Arquivo da tag: Orientalismo

What do some Afro-Brazilian religions actually believe? (Washington Post)

 February 6 at 3:30 AM


Candomblé is a Brazilian religion developed from animist beliefs, imported by African slaves. But the quasi-respectability gained in recent decades is now under attack from radical Evangelical Christians – a growing force in Catholic Brazil – who regard it as the devil’s work. (The Washington Post)

RIO DE JANEIRO — In its contemporary form, Brazil’s Candomblé religion looks about as removed from Western Christianity as could be imagined. It must have seemed positively diabolical, then, to the brutal Portuguese overlords whose slaves imported it from Africa, and whom they believed had been converted. Those slaves may have cleverly “synchronized” their own deities with Catholic saints to be able to continue worshiping, but they did not synchronize their beliefs.

This does not make Candomblé the devil’s work. It does not have the concept of heaven and hell, nor a rigid moral code in the sense that Christians would understand it. Instead, believers are supposed to fulfill their destiny, whatever that might be. Both men and women can become priests. Homosexuality is accepted, secretive animal sacrifices play an important role and the sexual lives of devotees are their own business when they are outside the walls of the Candomblé “house,” or center.

Decorative body paint, jewelry and costumes are part in a Candomble ceremony in Rio de Janeiro on Jan. 23. (Lianne Milton for The Washington Post)

There are elaborate theatrical rituals, with costumes and accessories that can include robes, small swords and shields, a mini archer’s bow, and even as witnessed in one ceremony in Rio, an elaborate silver helmet with a tiny figure on a plinth on top that looked like something a 19th-century Prussian army officer might have sported.

But these accoutrements are no more outlandish than a Catholic Mass might have appeared to an 19th-century African who had just been enslaved. Candomblé is a religion like any other, with its own rules, hierarchies and sense of the spiritual. This is true especially in Brazil, where the existence of spirituality and an afterlife is regarded as an incontestable truth by the majority of the population — be they Catholics, or followers of more esoteric, yet tolerated religions, such as the spiritualist sect that follows the teachings of 19th-century French writer Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, who wrote the Spiritist Codification under the pseudonym Allan Kardec.

Or followers of both, because many Catholics have no problem also being spiritualists. Religious duality is popular in Brazil, one reason why some estimates put followers of Candomblé and its sister religion, Umbanda, in the tens of millions, not the official half a million or so who admitted to it in the 2010 government census.

Candomblé is an oral culture with no sacred text. There are seven Candomblé nations — or variations – such as Ketu and Angola, depending on which Brazilian state it developed in, and where in Africa the slaves practicing it came from. They believe in a supreme being, called Olódùmarè (whose name can be spelled with or without the accents). Beneath this god are 16 Orixás — deities, or entities — many of whom have characteristics that are distinctly human in nature.

Yemanjá, the sea goddess, is given gifts like flowers or champagne by millions of Brazilians every New Year’s Eve. She is sometimes associated with the Virgin Mary, but she is also famously vain.

The warrior Ogum is linked to Saint George — courageous and persistent, and popular in Brazil for these qualities.

Then there is a female Orixá of the wind, Iansã, who is — as might be expected in Brazil — a more sensual deity.

Nature is perhaps the single most important factor in Candomblé, and each Orixá is connected to an element. “All of them are responsible for a part of nature,” said Rodrigo Silva, “father-of-saint,” or priest of the Logun Edé Palace Candomblé center. It is not uncommon to see Candomblé being practiced on beaches, or in waterfalls. “Our gods are ecological gods,” said Beatriz Moreira Costa, 84, a revered priestess called Mother Beatá.

In its sister religion, Umbanda, invented in Rio in the early 20th century, both the Catholic God and reincarnation also play a part. “It is a Christian doctrine,” said Tábata Lugao, 27, a recent convert. Orixás and Catholic saints are synchronized — but Umbanda also has its own holy figures, such as Preto Velho, or “Old Black Man,” a wily old slave figure who smokes a pipe.

The mostly female, middle-age worshippers being “incorporated” by Preto Velho at a recent Umbanda ceremony in São Gonçalo, near Rio, drank beer and smoked cigars and appeared to be enjoying themselves enormously, but they also took their ceremony extremely seriously — another kind of quintessentially Brazilian religious duality.

Unlike Umbanda, Candomblé initiates spend 21 days in seclusion living in the center, before being initiated as Yaô (this can also be spelled in different ways). Then they can be “incorporated” by Orixás — and initiates have individual Orixás they must follow.

After seven years as a Yaô, they become an Egbomi, and can then decide if they want to progress to the highest stage, that of father-of-saint or mother-of-saint.

The musicians who play percussion and sing the songs in African languages at Candomblé ceremonies that aim to honor and conjure up the Orixás are another kind of Yaô, called Ogá.

This does not necessarily involve being righteous, and it is here, perhaps, that Candomblé is most controversial. Those priests who sell curses or spells, via lower-level spirits called Exús, prompt some of the prejudice that surrounds the religion. “There are those who have pleasure in doing bad, others who like to help,” said Silva.

His center, he emphasized, does not get involved in the darker side of Candomblé’s neighborhood witchcraft, pejoratively called Macumba in Brazil. “It was made to protect and help people who need this help,” he said. “We fight for peace.”

The World Cup 2014 in Brazil: better organised than the Olympics in London 2012? (FREE)

JUNE 26, 2014

Football Research in an Enlarged Europe (FREE)

Yesterday, I was quoted in a number of French newspapers as saying that the World Cup 2014 has been, so far, better organised than the London Olympics 2012. It is my duty to report that this does not in any way whatsoever misrepresent my views.
I stand by what I said.

There have been months, if not years, of negative reports on the 2014 World Cup. Before the event started, comments from all quarters (Western media, FIFA, patrons and waiters at the pub alike) promised absolute doom and gloom in Brazil. The stadia would not be ready in time, spectators would be prevented from travelling to the venues because the infrastructures would not be ready in time or because Brazilians would be protesting to no end. Most commentators were very short of saying ‘those lazy, unpatriotic and unreliable Brazilians’ – when they did not actually say it…

Unless I am mistaken, so far none of this has actually happened. All the stadia are ready and used for the Cup. Brazilians are exercising their democratic right to protest and there are isolated reports of Pelé or other football celebrities not making it to the venue. Yet, stadia are not only ready. They are full at every game! Even when South Korea is playing Algeria, in a game where the sporting stakes are not high.

Compare this with the London Olympics which were marred by a number of controversies:

We could add to the list of ‘things that went pearshaped at London 2012’: for example, the gatecrasher at the parade of nations which shocked many people in India, LOCOG displaying a South-Korean flag instead of North-Korea (logically the North-Korean team refused to warm up and play until the right flag was displayed, prompting the game to be very much delayed…) but the point is not to criticise otherwise relatively well organised Olympics. I don’t want to be unfair with the Brits either as there are often controversies surrounding the organisation of a mega event. Let’s just recall that, to my knowledge, the only international sporting event that had to change country because a stadium was not built in time, is the 2007 Athletics World Championship, planned in Wembley, London and which finally happened in Oslo. Once more, let’s be fair with Britain: construction delays are common in every country, and construction budgets almost invariably go overboard.

The point, instead, is to show the gap between reality and perception. Whenever an event is organised in a Southern country, the discourse, and the memory, is of potential fiascos, that have usually not materialised. Whenever an event is organised in a Northern country, the discourse, and the memory, is of success, even when there were actual fiascos.

Following Edward Said, we can call this ‘orientalisation’, and say that in a world where the East/West divide was replaced in the 1990s by a North-South divide,  this is the result of a distorted view that the Western/Northern media have of the Orient/South.

Let’s say things much more clearly: this is a xenophobic, or even racist, discourse.

David Ranc