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7 years ago  ::  Oct 15, 2007 - 5:27PM #1
Beliefnetsabee
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Candomble
kahn-dohm-blay'

Brazilian new religion found principally in northeastern coastal cities, led by ritual priestesses and priests under whose supervision mediums accept possession by divine spirits.

Regarded as the oldest sect drawing on both African and Christian traditions, and the most traditionally African of the Afro-Brazilian groups, Candomble is centered at the sacred sites of Engenho Velho, Gantois, and Axe (de) Opo Afonja in Salvador (Bahia), which trace their founding lineages to the early nineteenth century. Although the origin of the word candomble cannot be precisely established, its etymology is presumed to be African and given as related to candombe from ka ("custom," "dance") and ndombe ("black"). The history of Candomble is also uncertain, but colonial period accounts of nighttime dances (calundus, batuques) among enslaved Africans may have been reporting nascent forms of Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomble.

Descended from African, Christian, and (to a lesser extent) native Brazilian religions, Candomble has primarily continued Yoruban priestly roles and symbolism. It has named its patron deities (orixas or santos) with Yoruban names of gods (Obatala, Oxala, Shango, Ogun, Oshossi or Oxossi, and Exu) and goddesses (Yemanja, Oxum, and Yansan). Evidence of Candomble's heritage from other Sudanese and from Bantu tribal traditions is less conspicuous. The framework of Candomble theology parallels late medieval Christianity, for the followers acknowledge a high creator deity, Olorun, but invoke the intermediary patron deities for intercession in human affairs. It is only the intermediaries--identified individually with Christian saints or divine powers--who descend to "mount" followers during possession rituals. Other aspects of African mythology have diminished to lists of divine attributes, while central Christian concepts of sin and salvation and Brazilian Indian influences are present, if less important, than in other Afro-Brazilian groups.

Candomble priestesses, or maes de santo ("mothers of the saint/deity/holy one"), women of unambiguous African descent, have been significant spiritual leaders in their communities. In their religious roles, these women perform animal sacrifices and divination rituals for individual devotees, as well as oversee all training and calendrical ceremonies. In the central possession rituals, the mediums, or filhas de santo ("daughters of the deity/saint"), assume elaborate costumes after entering trance states. Each medium undergoes extensive initiation--lasting as long as seven years until recent decades--before first experiencing full trance and possession by a single patron deity. During the ceremonies, followers may consult with or worship the deity, temporarily in material form and responsive to the worshiper. Male priests, musicians, and council members served in auxiliary roles until the 1970s, when the proportion of male priests and mediums increased substantially.

Each Candomble center functions independently and may evince slight variations in symbolic interpretations. A substantial portion of doctrine and practice has been kept secret because of long years of suppression and persecution by local and federal governments. This branch of Afro-Brazilian religion has been in decline since the 1960s, owing to the explosive popularity of other Afro-Brazilian religions, such as Umbanda, and aggressive proselytization by Protestant evangelical missions from North America.


From The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion. Copyright 1995 by The American Academy of Religion. Reprinted by arrangement with HarperSanFrancisco, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
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