In Brazil, the Yoruba gods are alive – PM News

Published on June 5, 2013 by PM News

.While Yoruba traditional worship, the gods and goddesses are being ignored by Yorubas,in preference for Christian pentecostalism, descendants of the race in the diaspora keep the faith

SAO PAULO (AFP) – Doctors told Julio Penna in 1976 that he needed to undergo corrective spine surgery but faced an 80 percent chance of being condemned to life in a wheelchair.

Penna refused and instead sought help from Candomble, Brazil’s Africa-rooted religion based on worship of deities known as orishas that link humans to the spiritual world.

Today, the 69-year-old, who is of Italian and Portuguese descent, is walking unhindered and is a high-ranking disciple of a faith that has a powerful hold on many Brazilians of all races in the world’s biggest Catholic country.

Despite lingering prejudice and intolerance, mainly from evangelical extremists, Candomble and the related faith of Umbanda are attracting a growing number of followers across this vast country of about 190 million.

People often turn to the two faiths to seek relief from pain or to embark on a spiritual quest, practitioners say.

worshipping the orishas in Brazilworshipping the orishas in Brazil

Telma Witter, a 57-year-old artist, said her husband turned to Candomble as a last resort when he was dying from an auto-immune disease.

“He was able to live an extra four years. That convinced me,” she told AFP.

A white Brazilian, she fully embraced the faith after reading the works of the late French anthropologist Pierre Verger, a respected practitioner himself who also did extensive research on Candomble both in Brazil and Africa.

Penna and Witter are followers of Mae (Mother) Sylvia de Oxala, a 75-year-old Candomble high priestess who runs the Axe Ile Oba temple in Sao Paulo’s Jabaquara district.

In April, Mae Sylvia — a mix of spiritual guide, faith healer and community leader — and her disciples held an open house to honor the deity Oxossi, one of 16 orishas in West Africa’s Yoruba mythology.

For hours, devotees in brightly colored garb, including women in billowing hoop skirts, chanted in the Yoruba language and danced around a sacred altar to the pulsating beat of ceremonial drums, with some falling into a trance as spirits apparently took possession of their bodies.

– Candomble: An Africa-rooted faith –

Developed by African slaves brought to Brazil from the 16th century, Candomble has various branches (Ketu, Nago, Angola, Jeje) based on the beliefs of these distinct ethnic groups. It also incorporates elements of Catholicism, with some orishas paired with analogous Christian saints.

Trained in Nigeria in the Ketu (Yoruba) branch of the faith, Mae Sylvia has over the past three decades tutored nearly 3,000 disciples, many of whom went on to open their own temples across the country.

“We have black, white, indigenous and even Japanese members. We are open to all,” she told AFP. “Every human being has within himself the axe (energy) of the orishas, but that powerful life force needs to be harnessed and developed.”

Mary Yamanaka, a 60-year-old Japanese Brazilian artist, said she joined the temple last year, attracted by the aesthetic appeal of the rituals, which can include animal sacrifices, essentially to please the orishas.

Mae Sylvia provides spiritual guidance to devotees, communicating with the orishas through divination based on shell reading and numerology.

Each follower is paired with a specific orisha, who is connected to a force in nature and worshipped with offerings of foods. Those aspiring to be priests must go through lengthy initiation rites that last at least seven years.

Best known orishas are Olorun (Supreme Being), his son Oxala assimilated to Jesus Christ, Shango (god of fire, thunder and justice), Ogun (warrior deity of metal work), Oxossi (hunter deity of the forest), Oshun (goddess of love, marriage and maternity) and Iemanja (the goddess of the sea and patron deity of fishermen).

Until the 1970s, the faith was officially banned and thus practiced in secret. Even today, many followers are reluctant to publicly admit that they are adherents.

For that reason, it is difficult to accurately size up the country’s Candomble community. Some estimates put it at two million members, but the real figure is likely to be considerably higher.

And today, Candomble, also practiced in neighboring countries, is enjoying a revival as an affirmation of African identity and pride, particularly in the northeastern state of Bahia state, the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture.

Official persecution of Candomble was part of a bid to eradicate African influence and led to the emergence of Umbanda in 1908, said Mae Sylvia.

– Umbanda: broader appeal among whites –

Umbanda incorporates not only the cult of the orishas, but also elements of Catholicism, indigenous beliefs and the European spiritist movement developed by Frenchman Allan Kardec in the 19th century.

Because it is less Africa-centered and excludes animal sacrifice, it has a much broader appeal among white Brazilians.

Rubens Saraceni, a white Brazilian medium, is a prominent Umbanda priest and writer.

“Candomble keeps a very strong heritage from Africa, while Umbanda gives equal weight to indigenous beliefs, spiritism and Christianity,” he explained during a festival honoring the deity Ogun in April.

Nearly 1,000 disciples, most of them whites, attended the Ogun festival, chanting, dancing and breaking into trance during spirit possession.

Saraceni estimates that with 600,000 Umbanda centers operating nationwide, the faith has at least eight million declared followers and keeps growing every year.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 5, 2013. 1:55:48

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8 Comments on “In Brazil, the Yoruba gods are alive – PM News”

  1. emotan77 Says:

    From my Mailbox:

    Yorubas appear to be totally oblivious to their own history prior the the arrival of Oduduwa in the medieval times. Modern archeology has established that ancient inhabitants of Egypt and Persia migrated from West Central Africa thousands of years BC. The association of Orishanla with the Son of God would suggest that Yoruba religion affirms what Christians also believe that the Son of God has been around since the beginning of creation. The fact that Yoruba religion has survived slavery and colonialism should encourage us to dig deeper and use all available tools of modern science to fill in all the gaps from ancient history to modern times.




    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Prof.,

      Thanks for contributing to this. We need to all find a way “to dig deeper and use all tools of modern science …”. There are too many unanswered and unexplained things that should be researched. Even the simple fact that Tivs of North Central Nigeria have some similar hand-woven cloths, or wear their fila (cap) the same style with Yoruba men even though physically separated by hundreds of miles never stop to baffle me.

      The political leaders of the region must include this “digging” as an important part of their “southwest integration”.

      Sincere regards,



  2. emotan77 Says:

    From my Mail Box:

    There is something, though, to be said about “In Brazil, the Yoruba gods are alive,” which describes how Yoruba Deities – Orisa – are being brought from the margins towards the mainstream in Brazil as a world religion—that is, one which, if not shoulder to shoulder with the ‘big’ ones such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, might at least be compared with other world faiths such as Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, and Jainism. Of course, Orisa devotion, of which Ifa, the deity of wisdom is very important, is becoming a globalised phenomenon in Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, and the USA as well.

    There is no need to deny the revelation of God in the Bible or Qur’an, but we must open our eyes to the truth that God is omnipresent. That is, if God reveals Himself in moral maxims of Christianity or in perfect self-surrender of Islam, so does God, in Indian philosophy, in Buddhist ethics, or, in “Brazil’s Africa-rooted religion based on worship of deities known as orishas.” I venture to say that from the standpoint of comparative religion, no faith is superior to others; the choice of one or the other is a matter of temperament and personal preference. So, every faith has sufficient concreteness to suit the needs of a heart that yearns towards it.

    AO Ajetunmobi



    • emotan77 Says:


      Thanks for this and in spite of having promised myself to allow varying opinions on religion to be presented but not to contribute, the new subject of Yoruba Deities has more to say about Yoruba History and Culture.

      A friend once told me and not in jest that ALL not born again – not just all non-Christians – “have no chance at the Kingdom of God”!

      I asked her where the billions of Chinese, the [then] almost a billion Indians & others who are all God’s creatures would end up – hell – I asked? She retorted it was not her say-so but God’s!

      I am of the Christian faith as all who reads this blog often enough but that is not the kind of faith I have. I believe God is as merciful as he is omnipresent, omnipotent, Lord of the universe. My friend’s ideas about being a Christian and being “born again” do not reflect the nature of the God I believe in.




  3. Adeyemi Says:

    In all religions, it has been the concept of “the more you look, the less you see”. However, the testimonies from religious adherents who are not known with diagnoses for any mental illnesses, cannot be condemned nor ignored. He who wears the crown feels the glamour and pains of responsibilities.

    Personally, if given a choice, I’ll prefer the ways of legends like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, etc whose research efforts have verifiable beginning and reliable records of metamorphosis as they grow. The results of these human beings’ research efforts have created jobs and reduce diseases to improve comfortable livability in our world. I will prefer the tangibles to intangibles because it is easy for charlatans to fake the intangibles for exploitation purposes.



    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Yemi,

      Thanks for this.

      Religion continues to be a contentious issue because of charlatans that fill its ranks as pastors, etcetera. Faith, with religion as its face, has my vote any day because everything in the universe points to a power greater than the greatest minds. I rest my case!




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