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Candomblé, A True Survival Story

The African-based tradition of (pronounced kan-dom-bley) has its roots in the people who were taken from their homes in Africa and transplanted to Brazil during the transatlantic slave trade.  It is a creolization of traditional , Fon, and Bantu traditions of West Africa, practiced primarily in Bahia, Brazil, but has followers in other Latin American countries, including Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Colombia.

It is estimated there are as many as two million adherents  and so strongly is this practice maintained that interestingly, Africans from the continent travel to Brazil to reconnect with the traditions of their ancestors.

The word Candomblé means “dance in honour of the gods”, and music and dance are important parts of the ceremonies.

A Bit of History

From the earliest days of the slave trade, many slave owners and Catholic Church leaders felt it was important to convert enslaved Africans. They believed this would fulfill their religious obligations and lead the enslaved to be more submissive in their status. Some historians suggest that Africans were forced to give up their traditional religions to cut their ties to their pasts. religiously persecuted in order that they held no connection to a shared past.

Although the Church succeeded in many cases, not all slaves converted to Christianity. Many outwardly practiced but secretly prayed to their own God, gods, or ancestor spirits.

In Brazil, adherents of Candomblé saw in the Catholic worship of saints a similarity with their own religion. Bantu followers found a shared system of worship with Brazil’s people, and through this connection they re-learned the ancestor worship that was part of their own traditional systems. They often concealed the sacred symbols of their deities inside figures of their Catholic saints.

In segregated communities of the country, it was easy to create Catholic fraternities where slaves would meet with each other. These meetings, however, were an opportunity for Candomblé worship to be practiced 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. Followers of the faith were persecuted violently, including by government-led public campaigns and police action. With Catholicism as the state religion, other religious practices threatened the secular authority. The persecution stopped in the 1970s with repeal of a law requiring police permission to hold public religious ceremonies.

For many followers, Candomblé is not only a matter of religious belief but also of reclaiming the cultural and historical identity of ethnic Africans, although their separate tribal identities have been obscured by peoples being mixed in communities during and after . There is also some movement to remove Catholic imagery from worship services, in an attempt to return the faith to its more fundamental origins.

Learn more on Wikipedia

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