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Candomble - A Religious Syncretism In Brazil

In Bahia, the former capital of Brazil, the descendants of the inhabitants of South-West Nigeria have continued to worship their ancestral gods or Orixa to this very day, in spite of the time and distance which separates them from their place of origin. Bahians have not only maintained their ancestors' language but also their traditional songs, their musical instruments, and their dances. The African influence was felt by Brazilians from the earliest child-hood; children were brought up by black nannies who were generally of Yoruba descent. While being rocked to sleep, such children listened to Africa songs, they were told the fables of Africa, they were taught to fear the same super-natural beings as those known in Western Nigeria in case they misbehaved, and their health was protected by medicines made from the same leaves as the ones used in Africa.

Adopted at first by the African section of the population alone, this religious manifestation has gone on growing and gaining grounds in new surroundings and in our times it has taken an important place in the spiritual life of the country. This syncretism brings together, confuses and identifies the worship of Africa gods with the adoration of the saints in the catholic religion.

The liturgy itself and the ritual of candomble ceremonies in Bahia have been kept very pure. It is necessary to point out also the atmosphere of complete dignity and profound respect in which these cults are held and the sources of inspiration that they provide for the artists and the intellectuals. Painters and sculptors exhibit works in art galleries inspired on these beautiful ceremonies. In literature, some plays are based on the myths of these African gods. Composers try to transpose for voice and piano candomble tunes collected in Bahia. Dancers recreate certain legends of these gods using the choreography from the dances of the orixa worshippers.

WHAT IS CANDOMBLE
The name candomble is applied to the place where the Brazilian perform their religious feasts. The candomble temple walls are made of clay and its floor of brick or comment; the initiated must dance barefooted, dragging their feet on the ground.

The spectators segregated according to sex, sit down on benches, chairs and sofas. Besides them, is the drums place, isolated by a small wall; on the other side, on a shelf, there is a statue of the house patron saint. The aim of the candomble is to propitiate the possession of the initiated by the god. Each individual is under the protection of a particular deity, but only some have the privilege of incorporating their god. After the first 'visit' of an orixa to a person's body, this person must undergo the initiation rites. They involve seclusion for a certain period of time, the offering of periodic sacrifices, following certain rules, etc. As a result of the initiation rites, the neophyte acquires privileges as the possibility of becoming an initiator; the capacity of incorporating the god; and prestige in the religious community. The initiated one is then blessed by the Pai de Santo or Mãe de Santo, the headmasters of the candomble house.
A sacrifice is made at the beginning of all candomble rituals, accompanied by the music of the drums and songs. Each god, or orixa, has a particular invocation song and rhythm. Sacred dances are then performed by the 'Mother', the sacrificer, and senior initiated. After that, an offering is presented to Exu, the messenger god, and his permission is solicited to begin the public ceremony and to complete it without problems.
At the end of the candomble ceremony, all the incarnated orixa dressed in their ritual garments come to the room and dance, one by one, expressing their divine characteristics.

CANDOMBLE GODS, OR ORIXA

Oxala
Oxala´s counterpart in the Catholic religion is the crucified Christ. Friday is the day dedicated to him and his favorite color is white. He is the god of creation and father of all the other Orixa. He assumes the figure of an old man, placid and benevolent. He is sometimes called 'Grandfather' by candomble practicers. Oxala, as the other main gods, is bisexual, representing their all-embracing powers which comprehends the control of both sexes.

Yemanja
Yemanja is the goddess of creation, mother of all orixa, also known as our lady of the conception, or the Virgin Mary. She is the sea-goddess, nymph of fresh water. Crystal-clear is her favorite color and Saturday is the day devoted to her. The person possessed by Yemanja presents the archetype of the haughty Great Mother. Her dance is solemn; she imitates the movements of the sea.

Omulu
Omulu´s counterpart is Saint Lazarus, the god of the epidemic diseases, mainly the smallpox. His colors are red and black and his day is Monday. Omolu has the power of producing or extinguishing diseases and is, therefore, very much respected by the people, to the extent that someone has to touch the ground with the fingers, in reverence, every time his name is pronounced. He is also known as the 'doctor of the poor'. He is characterized by a repulsive aspect, with his face covered and dances very slowly, as an old man.

Nanan
Nanan is the water-goddess, the eldest nymph of the yoruba pantheon. She is Saint Anne for the Catholics, her colors are white and blue, and her day is Tuesday. Nanan is known as Grandmother' and one possessed by her dances very slowly, feigning to rock a baby to sleep.

Xango
Xango´s Catholic counterpart is Saint Jerome, the god of thunder and lighting . His day is Wednesday and his colors are red and white. His symbol is a double-axe and he dances to lively, warlike rhythms, brandishing his weapon.

Yansan
Yansan, or Saint Barbara for the Catholics, is the wife of Xango and the goddess of wind and storms. Her color is red and her is Saturday. She is depicted as an active, tempestuous, restless woman. To drive away the bad spirits, she only has to extend her arms, a gesture she often repeats in her agile, nervous and beautiful dances.

Oxum
Oxum is the goddess of beauty, of coquetry. She dresses in a beautiful golden yellow and wears many kinds of bracelets. Her dance expresses her femininity and graciousness, feigning to bathe in a river, taking off her clothes and looking at herself in a mirror.

Oxossi
Oxossi's day is Thursday and his favorite colors are green and blue. He is also known as Saint George and he is the god of the hunters. His symbols are a bow and an arrow which he holds upright, as if hunting, while dancing.

Ogun
Ogun is the god of the blacksmiths, warriors and agriculturers. His symbols are all the iron instruments, especially the helmet and sword. He is the patron of the handicraftsmen and the inventor of the industries. He dances brandishing a sword or feigning a due, with a ferocious look on his face.

Exu
Exu is sometimes identified with the devil for his love of disturbances, his phallic characteristics, his predilection for alcoholic beverages and for his moody temperament. He is actually the messenger, a mediator between men and gods. He is the first to be invoked in a candomble feast. It is necessary to please Exu with his favorites gifts, so that everything goes well in a ceremony. He usually has a jocose and challenging appearance, and a cheerful but sinister look on his face.

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