and protects navigators.

Xangô: orixá of karmic justice, fire, lightning, and thunder, he’s known as a fighter and a conqueror.

Yansã: represents the climate, she’s a courageous warrior, and a determined and independent woman.

Oxalá: rules over silence, peace, and tranquility, responsible for harmony among people, and known as the father of the orixás, he took the shape of Jesus Christ when Candomblé was still forbidden.

Let’s take a look the arrival of an important entity for Candomblé practitioners (candomblecistas), Yansã:

True or False?

Which one of the sentences below is true or false? Read them very well before answering!

1) Yemanjá é a orixá que representa a água, o oceano e os mares.
2) O candomblé nasceu no século XIX.
3) Todos os orixás têm santos católicos equivalentes.
4) Animais podem ser sacrificados durante um ritual de candomblé.
5) Candomblé é, em sua maior parte, influenciado pelas diferentes crenças dos indígenas no Brasil.
6) Xangô mantém o equilíbrio na natureza.
7) Oxalá, pai dos orixás, é equivalente a São Nicolau no catolicismo.

Now you know a little bit more about Candomblé in Brazil! What do you think? Should we visit a terreiro for the next RioLIVE!?

See you in the next Dica!
Tchau tchau

 Click on the links below to see more related Dicas
Brazilian States and Regions
Rio Grande do Sul
São Paulo
Carioca Meaning


1) true
2) false – It dates back to the colonization era, though it was not understood as a religion in the 18th century.
3) true
4) true
5) false – Candomblé is mostly a mixture of regional African deities.
6) false – Xangô is a fighter, responsible for attributing justice, while Oxóssi holds the balance of nature.
7) false – Oxalá, father of the orixás, is equivalent to Jesus Christ in Catholicism.

This post is also available in: English Português (Portuguese) Español (Spanish)

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