Decolonization is the term of the 21st century – we finally acknowledge the super-structures that colonization has established and that since then influence our political institutions, international relations and individual thought processes. “Decolonization” is a series of stories about identity, culture, traditions and religions that present alternatives to Western-mainstream worldwide.
Candomblé is a religion of inspiration for many. Deeply rooted in the history of Brazil, it nowadays attracts more and more Brazilians to join the religious ceremonies and turn towards its ideological fundaments. Candomblé is the living reliquial of a time that is too often forgotten: Brazil’s colonization. A fundamental aspect of this colonization was the deporting of African slaves to the shores of Brazil. More than fourty percent of all deported slaves arrived in Salvador, Bahia at that time.
From hearsay, Candomblé was created in Salvador, which was the capital and the central arrival point of slaves in the 19th century. It rose as a religion of the Afro-Brazilian communities, widely spread over the whole country, and became a symbol of resistance against the oppression by the colonial power.
History of Candomblé
As part of this oppression by the colonial powers, it was prohibited for African slaves to express any religious practices connected to their African roots. As Europeans were convinced of their own cultural and racial superiority, they deprived the colonized nations from following their own cultures and traditions, including religious practices. The Bible and the Christian faith provided a practical tool to justify the enslavement and subordination of billions of Africans, indigenouse people and African Americans.
Despite all attempts to oppress the culture of the enslaved people, the African population found a way to hold onto their collective identity. They instrumentalized the catholic church and continued to express their own religious thoughts through it. This way, the goddesses of Candomblé were uphold with their identity and the followers of the religion continue their religious expressions until today.
Interestingly, nowadays, parts of the evangelic church in Brazil are still convicting the African religions. Despite these reactions, many non-religious young Brazilians have become interested in Candomblé, joined the processions and started to fight for the rights of the religious communities. Surveys suggest that around two million Brazilians have declared themselves following the religion.
But what is Camdomblé?
While there is not one interpretation or document to orientate its religious believes on as Candomblé is a spoken religion, in its broadest sense we can describe it as a religion of nature. In the daily practice, gods of nature, the Orishas, are being glorified. Each of them stems from one of the four elements, a terra, o fogo, a áuga, o ar.
There are plenty of Orixás, such as the protector of the woods, the mother of the battle, the mother of the ocean, the goddess of fishing.
Exú is the mediator between the humans on the planet and the Orixás. His colour is red, as the wine he loves drinking. He is the god of pleasure, often imagined with cigars, alcohol representing luring temptations.
Lemanjá is the name of the goddess of the ocean, the queen of the mar. In my imagination, her from salt curled hair is ravenous, fiercely wielding with the wind of the waves of the wild ocean. Her power is present, her energy fills up every space.
Xangó is another important god, the one of sexuality and birth, his colours are red and orange. He is powerful, holding up an axe in his hand and always casting a spell around him.
The Cosmos, the Human and Nature in Candomblé
The deities of the believes are the forces of nature but also spiritual entities, as they are being directly linked to the cosmos, the elements and the nature. The religion inherits aspects of environmental education, and other ethical principles such as the autonomy of the village and social justice within communities. Felipe Rodrigues Martins has analyzed the relation between environmental awareness and the religious culture and found a considerable connection:
The African and Afro-Brazilian Cosmovision identifies Orixás as nature, so it is natural that in Candomblé, one learns to conserve and live with nature. Each Ilê (temple) represents a pole of resistance to carelessness with the environment. Habitats and elements are directed to preserve the planet, with both nature and humanity. Plants are the sources of axé, a life force without which life and movement cannot develop.
Rituals are aimed at preparing the land and soil is sacred. The analogy of nature and religion links the elements and environmental conversation constitutes the fertile basis. The rites and rituals only take place and are performed through leaves, baths and natural elements consecrated to the Orixás. The earth welcomes, the waters heal and calm, the leaves carry wisdom. Nature is gifted with humanity.
Candomblé allows to read about the world, harmonious human relationships and egalitarian coexistence, in which everyone can live with self-confidence, dignity and respect, and has respect for the planet that welcomes them. In the same way, when the followers of Candomblé gather for initiation, going through cycles of death and rebirth, it is necessary for the participants to be reborn for new ideas, values and cultures.
The ban of Candomblé is powerful, and more and more people understand how they can implement the practices into their perspective on the world and improve the wellbeing of themselves, their community and their natural surrounding.
How you can learn from Candomblé
The religious believes of Candomblé can serve us as guidances that help us to reflect how we treat human relationships, coexistence and the value of life, individually as well as in the community. The dependency of nature and humankind is present and elaborated, and it is anchored in its deep belief system.
There are some guiding questions and practices for us, that brings us closer to nature and helps us to rediscover the close connection of the human, its body and its natural environment. You might want to answer them for yourself, or discuss them with a friend.
- Imagine yourself in a forest, large trees around you and birds chirping in the crones of the trees. How does this imagination make you feel? How does the soil unterneath your feet feel like?
- What do you think is the least human, and most ‘nature’ characteristic of you? Is it your sexuality, your basic instincts, maybe how you feel when you are by yourself? May it be even death or birth?
- How much do you appreciate waters, such as lakes, rivers, the ocean, and how does the clarity of it influence your fascination about it?
- Draw an analogy of your life to a process of nature. How can you find the analogy in your daily experiences?
- What does rather represent your belief: Imagine yourself out in nature, do you dominate the nature or does nature dominate you? How do you practice this belief when you behave in daily life?
I was in fact inspired by what a Brazilian friend told me once: If Brazilians would have maintained the ethical principles and moral guidance from its indigenouse population and the Afro-Brazilian communities, the destruction of its ecological systems, the high corruption and the exploitation of human and nature would have never reached as high levels. Only the internation of Western ideals, the catholic church and our economic system have shaped the destructive practices today.
In the end, by starting a debate on de-colonization and discover the values, belief systems and practices of communities that already existed before colonization, we not only support the communities’ position in the system. We are also learning a lesson on how to preserve our nature and our societies within. In our world we often search for solutions, and oversee that they might already exist.