Candomblé (Portuguese pronunciation: [kɐ̃dõmˈblɛ], "dance in honour of the gods") is an Afro-Brazilian religious tradition, practiced mainly in Brazil[2] by the povo de santo ("people of saint"). Candomblé originated in Salvador, Bahia at the beginning of the 19th century, when the first temple was founded. Candomblé is practiced primarily in Brazil, and is also practiced in other countries, including Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela, having as many as two million followers.[2][3]

Candomblé practitioners in Bahia
ClassificationAfro-Brazilian religion
PriesthoodMãe-de-santo or Pai-de-santo
AssociationsOrder of Our Lady of the Good Death
RegionBrazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Venezuela, Uruguay, United States, Portugal
Origin19th century
Salvador, Brazil
SeparationsCandomblé Bantu
Candomblé Jejé
Candomblé Ketu
Members167,363 (Brazil, 2010)[1]
2,000,000 (worldwide)

Candomblé developed in a creolization of traditional Yoruba, Fon, and Bantu beliefs brought from West and Central Africa by enslaved captives in the Portuguese Empire.[2] Between 1549 and 1888, the religion developed in Brazil, influenced by the knowledge of enslaved African priests who continued to teach their religion, their culture, and language. In addition, Candomblé absorbed elements of Roman Catholicism and includes indigenous American traditions.[2]

As an oral tradition, it does not have holy scriptures.[2] Practitioners of Candomblé believe in a Supreme Creator called Oludumaré, who is served by lesser deities, which are called Orishas.[2][note 1] Every practitioner is believed to have their own tutelary orisha, which controls his or her destiny and acts as a protector.[2] Music and dance are important parts of Candomblé ceremonies, since the dances enable worshippers to become possessed by the orishas.[2] In the rituals, participants make offerings like minerals, vegetables, and animals. Candomblé does not include the duality of good and evil; each person is required to fulfill their destiny to the fullest, regardless of what that is.[2]


Candomblé is an oral tradition and does not have holy texts.[2] Only recently have scholars and "povo de santo" begun to write down its practices.

The word Candomblé means "dance in honour of the gods", and music and dance are important parts of Candomblé ceremonies.[4] The name Batuque is also used to refer to the religion, especially before the 19th century. After that, Candomblé became more common. Both words are believed to be derived from a Bantu-family language, mainly that of the Kingdom of Kongo. Candomblé may also be called Macumba in some regions of Brazil, notably Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Macumba has a distinct set of practices more akin to European witchcraft.


Candomblé originated among enslaved Africans who were transplanted to Brazil during the Atlantic slave trade.[4] From the earliest days of the slave trade, many slave owners and Catholic Church leaders felt it was important to convert enslaved Africans.[4] They believed this would fulfill their religious obligations and lead the enslaved to be more submissive in their status.[4] Some historians suggest that Africans were forced to give up their traditional religions to cut their ties to their pasts.[4]

Although the Church succeeded in many cases, not all slaves converted.[4] Many outwardly practiced Christianity but secretly prayed to their own God, gods, or ancestor spirits.[4] In Brazil, adherents of Candomblé saw in the Catholic veneration of saints a similarity with their own religion. Bantu followers found a shared system of worship with Brazil's indigenous people, and through this connection they re-learned the ancestor worship that was part of their own traditional systems.[4] They often concealed the sacred symbols of their deities inside figures of their Catholic saints.[4] In segregated communities of the country, it was easy to create Catholic fraternities where slaves would meet with each other.[4] These meetings, however, were an opportunity for Candomblé worship to be practiced and for feasts to be held on special religious days.[4] They were also opportunities for the enslaved to gather and plan rebellions against their masters.[4]

Candomblé was condemned by the Catholic Church. Followers of the faith were persecuted violently, including by government-led public campaigns and police action. Repression of African religion began early in the Portuguese colonial period, with calundu (spiritual leaders) subject to the Inquisition. The Brazilian Penal Code of 1850 condemned charlatanismo (charlatanry) curandeirismo (quackery). Both Candomblé religious leaders and terreiros were attacked by the police. With Catholicism as the state religion, other religious practices threatened the secular authority.[4][5]

The persecution stopped in the 1970s with repeal of a law requiring police permission to hold public religious ceremonies.[5] The religion has surged in popularity in Brazil since then, with as many as two million people professing to follow this faith. It is particularly popular in Salvador, Bahia, in the northeast region of Brazil, which is more isolated from other influences and had a high percentage of enslaved Africans. Many people from African countries visit Bahia in order to learn more about the faith of their ancestors. 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 slavery.[4]

Candomblé nations

Brazilian slaves came from a number of African geographic regions and ethnic groups, including Mbundu, Yoruba, Igbo, Kongo, Fon and Ewe. Slave handlers classified them by the shore of embarkment, so records of ethnicity may not have been accurate, as captives were often transported overland away from native areas before being loaded on ships. As the religion developed semi-independently in different regions of Brazil, among different African ethnic groups, it evolved into several "branches" or nations (nações). These are distinguished chiefly by their set of worshiped deities, as well as the music and language used in the rituals.

The division into nations was also influenced by the religious and beneficent brotherhoods (irmandades) organized by the Catholic Church among Brazilian slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries. These fraternities, organized along ethnic lines to allow priests to preach who had learned the slaves' native languages, provided a legitimate cover for slave reunions. Ultimately they may have aided the development of Candomblé.

The following list is a rough classification of the major nations and sub-nations, and their sacred languages:



Candomblé is a polytheistic religion and worships a number of gods:[7]

These deities are believed to have been created by a supreme God, Olodumare[8] (called Zambi by the Kongo people; and Nana Buluku by the Fon people).[8] The orishas and similar figures form a link between the spiritual world and the world of humans.[8]

Candomblé practitioners believe that every person has their own tutelary deity which controls his or her destiny and acts as a protector.[8] Each deity represents a certain force in nature and is associated with certain foods, colors, animals, and days of the week.[8] A person's character or personality is strongly linked to their deity.[8] Collectively, ancestors are called Egum in Brazil.[8] During important ceremonies, priests and priestesses masquerade as Baba Egum and specially choreographed dances will be performed in order to become possessed of each ancestor spirit.[8]

Deities from one nation may be acculturated as "guests" in houses and ceremonies of another nation, besides those of the latter. Some nations assign new names to guest spirits, while some retain the names used in the nation of origin.

Concepts of good or bad

Candomblé does not include the duality of a concept of good opposed to evil.[8] Each person is required only to fulfil his or her destiny to the fullest in order to live a 'good' life, regardless of what that destiny is.[8] This is not a free ticket to do whatever the practitioner wants, though.[8] Candomblé teaches that any evil a person causes to others will return to the first person eventually.[8]

Egúm are important in regulating the moral code of Candomblé practitioners.[8] It is their responsibility to make sure that moral standards of the past are continued in the present.[8] This is regulated during worship ceremonies.[8] When a person becomes possessed of their ancestor spirit during the ceremony, they may act out scenes from the community to highlight both good and bad actions in a sort of public tribunal.[8]


Candomble includes an Islamic-linked sect, which was more common during the era of slavery in Brazil. Many slaves from West Africa had been acculturated with Muslim traditions. These Malês set aside Fridays as the day to worship deities, as do the Muslims for prayer and meditation. Malês were the instigators of many slave revolts in Brazil. They led such actions dressed in all white with amulets and skull caps, as in traditional Islam.


The Candomblé ritual has two parts: the first is the "preparation", attended only by priests and initiates, which may start a week in advance of a major ceremony. Second is the main event, a festive public "mass" and banquet that starts in the late evening and ends around midnight.

In the first part, initiates and aides wash and iron the costumes for the ceremony, and decorate the house with paper flags and festoons, in the colors favored by the Orixás that are to be honored on that occasion. They also prepare food for the banquet. Some domestic animals are slaughtered; some parts reserved for sacrifice, the rest is prepared for the banquet. On the day of the ceremony, starting in the early morning, cowrie-shell divinations (jogo de búzios) are performed, and sacrifices are offered to the desired Orixás, and to the messenger spirit (Exú in Ketu).

In the public part of the ceremony, "saint-children" invoke and "incorporate" Orixás, falling into a trance-like state. After falling into trance (the trance is entered by women in the group) the priest-spirits perform dances symbolic of the Orixá's attributes, while the babalorixá or father of saint (leading male priest) leads songs that celebrate the spirit's deeds. The ceremony ends with a banquet.

Candomblé music, an essential part of the ritual, derives from African music. The word batuque, for instance, has entered the Brazilian vernacular as a synonym of "rhythmic percussion music".

Temples and priesthood

Candomblé temples are called houses (casas), plantations (roças), or yards (terreiros). Most Candomblé houses are small, independently owned and managed by the respective higher priests (female mãe-de-santo or male pai-de-santo). A few of the older and larger houses have a more institutional character and more formal hierarchy. There is no central administration. Inside the place of worship are the altars to the Orixás or Pejis.

Candomblé priesthood is organized into symbolic families, whose members are not necessarily relatives in the common sense. Each family owns and manages one house. In most Candomblé houses, especially the larger ones, the head of the family is always a woman, the mãe-de-santo or ialorixá (mother-of-saint), seconded by the pai-de-santo or babalorixá (father-of-saint). The priests and priestesses may also be known as babalaos (interpreters of búzios), babas, and babaloxas. Some houses have a more flexible hierarchy which allows the male pai-de-santo to be the head priest. Often during the slave period, the women became the diviners and healers; the male slaves were constantly working and did not have the time to take care of daily practices. Or, when caring for children, the women had the chance to teach the knowledge of their traditions to the newer generations.

Admission to the priesthood and progression in the hierarchy is conditioned to approval by the Orixás, possession of the necessary qualities, learning sacred knowledge, and taking part in the lengthy initiation rites, which last seven years or more. There are generally two types of priesthood in the various nations of Candomblé: they are divided into those who fall in a trance by the Orixá (iyawo) and those who do not (Oga – male/Ekeji – female). It is important not to confuse the meaning and usage of the Yoruba term iyawò (bride in Yoruba) with other African-derived religions, which use this same term with different meanings.

The seclusion period for the initiation of an iyawo lasts generally 21 days in the Ketu nation, and varies depending on the nation. The iyawo's role in the religion is assigned by a divination made by her/his ialorixá/babalorixá. An iyawo may be assigned to care for neophytes in their initiation seclusion period, become an expert in all the Orixá foods, become an iya or babalorixa, or learn all ritual songs, etc. The iyawos follow a 7-year period of apprenticeship within which they offer periodical sacrifices in order to reinforce their initiation links, in the form of the so-called 'obligations' of 1, 3 and 7 years. At the 7th year, the iyawos earn their title and may obtain an honorific title or religious post (oye in Yoruba). Once the iyawo has accomplished their 7th-year cycle obligation, they become elders (egbomi in Brazil, which means my elder) within their religious family.

Priesthood initiation

In Brazil: Ifá, Egungun, Orisha, Vodun, and Nkisi, are separated by type of priesthood initiation.

  • Ifá only initiation Babalaos, do not come into trance.
  • Egungun only initiation Babaojés, do not come into trance.
  • Candomblé Ketu initiation Iyawos, come into trance with Orixá.
  • Candomblé Jeje initiation Vodunsis, come into trance with Vodun.
  • Candomblé Bantu initiation Muzenzas, come into trance with Nkisi.


The Candomblée priesthood is divided into:

Notable priestesses

Many of the most influential priestesses of the faith claim descent from Yoruba royalty. The following are some examples:

  • Mãe Menininha do Gantois (1894-1986), iyalorixá of the Ilê Ìyá Omi Àse Iyámasé ("House of the Mother of Waters") of Gantois, who was instrumental in gaining legalization of the religion.[9]
  • Mother Olga de Alaketu (c.1925-2005), iyalorixà of the Ile Maroia Laji ("House of Alaji, Son of the Aro clan") of Salvador de Bahia, who served during her life as one of Brazil's most prominent religious leaders.
  • Mãe Cleusa Millet (1923-1998), another iyalorixá of the Ilê Ìyá Omi Àse Iyámasé of Gantois.[10]

See also


  1. Orishas are also called voduns or inkices.[2]


  1. Schmidt, Bettina E. (2016). Contemporary Religions in Brazil. 1. Oxford University Press. p. 7. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935420.013.50.
  2. "Religions - Candomblé: Candomblé at glance". BBC. 15 September 2009. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  3. Candomble, ReligionFacts. Retrieved on 2013-07-28.
  4. "History of Candomblé". BBC. 15 September 2009. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  5. Serra, Ordep (2018). "Candomblé". Encyclopedia of Latin American Religions. pp. 1–9. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-08956-0_524-1. ISBN 978-3-319-08956-0.
  6. Falola, Toyin (2016). Encyclopedia of the Yoruba. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 95. ISBN 9780253021441.
  7. Table of correspondences of Orishas, Voduns and Nkisis in Portuguese Wikipedia: Tabela Orixas-Voduns-Nkisis.
  8. "Candomblé: Beliefs", BBC. 2 February 2007. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  9. Jestice 2004, p. 579.
  10. "Governo faz homenagem póstuma a Mãe Cleusa por trabalho social" (in Portuguese). Salvador da Bahia, Brazil: Assembléia Legislativa do Estado da Bahia. 17 October 2008. Archived from the original on 3 December 2015. Retrieved 3 December 2015.


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