Candomblé Blog




Well I finally made to a Candomblé ceremony at the oldest terrreiro in Salvador and possibly Brazil. Having been informed it started at 8pm, I arrived at 9pm and was just on time. This is Bahia. 

It’s called the ‘Casa Branca’ not without good reason. A big white-washed, one story house with a blue door and white shutters it sits at the top of a hillside amongst a large patch of green land surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, at odds with the breeze block Favelas crushed together either side. 

I followed the string of white light bulbs to the front entrance. The room was already packed with a combination of locals and academic tourists, all there to scrutinise the quirky goings on. The atmosphere was expectant and positively pregnant with utter nosiness. Me included.  

Candomblé is a ‘practise’ or religion that arrived in Brazil with the African slaves who worshipped Orixas or Yoruba Gods. The goddess Oxun was the reason for tonight’s festival; Oxun, the goddess of beauty and gold, who represents joy and vanity and protects pregnancy and fertility – her element is water so she’s supposed to be very sensual etc. 

There are 16 of these gods and everyone is supposed to have one of these as a sort of lucky charm. Each god has certain characteristics, both good and bad a bit like star signs. For instance Oxun folks are supposed to be thoughtful, elegant, charming, attentive, hard-workers, witches, very clever, very sensitive and cry easily. 

So where was I?  Oh yes, I went into the house and took my place on the left with the women. Men on the right. The centre of the space had a sort of square alter with a carved, wooden canopy, surrounded by elaborately carved wooden chairs that looked a bit like thrones. The ceiling was covered in white streamers strung from the walls to the central awning. 

Suddenly a herd of mostly old, black women emerged from a door to the right and the music began; drums, cow-bells and a triangle all accompanied by a husky male voice that started warbling. 

Wearing vast skirts over bell shaped hoops and white lacy tops wrapped with massive bows across their chests, they looked a bit like those crochet dolls grandmas make to cover toilet rolls, except much more charming. But beneath the swaying froth and lace were some pretty strong personalities and each very different. The ladies softly circled the space, ball-changing right and left making swooping movements with their arms as if clearing something imaginary out of the way. Was this evil spirits? Other times the gestures switched to what seemed to be various agricultural activities, like pelting tapioca and before long a few broke into a sweat.

At this point I started to worry about some of the older ones who were in their 80’s, but a few sensibly surrendered their task by slumping gratefully on the thrones, with their little pantaloon-ed legs dangling. Mopping their brows with hankies whilst huffing and puffing like walruses, they muttered and giggled like teenagers to their chanting comrades as they circled onwards in pursuit of the spirits. 

Just as I getting dizzy from a constant clockwise flow, there was a commotion over the left and a murmur of excitement rippled through the crowd. The first trance had gripped one of the group. I saw a gaggle of worshippers surround a staggering figure, plucking it up off the floor, then supporting it as it stiffened like an ironing board, wobbling back and forth. 

At this point, one tourist was so freaked she upped and marched towards the exit, only to retrace her steps and gawp out of morbid curiosity like the rest of us.   

From then on, ladies were wobbling all over the place and suddenly it was bedlam; some characters seemed to change gear and sped up, racing through the group at breakneck speed but mysteriously never hitting anyone. Were they peeking? With a sloping floor things looked a bit hazardous as they careered down hill in our direction with their eyes clamped shut, pursing their lips with disdain, but just as they got to the corner they seemed to find their breaks and a nasty pile up with the audience was averted. 

And the whole procedure carried on (why hasn’t there been a Carry on Candomblé?). Some devotees would stop and put their hands behind their backs and shake their shoulders like clucking chickens whilst others were stopping and hugging, sticking their bums out and wiggling them like ducks. What was going on?  Had a hen convention taken over? 

By now, those ladies who hadn’t fallen into trance looked vaguely alarmed at the chaotic pandemonium, but stoically carried on chanting and dancing clockwise casting worried, furtive glances over their shoulders, just in case they got mown down by their mates. 

Just at this point a black man made a quite spectacular fall from amongst the crowds and was pulled away to a side room from which he emerged topless, sporting a rather gay sash over his jeans and some flowery material tied over his chest. Quite a fetching look,  in a Julian Clary sort of way.  As the drums and singing got louder he whipped himself up into a lathering frenzy and went beserk dancing round the floor pulling off a sort of hip hop Michael Jackson number, kicking his legs like a can-can dancer whilst making desperate chopping movements with his arms. Ten out of ten for originality and improvisation, I thought. It was at this point the crowd felt obliged to burst into rapturous applause. Of course as he was in a trance he was oblivious, but he kept going until the performance had worn thin and the crowds grew bored at which point he was subtly dragged off to the side room again.

Having been to a Brazilian production of a German expressionist play the night before with some pretty wacky antics, the boundaries of theatre and religion had blurred here and I found myself more entertained than the previous night. This show was much better.

One Response to “Candomblé Blog”

  1. La Ree Says:

    hey. to whoever who posted this blog, i found it offensive of you to poke fun of the candomble ceremony. comparing this important spiritual event to a “Hen Convention” and “Michael Jackson dancing”, etc is absolutely absurd. if your white and ignorant, i strongly suggest that you do thorough research and view this great religion as an significant one, rather then an entertaining moment for you and your collegues. can’t handle ethnicity?, then stay away!.

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