UMBANDA NA MESA
Different societies and cultures have their own concepts of time, of the passing of life, of past facts and of history. In societies with a mythical culture, ‘without history’, unfamiliar with writing, time is circular and life is believed to be an eternal repetition of happenings in the remote past as narrated by the myth. Afro-Brazilian religions, constituted from African traditions brought by slaves, still cultivate a notion of time that is very different from “our” time, that of the West and of capitalism (Fabian 1985). Because of its link with the notion of life and death and concepts of this world and the next, the notion of time is essential to the constitution of religion.
Many of the basic concepts undergirding the organisation of the religion of the Yoruba gods orishas in Brazil, in terms of religious authority and clerical hierarchy, depend on a concept of experience of life, learning and knowing which is closely connected to notions of time or associated with them. Thus, many aspects of Afro-Brazilian religions are better understood by considering the notions of African origin that they are based on. Similarly, knowledge of values and ways of behaving amongst followers of these religions is furthered by looking at the original African heritage in opposition to the Western concepts that the religion confronts in Brazil, especially in situations where concepts of different cultural origins come into conflict and provoke or facilitate changes in what the followers themselves regard as the Afro-Brazilian doctrinal or ritual tradition. The notions of time, knowing, learning and authority which underlie priestly power in Candomblé, with its initiatory character, can be read in the same register. This register can clarify the contradictions in which a religion originating in a mythical a-historical culture gets involved when it is reconstituted in a society with a predominantly Western culture, in the Americas, where time and knowing have other meanings.
The Candomblé we are speaking of here is the religion of the orishas which developed in Bahia in the nineteenth century, out of Yoruba (or Nagô) traditions, strongly influenced by customs brought by the Fon groups (called Jeje in Brazil) and less so by minority African groups. Yoruba Candomblé, or Jeje-Nagô Candomblé, as it is usually called, brought together from the beginning cultural aspects from diverse Yoruba cities, which in Brazil resulted in different rites (or ‘nations’) of Candomblé. In each nation the traditions of the city or region by which it came to be known predominated: Ketu, Ijesha, Efan (Silveira 2000; Lima 1984). This Candomblé from Bahia, which spread all over Brazil, has its counterpart in Pernambuco, where it is known as Shango and the Egba nation is its main manifestation; and in Rio Grande do Sul, where it is called Batuque and the main nation is the oió-ijexá (Prandi 1991). Another Yoruba variant, heavily influenced by Dahomean voduns, is the Nagô Tambor-de-Mina from Maranhão. In addition to the Yoruba candomblés, there are also those of Bantu origin, espcially those known as Angola and Congo candomblés; and those of strongly Fon origins, such as the Bahian Mahim-Jeje and the Dahomean-Jeje from Maranhão.
It was the Bahian Candomblé of the Ketu (Yoruba) and Angola (Bantu) nations which spread most widely in Brazil, being found today almost everywhere. The former of these came to be regarded as a model for all the religions of the orishas, and its rites, pantheon and mythology are now virtually dominant. Angola Candomblé, despite having adopted the orishas (which are Yoruba deities) and absorbed many Yoruba concepts and rites, had a fundamental role in the constitution of Umbanda in the early twentieth century in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Today, all these religions and nations have followers with different rites but who identify all over the country as belonging to the same religious group known as povo-de-santo and having in common beliefs, ritual practices and worldviews, including concepts of life and death. Terreiros (temples, communities of followers) in different regions and cities are linked by webs of lineages, origins and influences, most of which come in the last instance from Bahia, and thus (in the case of the Yoruba nations) from ancient and sometimes legendary cities which are now part of Nigeria or Benin.
- Reginaldo Prandi