Understanding Religiosity in the African Diaspora: How Orisha Worship Survived in Brazil

Candomblé in Salvador da Bahía

A Brazilian woman, practising candomblé (the Afro-Brazilian animistic religion), in the historical part of Salvador da Bahía, Brazil, March 6, 2004.


Some excerpts taken from the article:

 Understanding Religiosity in the African Diaspora: How Orisha Worship Survived in Brazil


“While the Portuguese enslaved several Africans, according to Sheila Walker, a scholar on    Afro-Brazilian culture and religion, it was the Yoruba people “from present-day Nigeria and Benin…whose religious culture has remained most intact and influential in both Brazil and elsewhere in the Americas.” It is from the Yoruba culture, in which the divination system of Ifá originates and Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé is derived.”

Nestled on the northeastern coast of Brazil, the city of Salvador, the capital of Bahia, can be described as the mecca of Candomblé. While Bahia comprises the second largest Black populous in the world, falling short to only the African continent (specifically, Nigeria) itself, the Yoruba religion, Ifá arrived to the shores of Bahia and integrated itself into Afro-Brazilian society and would later catalyze into the religion, Candomble.

From 1530, when the first Portuguese colonialists arrived in Bahia to 1888 — sixty-six years after Brazilian independence from Portugal and one year prior to the country becoming a republic — the importation and exploitation of Africans thrived; leaving the Portuguese with the legacy of producing the largest slave economy in the world. While the Portuguese enslaved several Africans, according to Sheila Walker, a scholar on Afro-Brazilian culture and religion, it was the Yoruba people “from present-day Nigeria and Benin…whose religious culture has remained most intact and influential in both Brazil and elsewhere in the Americas.” It is from the Yoruba culture, in which the divination system of Ifá originates and Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé is derived.

In the Yoruba context, Ifá is regarded as an integral and essential a part of Yoruba history, mythology, religion and folk medicine. Intrinsic to Ifá are the divinities known as Orishas, which are manifestations of the high god, Olodumdare or Olòrún. Having their own unique characteristics, distinct chants, colors (which are known as ileke), numbers, foods and even literature, the Orisha have full autonomy and authority over the forces of nature as well as the power of working for or against humanity. The Orisha pantheon is seemingly limitless, as hundreds of entities comprise the pagoda include Èṣù (god of chaos and trickery); Orunmila (god of wisdom, knowledge and divination); Osun (the goddess of love, beauty and intimacy); Obatalá (creator of god of human bodies as well as owner of ori or heads) footnote; Ogun (god of hunting, iron and war); Sango (god of thunder, fire and lightening); Oya (goddess of wind and magic); Yemoja (goddess of the ocean and motherhood), and Osan-in (god of herbs, leaves and medicine).

Just like many other religions, Ifá has its own unique story of creation–where Obatala molded human beings with clay supplied by Ogun, the Orisha of iron. According to Dr. Wande Abimola, author of “Ifá Will Mend Our Broken World” and the foremost scholar on Ifá, the high god, Olodumdare provided the vital breath force and heart known as Emi and Ajala, another potter of heaven, provided the inner or spiritual head. Ile-Ife, the ancestral home and city of the Orishas, is also the cradle of humanity. Prior to the creation of Ile-Ife, the earth was submerged with water and the Orisha descended from Oke ara — a mountain in the vicinity of Ile-Ife from whence the divinities descended after the creation of the Earth — to create dry land from water. With only a parcel of dust combined with a chicken and chameleon, dry land began to appear as a chicken scratched and spread solid earth in various directions.

Dubbed as the “African Rome”, Candomblé in Salvador da Bahia in Brazil is seen and valued as an intrinsic force of cultural and societal values as the African spirit permeates an officially Catholic city of more than two million people. Whether it be in the fifteen-hundred plus Candomblé temples or terreriros; the presence of the maes e pais de santo (priestess and priests of Candomblé) or in the acaraje, “a black -eyed pea fritter cooked in red palm oil”, a delicacy of some Orishas served by Afro-Brazilian women known as baianas, Ifá has reconstructed itself in an Afro-Brazilian cultural and societal context.

Prior to the religious freedom and “respectability” the faith has accrued today, Candomblé was viewed as an inferior and barbaric religion. Under the Portuguese colonial regime during the 19th century–as typical of European imperialism–enslaved Africans were forced to a policy of assimilation or rather cooptation; as the Portuguese vehemently denied the right for Africans to exercise their religious system but enforced their own.

Though the Portuguese imposed their Catholicism, Ifá thrived as its indigenous core values syncretized with the inflicted Christian ones due to the heavy populous of Yoruba peoples in Brazil. Within this new religious dynamic, Ifá in Brazil was cultivated as the Orishas –unbeknown to the Portuguese–were canonized and edified by way of the pantheon of the Catholic saints. Although syncretism was an essential form of preservation to sustain African religiosity in Bahia, an important element to note is that Ifá — as a Yoruba tradition — was exercised in Catholicism as a mechanism to culturally and religiously survive and used not so much to adopt the Christian faith but to adapt. The Christian saints were merely symbolic vessels for the Orishas that were appropriated to comply to the religious imperialism of the Portuguese.

According to Sheila Walker, a scholar on Afro-Brazilian culture and religion, “Africans could adapted so well to outwardly observing the feast day of the saints as they were acquire to do so because they could perceive the spiritual beings they were honoring not as European saints, but symbols of the people who were oppressing them, but also as representations of the Orisha whom the saints most closely resembled.”

The Ifá tradition in Brazil not only infiltrated itself by way of syncretism but also through means of commercial trade. Several freed black Bahians participated in trade with Africa and many of the products that were imported from the Gulf of Benin were materials used in Candomblé such as red feathers, dyes and fabric. According to Patricia de Santana Pinho, author of “Mama Africa: Reinventing Blackness in Bahia”, within these materials included secret religious directives and information which connected Brazil and Africa despite the Transatlantic divide. Not only were intercontinental messages sent between Bahia and Africa, many devotees of the Ifá tradition in Africa traveled to Bahia to reclaim the religious practices that vanished from the continent yet were protected and conserved in Candomblé temples.

Many believers of Candomblé, though possessing a duality of faith in both Catholicism and Candomblé practice the faiths respectively, essentially what is practiced in Bahia is Ifá itself; as the practices of Christianity were not so much as influential to Ifá as Ifá was to Brazilian Catholicism. Despite the fact that many devotees are now equipped to end the hybridized notion of Orisha and sainthood, there is a duality that remains among the new generation of Afro-Brazilians who practice Candomblé, who recognize their faith as an indigenous African religious entity but still use overt Brazilian Catholic symbols in Orisha worship.

Though images of the European saints still stand in Candomblé houses, portraying Orishas who are not visually portrayed and many Candomblé priests and priestesses have been baptized Catholics, Walker describes these “two spiritual realities” in Bahia as non-contradictory and even complementary as it ultimately represents and eternalizes African Orisha worship.

Even in the midst of oppression, colonialism, and racism, Ifá, as form of African religiosity, was able to survive within a Pan-Africanist paradigm in the African Diaspora, despite Portuguese slaveocracy and imperialistic methodologies to thwart the religion. Though Candomblé in Bahia represents what Pinho calls a “scale of Africanism”, these “Africanisms” are African nonetheless; as they represent and perpetuate the intrinsic power and force that prolific political scientist Ronald Walters described, which “drives African-origin people to continue identifying with the source of their cultural origin.”


Some excerpts from article:  

Olorun & Olokun | Eledamare & Esumare – The etymology of the Supreme Being and Creative force in Yoruba Nanasom

Monotheism had made a significant contribution to Yoruba Ancestral Practice via the enslavement era, War, Conflict, Missionaries and Colonization in gentrified areas which causes an appendance of maladaptive western theology to Nanasom. Thus spawning a generation of inaccurate names, functions, cosmologies and descriptive titles for the Orisa. Monotheism is a multi facet tool for social, domestic and political instability.

From etymological resources and minor episodes of Orisa possession. The following is an attempt to properly identify whom the Supreme Being and Supreme Creative force in Yoruba Nanasom.

Olorun is often listed a descriptive title of the Orisa Olodumare, with the inference they are one Orisa. Thus used frequently in cosmological literature. This is assumption is partly inaccurate and potentially misleading. Olodumare is defined as “The Almighty God, the self existent being, and  God”. Olodumare has been attempted to be defined by the sum of its parts Olodu-Ikoko-ti-enikan-ko-le-re=owner of giant shrine pot no one can surpass. The etymology is questionable.

Akin to Amen Ra which is the accumulation of the Great Father Ntroru; Amen and the Great Creative Male Force; Ra. However the Ntroru have two separate distinct functions in creation and are not to be misconstrued as one single conglomerate entity solely responsible for the totality of creation. The name Olodumare is a contracted form of the name of two separate Orisa, Olorun & Edumare. Edumare is a contracted form of Eledumare.

An alleged title of the Olodumare is Onipin. However this descriptive title further renders monotheism illegitimate. Onipin means to share to divide, distribute, pair, half, The distributor of ones lot’s; The Supreme Being, a sharer or partaker. A inference is if a source is sharing in composition of creation, it is of two polarities.


Olo is inferred as “to possess to have to hold to own, to master, the bearer and the Alligator/Crocodile. Orun is defined “bow, neck, one hundred, invisible world, heaven, sky, regions above, Firmament, to sleep, to rest, the sun the day star, the region above”. Olorun is defined as the Sleeper. Thus meaning Olorun is the owner, the master of the invisible world, the master of the heavens, the owner of the bow. Looking at a bow holds a similar view of the firmament.

By stating that Olorun is the sleeper or Orun meaning to sleep, to rest. One can safely infer that the Olorun is the owner of the hidden realms, similar to the one we enter during sleep. Olorun is owner of the totality of the hidden realm, where one will communicate with Egungun, Orisa, or discarnate sprits. In Kamit the Ntroru Amen is the Great Father. The etymology of Amen is congruent and consistent with that of Olorun.

Amen is defined as “the grandfather of the Khemenu, the hidden god in heaven. To hide, conceal, hidden, secret, mysterious means to make firm, establish, to fortify, to make to arrive, the right side, western, the west land the right hand the right side, a bull god”.

The owner of the high shrine, high sanctuary. The Master of the Land not assessable to the public, The Rulerer of the hidden, secret mysterious land.


Olokun is defined as follows. Olo means the owner, the master, to possess, to hold. Okun Strength, Ability, Power, rope, cord, string, pant, twine fiber, darkness, sea, salt water. Olokun in my assumption is incorrectly representative in contemporary Yoruba Cosmology. Monotheism is an asinine assumption in contemporary culture.

In Yoruba we capture the sentient of duality in the term Ejiwapo which means twoness that manifest through out creation. Spirit/Matter, Male/female, visible/invisible, day/night, hot/cold, wet/dry. The term Khera is designated for Amenet the wife of Amen. Amenet Neferet-First division of the Tuat, a goddess who hid the decease. It critical to understand that the inference the is a duality/relationship/marriage of Olorun & Olokun and confirmed in Kamit. Khera means to intertwine, to tie up mother of the calf consistent with Olokun. Olokun is also defined as  the rope maker. Terms determines the rope, cord, rope maker, to intertwine, to tie up.

Olokun contrary to contemporary literature is not a male Orisa nor was produce from Yemaja. Yemajarespectfully does not have the capacity to produce Olokun. Yemaja is from the two words Yeye= mother eja= fish. Thus meaning the mother of the fishes. The Orisa of brooks and stream. To reiteratethat Olokun is the owner of the all the water. Elusu is also a descriptive title for Olokun. Elu=The Mixture, indigo and Su= meaning to make into balls, to gather in great multitude, to gather blackness as rainy clouds and darken.

 Olokun is the mother of the physical world, the mother of strength, the mother, the master of ability. the mother of Aje which twines, rotates, spins, spirit into matter, thus the mother of living things.

 Although one finds it as true, in very limited sources is Olokun called by a esteem descriptive title Iya Agbe. Iya Agbe is often a tile given to Oodua meaning the mother of the calabash, the closed calabash. Consider that Olorun & Olokun are the owners of Igba Iwa. Obatala had a heavy load as he broght the Igba Iwa on his head. Eledamare instructed Obatala to take the Igba Iwa down with him to mend situations that needed it. Igba Iwa to be extreamly brief is the sum of character. Obatala & Oodua are the vessels, the shrine, the medium, the throne in which Igba Iwa and brings it knowledge down to Aye Akamara (physical existence).

http://www.apesperausarra.com/#!Olorun-Olokun-Eledamare-Esumare-The-etymology-of-the-Supreme-Being-and-Creative-force-in-Yoruba-Nanasom/c1413/568208a20cf236d40391364b (November 5, 2015)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jaimee-a-swift/understanding-religiosity_b_9381004.html (Understanding Religiosity in the African Diaspora: How Orisha Worship Survived in Brazil, by Jaimee A. Swift Mar. 04, 2016)


https://youtu.be/1hrtU1MtwGE (Abosompem: Afurakani/Afuraitkaitnit (African) Ancestral Polytheism)

https://youtu.be/LNZopEKRbz8 (Ancestral Religion IS Spirituality: Etymology of Religion and Spirit)

https://youtu.be/yADUlEgJaH8(Afurakani/Afuraitkaitnit (African) Worldview: Proper Definitions of Afrocentric, African-centered)


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