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Dancing With Saints

SALVADOR

semi-overcast 36 °C

Thursday night Nilton, Mickael (a Swedish couchsurfer) and I went to a Candomblé ceremony in the Cidade Baixa. Nilton's brother Bruno is a Pai-de-Santo ('Father of Saint') - a Candomblé priest. Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion, a mixture of beliefs brougth to Brazil by slaves from Africa, with a little bit of Catholicism. In Candomblé, the Orixás (gods, or spirit forces) double up as Catholic saints. The Orixá of Bruno's house of Candomblé, Iansã, doubles up as Saint Barbara, for example.

It wasn't the first time I had gone to a Candomblé ceremony in Salvador, but this was the first time I went to a ceremony I had been invited to, rather than as part of a tour for tourists. Describing a Candomblé ceremony in words is nearly impossible. You need to be there to hear the beat of the drums, the bell-like sound of the agôgô, the rattle of the metal shakers used to call the Orixás. You need to be there to see the fantastic costumes made of metal and cloth, to see people become possessed, to see people dance the intricate steps of the dance of each Orixá. You need to be there to feel the heat and to smell the sweat of more than thirty people having a frantic religious ceremony in the tropical heat in a space smaller than the average European kitchen. But most of all, you need to eat the food that everybody shares after the ceremony. Food that is prepared with meat that comes from animals that were sacrificed. Everybody takes part, iniciates and visitors alike, to renew the energy of the house of Candomblé and the people in it. (Sacrificial meat tastes exactly the same as meat from the supermarket by the way.)

I always thought that it would be very hard to talk to people who practice Candomblé about their religion, because it was persecuted in Brazil for such a long time (it was in fact illegal until the 1970s) and because even today there are strong prejudices against the Afro-Brazilian religions in Brazil (Candomblé is not the only Afro-Brazilian religion.)
But the opposite appears to be true. Two days before the ceremony, Mickael and I spent an entire afternoon talking to Bruno, the Pai-de-Santo, about Candomblé, and today, one of Nilton's cousins, a girl of maybe 11 or 12, was explaining to us about the ritual scars on her upper arm.

Posted by Alex-H 12:27 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards

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