It is so rare to see Portuguese-language poems translated into English
and published in the U. S. that the release of an anthology of Brazilian
poets should be enough reason for celebration. It is a shame though that
most of the poems gathered in Nothing the Sun Could Not Explain seem
bland and disconnected from the Brazilian soul.
Nothing the Sun Could Not Explain: 20 Contemporary
Brazilian Poets, edited by Michael Palmer, Régis Bonvicino,
and Nélson Ascher (Sun & Moon Classics, 312 pp., $15.95 paper)
The government claims a literacy rate of 80% but according to EDUCAR, the government department for
adult education, only 40% of Brazilians old enough to be in the workforce are capable of reading a newspaper
with comprehension. The government considers literate those who can write their names, know the alphabet and sound
out a few words. In the workplace it has become obvious that these people are functionally illiterate. According to
the government, half of the nation’s pupils do not pass the first school year and many do not attempt to repeat it.
Only two out of every 10 students make it through elementary school. The remainder drops out to support themselves
and their family.
Education in Brazil is based on class. Public schools are so bad that anyone with the means sends their children
to private schools. Almost all university students are from private schools, so very few poor children reach university
and the poverty cycle is renewed. Many poor children must work to eat and never attend school. Even for those who
are able to go, there aren’t enough schools, teachers or desks to go around.
The Brizola government of Rio de Janeiro was one of the first to understand and act upon the connections
between poverty, hunger and illiteracy, and set up food programs in schools. The kids come to school for the food and stay
for the lessons. Some schools have classes at night for those children who work during the day.
Mass media has also been used in Brazil with some success. Since 1972, TV and radio educational programs have
been on the air. They concentrate on primary (primeiro
grau) and secondary (segundo grau) students, but not
exclusively. One course consists of 235 radio and TV programs, with the objective of qualifying primary teachers. In
1989, Universidade Aberta (Open University), a tertiary education program, was introduced. You’ll often see the
workbooks on newsstands.
While these measures are not enoughmany primary school students still have only three hours of classes per
daythey show that some programs are successful.
Brazilians are among the most musical people on the planet. Wherever you go, you’ll find people playing, singing
and dancing. Perhaps because of its African roots, Brazilian music is a collective act, a celebration, a
Brazilian popular music has always been characterized by great diversity. Shaped by the mixing of a variety of
musical influences from three different continents, the music of the people is still creating new and original forms.
Thus samba canção, for example, is a mixture of Spanish
bolero with the cadences and rhythms of African
music. Bossa nova was influenced by North American music particularly jazz, and samba. And the music called
tropicalismo is a mix of musical influences that arrived in Brazil in the ’60s, including Italian ballads and
samba: everything makes for a samba. The most popular Brazilian rhythm,
samba, was first performed at the Rio Carnaval in 1917, though its origins go back much further.
It is intimately linked with African rhythms; notably the Angolan tam-tam, which provided the basis for its music
and distinctive dance steps. It caught on quickly after the advent of radio and records and has since become a
national symbol. It is the music of the masses.
The 1930s are known as the Golden Age of Samba. By then,
samba canção had also evolved, as had
choro, a romantic intimate music with a ukulele or guitar as its main instrument, playing off against a recorder or flute.
The most famous Brazilian singer of this period, perhaps of all time, is Carmen Miranda. A star of many
Hollywood musicals of the period, she was known for her fiery, Latin temperament and her "fruity" costumes. She has
since become a cult figure among Rio’s gay community, and Carnaval in Rio sees many of them impersonating her.
Bossa Nova In the ’50s came
bossa nova, and the democratic nature of Brazilian music was altered.
Bossa nova was new, modern and intellectual. It also became internationally popular. The middle class stopped listening to the
old interpretations of samba and other regional music like the
forró of the Northeast.
Bossa nova initiated a new style of playing instruments and singing. The more operatic florid style of singing
was replaced by a quieter, more relaxed sound; remember the soft sound of "The Girl from Ipanema" composed by
the late Antônio Carlos (Tom) Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes? João Gilberto is the founding father of
bossa nova, and leading figures, like Baden Powell and Nara Leão are still playing in Rio. Another
bossa nova voice, who became Brazil’s most beloved singer, was Elis Regina.
Bossa nova was associated with the rising middle class of urban, university-educated Brazil. It was a musical
response to other modernist movements of the ’50s and ’60s such as the Cinema Novo, the Brazilian Modern Architecture
of Oscar Niemeyer et al, and other aspects of the cultural life of the nation during the optimistic presidency of
Juscelino Kubitschek from 1956 to 1960.
TropicalismoAt the end of the ’60s the movement known as
tropicalismo burst onto the scene.
Tropicalismo provoked a kind of general amnesty for all the forgotten musical traditions of the past. The leading
figuresGilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Rita Lee, Macalé, Maria Bethânia and Gal Costabelieved that all musical styles were
important and relevant. All the styles and traditions in Brazilian music could be freely mixed. This kind of open thinking led
to innovations like the introduction of the electric guitar and the sound of electric samba.
Música Popular BrasileiraParalleling these musical movements are several incredibly popular musicians who
are hard to categorise: they are simply known as exponents of MPBMúsica Popular Brasileira (Popular Brazilian Music).
Chico Buarque de Holanda, who mixes traditional samba with a modern, universal flavor, is immensely popular,
as is Paulinho da Viola, a master sambista who also bridges the gap between traditional samba and pop music.
Jorge Benjor comes from a particular black musical tradition of the Rio suburbs, but plays an original pop samba
without losing the characteristic black rhythms. Another example is Luís Melodia, who combines the samba rhythms of
the Rio hills with more modern forms from the ’70s and ’80s, always with beautiful melody.
Milton Nascimento, also from Minas, was elected by readers of
DownBeat magazine as the number one exponent
of world music. He has long been famous in Brazil for his fine voice, stirring anthems and ballads which reflect
the spirituality of the Mineiro (someone from Minas).
Brazilian RockDerived more from English than American rock, this is the least Brazilian of all Brazilian music.
It’s all the rage with the youngsters. Groups like Titãs, Kid Abelha, Legião Urbana, Capital Inicial and Plebe Rude are
all worth a listen if you like rock music. Heavy metal bands like Sepultura and Ratos do Porão have huge
domestic followings. Sepultura are now very famous amongst head bangers worldwide. Brazilian rap music is also popular,
with groups like MRN (Movimento e Ritmo Negro) and Racionais MC with their hard-edged lyrics about life in the
Regional MusicSamba, tropicalismo
and bossa nova are all national musical forms. But wherever you go in
Brazil you’ll hear regional specialties.
The Northeast has perhaps the most regional musical styles and accompanying dances. The most important is
the forró, a mix of Northeastern music with Mexican musicmaybe introduced via Paraguay with nuances of the
music of the Brazilian frontier region. The forró
incorporates the European accordion, the harmonica, and the
zabumba (an African drum).
Another distinctive type of music is the wonderful Bumba Meu Boi festival sound from São Luís in Maranhão.
Frevo is a music specific to Recife. The
trio elétrico, also called frevo
baiano, began much more recently and is more of
a change in technology than music. It began as a family joke when, during Carnaval in Salvador, Dodô,
Armandinho and Osmar got up on top of a truck and played
frevo with electric guitars The trio elétrico
is not necessarily a trio, but it is still the backbone of Salvador’s Carnaval, when trucks piled high with speakers with musicians perched on
top, drive through the city surrounded by dancing mobs But it wasn’t popularized until Caetano Veloso, during the
period of tropicalismo, began writing songs about the
Afoxé is another important type of black music of Brazil. Religious in origin, it is closely tied to Candomblé
(Afro-Brazilian religion), and primarily found in Bahia.
Afoxé is the most African-sounding music in Brazil. It has been rejuvenated by the strong influence of reggae and
the growth of a black-consciousness movement in Bahia.
The influence of the music of the Indians was absorbed and diluted, as was so much of the various Indian cultures
in Brazil. In musical terms, several whites have idealized what they thought those influences were. The
carimbó, the music of the Amazon regionwhere the majority of Indians live todayis influenced primarily by the blacks of
the littoral. Maybe the forró is the Brazilian music most influenced by the Indians, via
Nordestinos (people from the Northeast) who have occupied a good part of the Amazon region since the end of last century.
Recent TrendsPagode, a type of samba that has existed for some time, was recently picked up and promoted
by record producers. For some of the best
pagode, listen to Bezerra da Silva, who was popular in the
favelas before ever recording. Pagode,
samba, frevo and forró all have corresponding dancesperhaps a reflection of the
African influence on Brazilian music and the Brazilian use of music as a celebration of communication.
Lambada is a rhythm with a sensual dance that has become another international success story. Originating in
Belém, and influenced by various Caribbean rhythms like rumba,
merengue and salsa, lambada became really popular
in Porto Seguro, which today is considered its home. From there it spread to the cities of Brazil and eventually to
Europe and the USA. It even inspired a couple of terrible Hollywood movies
The most successful lambada artist is Beto Barbosa and his group Kaoma, made up of Brazilian, Argentine and
French musicians. Other Brazilian musicians who have recorded
lambada tracks include Lulu Santos, Pepeu Gomes
and Moraes Moreira, and even Caetano Veloso.
Also hugely popular is sertanejo, a kind of Brazilian country and western music. It has long been a favorite with
truck drivers and cowboys, but has only recently entered the mainstream of popular Brazilian music. Usually sung by
male duets wearing cowboy hats, fringed jackets and large belt buckles,
sertanejo is characterized by its soaring
harmonies and, of course, its lyrics about broken hearts, life on the road, etc. Some of the popular exponents are: José Rico
and Milionário, Chitãozinho and Xororó, and Leandro and Leonardo.
Axé, a samba-inspired, pop/rock/reggae/ funk fusion from Salvador, has also become well known thanks to the
music of the flamboyant Daniela Mercury.
If you want to have a listen to some Brazilian music before you arrive, the "Brazil Classics" series, compiled by
David Byrne and distributed by Warner Brothers, is a good starting point. These records are readily available, and
cover samba and forró, and feature some individuals like
Bahian Tom Zé. Bossa nova records are reasonably
plentiful, especially the Grammy-winning collaborations between Brazilian and American artists, like João Gilberto and
Stan Getz. The Rhythm of the Saints, an album by Paul Simon, was heavily influenced by Brazilian music. It
included backing by Milton Nascimento and the popular Grupo Cultural Olodum from Bahia.
Purchasing Records & TapesThe widest selection of records can be found in the large Brazilian cities, like
São Paulo and Rio. Regional music enthusiasts should check out the selection available at the Museu Folclórico
Édson Carneiro in Rio.
Records and tapes (called K7 in Brazil) cost around $8. Compact discs are available in Brazil, but there are doubts
as to their quality compared to "imported" CDs. They cost around $12 to $15.
Painting & Sculpture
The first painters of the colonial period were the Jesuit and Benedictine missionaries, who painted their churches
and sacred objects in a European baroque style. The Dutch invasion in the north brought with it some important
Flemish artists, such as Frans Post, who painted the flora and fauna in their tropical surroundings.
Brazilian baroque art peaked in the 18th century, when the wealth provided by the gold rush allowed talented
artists to reach their full potential and create many beautiful works. The acknowledged genius of this period is the
sculptor and architect Antônio Francisco Lisboa, better known as Aleijadinho.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Brazilian artists have followed the international trends of neo-classicism,
romanticism, impressionism, academicism and modernism.
The internationally best known Brazilian painter is Cândido Portinari. Early in his career he made the decision to
paint only Brazil and its people. Strongly influenced by the Mexican muralists like Diego Rivera, he managed to fuse
native, expressionist influences into a powerful, socially conscious and sophisticated style.
Indian ArtIn its original form, Indian art was created for religious or utilitarian purposes and was considered
part of the Indian way of life.
After first contacts with Europeans had been made, Indians were soon visited by traders who perceived their art
as valuable items to be acquired by bartering and then sold as curiosities or collectables in Brazil and abroad. Today
many Indians produce art items for sale as tourist curiosthe income pays their keep on the margin of a society which
has destroyed their environment, their way of life, and left no other purpose for their art.
The Indians are renowned for a wide range of artistic handicrafts. The plumage of forest birds is used to
create necklaces, bracelets, earrings, headdresses, capes and blankets.
Some tribes pluck the original feathers from a bird such as a macaw, and smear the plucked area of the bird’s skin
with a vegetable dye which changes the color of the new plumage. Members of some tribes use dyes and tattoos to
decorate their bodies with intricate designs of great beauty.
Ceramic arts were a specialty of the Marajó Indians who flourished long before the arrival of the Portuguese, and
today the Carajás tribe in the state of Tocantins is famed for its skillfully painted figurines. Grasses, leaves and bark from
the forests are used in highly developed Indian handicrafts such as weaving and basketry. The Kaxinawá tribe in the
state of Acre is especially skilled at producing woven bags and baskets to transport or store forest foods.
There are many examples of outstanding Brazilian architecture that have been proclaimed by UNESCO as part of
the world’s cultural heritage.
Representing the colonial period are Olinda, in Pernambuco, and the historic center of Salvador, which is
considered to be the finest example of Portuguese colonial architecture in the world.
In Minas Gerais, the town of Ouro Preto and Aleijadinho’s masterpiece, the church of Bom Jesus de Matozinhos
in Congonhas, represent the golden age of Brazilian baroque architecture.
The remains of the 17th-century Jesuit missions in Rio Grande do Sul, on the border between Brazil, Argentina
and Paraguay, are notable for the fine woodcarving and masonry of the Guarani Indians, who achieved their own
The central urban plan of the capital, Brasília, also earns a UNESCO rating as a striking example of modern architecture
There are a few dozen excellent Brazilian works of fiction translated into English but, sadly, many of today’s
best writers have not been translated.
Machado de Assis is simply world class. The son of a freed slave, Assis worked as a typesetter and journalist in
late 19th-century Rio. A tremendous stylist, with a great sense of humor, Assis had an understanding of human
relations which was both subtle and deeply cynical, as the terse titles of books like
Epitaph of a Small Winner (Avon Bard, 1977) and
Philosopher or Dog (Avon Bard, 1982) might suggest. He wrote five major novels; my favorite is
Dom Casmurro (Avon Bard, 1980).
The most famous writer in Brazil is Jorge Amado. Born near Ilhéus, Bahia, in 1912, and a long-time resident
of Salvador, Amado has written colorful romances of Bahia’s people and places. Strongly influenced by
Communism during his early work, Amado’s later books are better, although the subjects are lighter. His books are widely
translated and easy to obtain. The best are Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon
(Avon Bard, 1974), which is set in Ilhéus, and
Dona Flor and her Two Husbands (Avon Bard, 1977), whose antics occur in Salvador. Amado’s
Tent of Miracles (Avon Bard, 1978) explores racial relations in Brazil and
Pen, Sword and Camisole (Avon Bard, 1986) laughs its way
through the petty worlds of military and academic politics.
The Violent Land (Avon Bard, 1979) is another of Amado’s
classics. The three short stories about a group of
Bahian characters that make up Shepherds of the
Night (Avon Bard, 1980) inspired our first visit to Brazil.
Without a word to waste, Graciliano Ramos tells of peasant life in the
sertão in his best book, Barren
Lives (University of Texas Press, 1965). The stories are powerful portraitsstrong stuff. Autran Dourado’s
The Voices of the Dead (Taplinger, 1981) goes into the inner world of a small town in Minas Gerais. He has penned another couple of
books about Minas Gerais, his home state. Read anything you can find by Mário de Andrade, one of Brazil’s
pre-eminent authors His Macunaíma is comic and could only take place in Brazil.
Clarice Lispector has several collections of short stories, all of which are excellent. Lígia Fagundes Telles’s
books contain psychologically rich portraits of women in today’s Brazil. Dinah Silveira de Queiroz’s
The Women of Brazil is about a Portuguese girl who goes to 17th-century Brazil to meet her betrothed.
Márcio Souza is a modern satirist based in Manaus. His biting humor captures the horror of the Amazon and
his imaginative parodies of Brazilian history reveal the stupidity of personal and governmental endeavors to conquer
the rainforest. Both the Emperor of the Amazon
(Avon Bard, 1980), his first book, and Mad Maria
(Avon Bard, 1985) shouldn’t be missed if you’re going to the Amazon, but his latest farce,
The Order of the Day (Avon Bard, 1986), is disappointing.
The Impostors (Avon Bard, 1987) by Pablo Vierci is a humorous novel about Amazon mayhem.
The bizarre and brutal Zero (Avon Bard, 1983), by Ignácio de Loyola Brandão, had the honor of being banned by
the military government until a national protest helped lift the ban.
The Tower of Glass (Avon Bard, 1982), by Ivan
Ângelo, is all São Paulo: an absurdist look at big-city life where nothing that matters, matters. It’s a revealing and
important view of modern Brazil, `where all that’s solid melts into air.’ João Ubaldo Ribeiro’s
Sergeant Getúlio (Avon Bard, 1980) is a story of a military man in Brazil’s Northeast. No book tells better of the sadism, brutality and
patriarchy which run through Brazil’s history.
Brazilian culture has been shaped not only by the Portuguese, who gave the country its language and religion, but
also by native Indians, black Africans, and other settlers from Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Although often ignored, denigrated or feared by urban Brazilians, Indian culture has helped shape modern Brazil
and its legends, dance and music. Many native foods and beverages, such as tapioca, manioc, potatoes,
mate and guaraná, have become Brazilian staples. The Indians also gave the colonizers numerous objects and skills which are now in
daily use in Brazil, such as hammocks, dugout canoes, thatched roofing, and weaving techniques.
The influence of African culture is also very powerful in Brazil, especially the Northeast. The slaves imported by
the Portuguese brought with them their religion, music and cuisine, all of which have profoundly influenced
All these elements have combined to produce a nation of people well known for their spontaneity, friendliness and
lust for life. As you would expect from such a diverse population mix, there are many regional differences and
accents. One of the funniest aspects of this regional diversity is the rivalry between the citizens of Rio and São Paulo. Talk
to Paulistas (inhabitants of São Paulo state) and they will tell you that
Cariocas (inhabitants of Rio) are
hedonistic, frivolous and irresponsible.
Cariocas think of Paulistas as materialistic neurotic workaholics. Both
Paulista and Carioca agree that the
Nordestinos, from the Northeast, do things more slowly and simply, and are the worst
drivers! Mineiros, from the state of Minas Gerais, are considered the thriftiest and most religious of BraziliansCariocas
claim they’re saving up for their tombs!
In Brazil time is warped. The cities and their 20th-century urban inhabitants exist only a short distance from
fisherfolk, cowboys and forest dwellers whose lifestyles have varied little in 300 years. In the forests, the ancient traditions of
the native Brazilians remain untouched by TV soap operasfor the time being.
Brazilians have an excellent sense of humor. They adore telling jokes about the Portuguese, in the same way
that Americans tell Polish jokes and Australians and Brits tell Irish jokes.
If you manage to get a grasp of the language, listen to Brazilians when a group of them get together on the beach
or in a corner bar. If you can get past the fact that they all talk at once, you’ll discover that the conversation almost
always turns to football, criticism of the government, family matters or the latest twist in the current soap opera.
So what unifies the Brazilians? The Portuguese language, love of football, Carnaval and the sound of samba.
Listen and watch their expressive way of communicating; go to a football game and watch the intensity and variety
of emotions, both on the field ad in the stands; experience the bacchanalia of Carnaval and attempt to dance the
samba and you may begin to understand what it is to be Brazilian.
Officially, Brazil is a Catholic country and claims the largest Catholic population of any country in the world.
However, Brazil is also noted for the diversity and syncretism of its many sects and religions, which offer great flexibility to
their followers. For example, without much difficulty you can find people from Catholic backgrounds who frequent
the church and have no conflict appealing for help at a
terreiro de umbanda, the house of one of the Afro-Brazilian cults.
Historically, the principal religious influences have been Indian animism, Catholicism and African cults brought
by the blacks during the period of slavery. The slaves were prohibited from practicing their religions by the colonists
in the same way that they were kept from other elements of their culture, such as music and dance, for fear that it
would reinforce their group identity. Religious persecution led to religious syncretism. To avoid persecution the slaves
gave Catholic names and figures to all their African gods. This was generally done by finding the similarities between
the Catholic images and the orixás (gods) of
Candomblé. Thus, the slaves worshipped their own gods behind
the representations of the Catholic saints.
Under the influence of liberalism in the 19th century, Brazilians wrote into their constitution the freedom to
worship all religions. But the African cults continued to suffer persecution for many years.
Candomblé was seen by the white élites as charlatanism that showed the ignorance of the poorest classes. The spectrum of Brazilian religious life
was gradually broadened by the addition of Indian animism to Afro-Catholic syncretism, and by the increasing
fascination of whites with the spiritualism of Kardecism.
Today Catholicism retains its status as the official religion, but it is declining in popularity. Throughout
Brazil, churches are closing or falling into disrepair for lack of funds and priests, and attendances at church services
are dwindling such that people now merely turn up for the basics: baptism, marriage, and burial. The largest numbers
of converts are being attracted to the Afro-Brazilian cults, and spiritist or mystic sects. Nowadays, the intense
religious fervor of Brazilians extends across gradations and subdivisions of numerous sects; from purist cults to groups
that worship Catholic saints, African deities and the Caboclos of the Indian cults simultaneously.
These cults do not follow the ideas of major European or Asian religions; neither do they use doctrines to define
good and evil. One of the things that was most shocking to Europeans in their first contact with the African images and
rituals was the cult of Exu. This entity was generally represented by combined human and animal images, complete with
a horn and an erect penis. Seeking parallels between their own beliefs and African religions, European Catholics
and Puritans identified Exu as the devil. For Africans, however Exu represents the transition between the material and
the spiritual worlds. In the ritual of
Candomblé, Exu acts as a messenger between the gods and human beings. For
example, everything related to money, love, and protection against thieves comes under the watchful eye of Exu.
Ultimately, Exu’s responsibility is the temporal world.
CandombléThis is the most orthodox of the cults brought from Africa by the Nago, Yoruba, and Jeje
peoples. Candomblé, which is an African word denoting a dance in honor of the gods, is a general term for the cult in
Bahia. Elsewhere in Brazil the cult is known by different names: in Rio it’s known as
Macumba; in Amazonas and Pará it’s
Babassuê; in Pernambuco and Alagoas it’s
Xangô; in Rio Grande do Sul it’s either
Pará or Batuque; and the term
Tambor is used in Maranhão.
The Afro-Brazilian rituals are practiced in a
casa-de-santo or terreiro directed by a
pai or mãe de santo (literally
father or mother of the saintthe Candomblé priest or priestess). This is where the initiation of novices takes place as
well as consultations and rituals. The ceremonies are conducted in the Yoruba tongue. The religious hierarchy and
structure is clearly established and consistent from one
terreiro to the next. Not all ceremonies are open to the public.
If you attend a Candomblé ceremony, it’s best to go as the invited guest of a knowledgeable friend or commercial
guide. If your request to visit is declined, you should accept the decision. Some ceremonies are only open to certain
members of a terreiro, and there is genuine concern that visitors may not know the customs involved and thereby interrupt
Although the rules for Candomblé ceremonies are not rigidly fixed, there are some general points which apply to
most of these ceremonies. If in doubt, ask the person who has taken you to the ceremony. Dress for men and women
can be casual, but shorts should not be worn. White is the preferred color; black, purple, and brown should be
avoided. Hats should not be worn inside the
terreiro; and if you wish to smoke, you should only do so outside.
On arrival at the terreiro, make sure you do not stand blocking the doorway. There’s usually someone inside who
is responsible for directing people to their seatsmen are often seated on the right, women on the left. The seating
pattern is important, so make sure you only sit where indicated. Watch respectfully and follow the advice of your friend
or guide as to what form of participation is expected of you. Sometimes drinks and food are distributed. Depending
on the ritual involved, these may be intended only as offerings, or else for your consumption. In the case of the
latter, there’s no offence taken if you don’t eat or drink what’s offered.
According to Candomblé, each person has an
orixá (god) which attends from birth and provides protection
throughout life. The orixá for each person is identified after a
pai or mãe de santo makes successive throws with a handful
of búzios (shells). In a divination ritual known as
Jogo dos Búzios (Casting of Shells) the position of the shells is
used to interpret your luck, your future and your past relation with the gods.
The Jogo dos Búzios can be traced back to numerology and cabalism. It is a simple version of the Ifa ceremony in
which the orixá Ifa is invoked to transmit the words of the deities to the people. The
mãe de santo casts 16 seashells on a
white towel. She interprets the number and arrangement of face-up and face-down shells to predict the future.
The Jogo dos Búzios is a serious, respected force in Bahia. In 1985 it was used by many politicians to forecast
the election results. In Salvador, visitors can consult a
mãe de santo for
Candomblé-style fortune telling any day of
the week, except for Friday and Monday, but Thursday is best.
Like the gods in Greek mythology, each orixá
has a personality and particular history. Power struggles and
rulership conflicts amongst the many orixás
are part of the history of
Although orixás are divided into male and female types, there are some which can switch from one sex to the
other. One example is Logunedé, son of two male gods, Ogun and Oxoss. Another example is Oxumaré who is male for
six months of the year and female for the other months. Oxumaré is represented by the river that runs from the
mainland to the sea or by the rainbow. These bisexual gods are generally, but not necessarily, the gods of
homosexuals. Candomblé is very accepting of homosexuality and this may explain the foundation of these practices and why
they are legitimized by the cult’s mythology.
To keep themselves strong and healthy, followers of
Candomblé always give food to their respective
orixá. In the ritual, Exu is the first to be given food because he is the messenger for the individual to make contact with the
orixá. Exu likes
cachaça and other alcoholic drinks, cigarettes, cigars, strong perfumes and meats. The offering to the
orixá depends on their particular preferences. For example, to please Iemanjá, the goddess/queen of the sea, one should
give perfumes, white and blue flowers, rice and fried fish. Oxalá, the greatest god, the god and owner of the sun, eats
cooked white corn. Oxum, god of fresh waters and water falls, is famous for his vanity. He should be honored with
earrings, necklaces, mirrors, perfumes, champagne and honey.
Each orixá is worshipped at a particular time and place. For example, Oxósse, who is the god of the forests,
should be revered in a forest or park, but Xangô, the god of stone and justice, receives his offering in rocky places.
In Bahia and Rio, followers of Afro-Brazilian cults turn out in huge numbers to attend a series of festivals at the
year’s endespecially those held during the night of 31 December and on New Year’s Day. Millions of Brazilians go to
the beach to pay homage to Iemanjá, the queen of the sea. Flowers, perfumes, fruits and even jewelry are tossed into
the sea to please the mother of the waters, or to gain protection and good luck in the New Year.
UmbandaUmbanda, or white magic, is a mixture of
Candomblé and spiritism. It traces its origins from
various sources, but in its present form it is a religion native to Brazil. The African influence is more Angolan/Bantu.
The ceremony, conducted in Portuguese, incorporates figures from all of the Brazilian races:
preto velho, the oldblack slave; o caboclo
and other Amerindian deities; o
guerreiro, the white warrior; etc. In comparison to
Candomblé, Umbanda is less organized and each
pai or mãe de santo modifies the religion.
Quimbanda is the evil counterpart to Umbanda. It involves lots of blood, animal sacrifice and nasty deeds. The
practice of Quimbanda is illegal.
During the 19th century, Allan Kardec, the French spiritual master, introduced spiritism to Brazilian whites in
a palatable form. Kardec’s teachings, which incorporated some Eastern religious ideas into a European framework,
are now followed by large numbers of Brazilians. Kardecism emphasizes spiritism associated with parlor seances,
multiple reincarnations and speaking to the dead. Kardec wrote about his teachings in
The Book of Spirits and The Book of
Brasília has become the capital of the new cults. In the Planaltina neighborhood, visit Tia Neiva and the Vale
do Amanhecer, and Eclética de Mestre Yocanan.
A few of the Indian rites have been popularized among Brazilians without becoming part of Afro-Brazilian cults.
Two such cults are União do Vegetal in Brasília, São Paulo and the South; and Santo Daime in Rondônia and Acre.
A hallucinogenic drink called ayahuasca, made from the root and vine of two plants,
cipó jagube and folha
chacrona, has been used for centuries by the indigenous peoples of South America. This drink is central to the practices of
these cults, which are otherwise very straighthierarchy, moral behavior and dress follow a strict code. The
government tolerates the use of ayahuasca in the religious ceremonies of these cults, which also tightly control the production
The cult of Santo Daime was founded in 1930 in Rio Branco, Acre, by Raimundo Irineu Serra. Today it claims
around 10,000 members, including notable Brazilian figures such as the flamboyant singer Ney Matogrosso, the
cartoonist Glauco, and the anthropologist Edward Macrae. The cult, led by Luís Felipe Belmonte, has 10 churches
and communities in Brazil. The two major communities are Ceú da Mapiá in Amazonas, and Colônia Cinco Mil in
Rio Branco, Acre.
Excerpts from BrazilA Travel Survival
Kit – 3rd edition, by Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey, Leonardo Pinheiro,
and Robyn Jones. For more information call Lonely Planet: (800) 275-8555. Copyright 1992 Lonely Planet
Publications. Used by permission.
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