Sunday, May 23, 2010

Candomblé, an everyday reality in Rio

I am not an expert in the religion of Candomblé, far from it.  I know it from the warnings of Cariocas, Brazilians born in Rio.  My first experience with it was during my first trip downtown to go to the Federal Police to extend my tourist visa.  My husband and I were walking down a fairly busy downtown street when I almost ran into a ceramic bowl with chicken feet and candles around it.  Daniel saved me by firmly pulling me out of the way.

I was given a short and not sweet explanation of "That is a Candomblé offering.  You never touch them.  Don't look at them if you can manage.  It's powerful stuff."

Through the years I've gotten to understand what Cariocas think of these offerings that you can run into almost anywhere.  There's a lot of respect.  Everyone knows where the Candomblé people do their thing.  They know that you don't mess with people involved with Candomblé.  And if someone's life takes a random and horrible turn to the worst, many think it's a "curse" (for lack of better words) from Candomblé. 

I asked my Mother-in-law if I could go watch a ceremony sometime. She told me no because I'm too open energetically and can not control my flow of energy in and out. It would be a disaster. 

Now I don't necessarily believe in this kind of thing. I almost wanted to head out on my own to one just out of curiosity.  What stopped me was the respect. Even Cariocas who don't believe in Candomblé, or anything for that matter, respect it.  You don't mess around with it.  I even got a head shaking from my husband for just taking the picture. Weird fact, my camera ran out of batteries just as I went to take the picture. The battery was full. It came back to life and I was taking pictures of my son nearby so I quickly turned and snapped a picture. The camera died right after. 

Coincidence, probably.  But it's enough to make you wonder.

A student of mine once told me a crazy story. He's a professor at UFRJ in Rio and he and some colleagues went to Bahia for a conference.  Candomblé originated in Bahia.

He and a female colleague were buying some food from a street vendor.  When it was her turn the woman would not take her money and just gave her the food.  It happened with every person on the street that she attempted to purchase something from.  Finally someone informed her that she is the personification of one of their Gods.  Everyone knew on sight and no one could take money from her. On top of that, they had to give her anything she required. 

Here are a couple of links if you want to learn more about Candomblé:


  1. My brother is a "filho de santo". It's beautiful and super scary. I've been meaning to go and see him but his "terreiro" is in Muriqui and I can never bring myself to be in Rio on a party day and have a sitter for an entire saturday to go down there. Really want to, though, see his Orixa dance. If one day I can work it out, I'll give you a call, if you're still curious... It is a sure thing, however, that you will feel a ton of things, it's somth you should expect actually. But I don't think you should be worried about anything happening to you bc usually the "mãe de santo" doesn't allow it. My whole family went there for his orixa's birth and they were all very emotional, but that was it, including my grandma who is a super medium lady.

  2. On a corner nearby that looks over a canal I came across an offering several months ago. It was a painting on one side of the street and then on the other side there were pieces of raw meat, flowers, candles, but what really struck me was the meat with all of the bugs and flies. I passed by it for several days and for several days it remained. I mentioned it to my husband and he said "candomble" this used to be a much more common sight in the 80's-90's. We were walking up the street and saw the trash guys from prefeitura and even they wouldn't touch it. You're right, it's something powerful and no one wants to disturb or get involved. It must have been there for 2 weeks!