Dance Around the World: Candomblé Ritual

By Sarah Friswell

This month, we travel to Brazil where African roots influenced the rituals of the Candomblé religion.

In South America and the Caribbean, African drums were never censored as they were in the United States. This lead to dance being an important part of social and religious life for Africans and Afro-Brazilians. This drum and dance influence was strongest in Brazil because that was the center of the slave trade in South America. Slave owners in South America, as in the United States, were greatly outnumbered by their slaves. To prevent uprisings, South American slave owners decided to allow certain religious rituals instead of banning them in order to keep their slaves at bay. Candomblé was a popular Afro-Brazilian religion, much like Voudun, or Voodoo, of Haiti.

Photo Credit: Adam Monk Photography

In one ritual, women dressed in white hoop skirts dance in circles in a Candomblé temple. The women, "daughters of the saints" dance for orixas (or-EESH-ahs), or spirits that can influence an individual's life. The women have trained extensively for at least seven years to be able to perform these sacred dances.

Before the dancing begins, the women offer an animal sacrifice to the orixas. Then they begin to dance to different drum rhythms. Each rhythm is created for a specific spirit and each woman dances to invite a specific spirit to come into her body. The aim of this process is for the dancer to go into a trance, falling on the floor and becoming possessed by the orixa she is dancing for.

The orixas "join" the ceremony by entering the bodies of these women because they enjoy the dancing and festivities so much. Once the woman has become possessed, they are moved into a special room for their deity. Each room is decorated in clothing and symbols that will please the deity.

The dances are all spontaneous, yet they follow specific guidelines for each deity. For example, "vigorous, stamping steps for the male god associated with war; fluid, dreamy movements for the goddess of streams and rivers; and so on"(Jonas 183). The traditions associated with Candomblé and African traditional religion spread throughout South America. Their influence can be seen in present day Carnival celebrations in Brazil, a nationwide celebration of the merging of African and Portuguese tradition.

Read more about Candomblé rituals in Dancing: The Pleasure, Power, and Art of Movement by Gerald Jonas.

Watch an example of Candomblé dancing here.

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