The Formation of Candomblé: Vodun History and Ritual in Brazil

The Formation of Candomblé: Vodun History and Ritual in Brazil

The Formation of Candomblé: Vodun History and Ritual in Brazil

The Formation of Candomblé: Vodun History and Ritual in Brazil


Interweaving three centuries of transatlantic religious and social history with historical and present-day ethnography, Luis Nicolau Pares traces the formation of Candomble, one of the most influential African-derived religious forms in the African diaspora, with practitioners today centered in Brazil but also living in Europe and elsewhere in the Americas. Originally published in Brazil and not available in English, The Formation of Candomble reveals cultural changes that have occurred in religious practices within Africa, as well as those caused by the displacement of enslaved Africans in the Americas.
Departing from the common assumption that Candomble originated in the Yoruba orixa (orisha) worship, Pares highlights the critical role of the vodun religious practices in its formation process. Vodun traditions were brought by enslaved Africans of Dahomean origin, known as the "Jeje" nation in Brazil since the early eighteenth century. The book concludes with Pares's account of present-day Jeje temples in Bahia, which serves as the first written record of the oral traditions and ritual of this particular nation of Candomble.


The result of more than seven years of research, this book aims to recover the historical memory of a group that is largely forgotten, both within AfroBrazilian studies and among Candomblé practitioners. The prestige of the Jeje nation within Candomblé is still recognized among religious experts, and scholars do refer occasionally to certain aspects of its ritual practice. However, no book to date has been dedicated to an in-depth and detailed study of this “root” of Afro-Brazilian culture.

This work also encompasses both the history and the anthropology of Afro-Brazilian religion. This interdisciplinary approach embraces, therefore, a number of diverse yet internally intertwined themes, including among others the construction of Jeje ethnicity in colonial Brazil, the contribution of the vodun* cults to the formative process of Candomblé, the microhistory of two Jeje terreiros,* and a selective ethnography of the vodun pantheon and ritual practice in contemporary Bahia.

Another significant aspect of this study is its complementary use of both oral and written sources, in combination with an analysis of ritual behavior. Although this is not an entirely new methodology, the interface between history and ethnography has been little used in Afro-Brazilian studies. The critical intersection of these varied sources proved to be quite fertile and opened interpretative paths that would have been impossible if I had worked with only one kind of source. This exercise was especially relevant in the reconstruction of the histories of the Bogum terreiro in Salvador and Seja Hundé in Cachoeira, in the Bahian Recôncavo,* both founded by Jeje Africans during the time of slavery.

The framework of this study’s subject responds to linguistic criteria. One could say that the book deals with the historiography of two words: Jeje and vodun—the first having primarily an ethnic meaning and the second a religious one. These two words guided and determined the documentary research, as well as the selection of the two terreiros where the field research was conducted, given that these congregations define themselves as belonging to the “Jeje nation” and are distinguished from other nations through their worship of certain deities called voduns.

To define the African geographic area where the ethnic groups known in Brazil as Jeje originated (the topic of chapter 1), I also employed essentially . . .

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