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Candomblé ceremony in Bahia

March 15th, 2011

When i was in Bahia, in the North East of Brasil, a few years ago i was lucky enough to attend a Candomblé ceremony in one of the local Terreiros (Religious centres, pronounced Te-he-ro) just outside the city of Salvadore de Bahia.

Candomblé Ceremony in Salvadore de Bahia, North East of Brasil
The circle of Initiates of Candomblé

Candomblé is one of the major forms of Afro Brasilian religion found in Brasil. It originated in the city of Salvadore de Bahia, and the surrounding areas in the North East of Brasil, where the African Slaves would cloak their African Animist Religion in a thin veneer of Christianity to fool the Portuguese Slave owners.   The practising of the African religions was strictly forbidden and the Christianisation of the Slaves strictly enforced, so the Slaves adapted. Out of this versatility and will to survive Candomblé was formed.

Candomblé Ceremony-2 in Salvadore de Bahia, North East of Brasil

Candomblé, sometimes called Macumba, holds many similarities to the Afro-Cuban Religion of Santería and the Afro-Haitian Religion of Voodoun (Voodoo) as their origens are from the same regions in Africa, being largely the Yoruba Tribes of West Africa.  

In each of these forms of worship the Christian Saints take on the persona of the African ancestor spirits called Oríshas in Cuba or Orixás (pronounced Ori-shaas)  in Brasil, and these spirits will possess the bodies of their worshipers and thus communicate with the living and experience life again.  It’s a religion that requires a lot of participation and involves many hours of ritual and dance with hypnotic african rhythms played on drums throughout the ceremony.

Candomblé Ceremony-3 in Salvadore de Bahia, North East of Brasil

For a few dollars to help supplement income, the ceremony participants are happy to let visitors come to observe and even take a few unobtrusive pictures (no flash of course).  These ceremonies are not done for tourism and there is nothing vaguely commercial about them, they are the real thing.  On the night i attended there were a few of us from a small hostel in Salvadore there, along with many locals and initiates.

It’s a very surreal experience, with the drumming and the ritualised dancing around the circle, this was made even more so when the girl who had been standing next to me – who had come on the same bus as me and was staying in the same hostel – suddenly started to shake and then leapt into the middle of the circling dancers.  She then proceeded to dance wildly around within the circle, not crazy western person dancing, but precise steps to the rhythm in the same African style of the ceremony participants, she had her eyes closed the whole time.  None of the locals even flinched, we had already seen this happen a couple of times during the course of the evening, but it had previously happened to Candomblé initiates, this was certainly a new twist for me.

Candomblé Ceremony-4 in Salvadore de Bahia, North East of Brasil
The final part of the ceremony to become Babalorixá

She danced this way for several minutes before some of the senior women gently lead her away out the back. This happened once more that evening, the next time to a young Spanish or Italian guy, i don’t remember which, who was also staying at my hostel and had come on the same bus as me.   When they re-joined us for the bus trip back they both looked dazed and had no recollection of anything that had happened after arriving at the Terreiro.

These images were shot with the permission of the participants on a Leica RE with a 90mm f2 lens and Kodak Tri-X Pan 400 black and white film pushed to ISO800.  There was of course no flash used.

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