This story is something that happened to me three years ago. It was one of the most intense experiences I’ve lived through. I attended a candomblé ritual in the night of Xangô.
I’m going to set some context here. Candomblé is one of the three or four religions that emerged from African slaves that got taken to Brazil. Being its capital Salvador de Bahía, it is a monotheist religion, and their God is named differently depending on the so-called ‘nation,’ to me, Olorum.
I came to learn about candomblé many years back. Listening to ‘Afro Sambas’ the names ‘Iemanjá,’ ‘Ogum,’ and ‘Xangô’ caught my attention. These are some names of Orixas, men, and women that became holy as they mastered some side of nature.
What I find most interesting about Candomble is that is living proof of belief survival and unity. In my own experience, I see that’s relatively easy to change a person’s mind, but it’s almost impossible to convince a person’s heart.
It’s a known fact that Catholicism was forced into a significant portion of humanity. When slaves from Africa got taken into the slavery ports, the enslavers forced them into Catholicism. Many of these people were already priests or deeply spiritual people in their own beliefs. But faced with Catholicism or death, they had to come up with a way to preserve their beliefs. So they did something exemplary: They named their God and their Saints after Catholic counterparts. Many of these people had different beliefs back in Africa, but they united to save what they thought as holy, and Candomble came to be.
I got to learn about the story of the different Orixas. All of them have their traits, but their nature is also very human, and they experience human feelings like happiness or wrath. Xangô, my favorite, is associated with justice.
Xangô is the orixá ofWikipedia
lightnings, thunder, big electric charges and of fire. He is manly and daring, violent and just; punishes liars, thieves and those who do bad things.
I had all of this in my mind when I traveled to Bahía. My main intention of the trip was to spend ten good days embedded in nature, in the famous “Chapada Diamantina”. I wanted to attend a Cadomble ritual as well, but honestly, I had no idea how I would do it. As always, life shows you the way, and in the Chapada I found it.
One thing I love about Brazilians is how friendly they are. As soon as I arrived in the Chapada, we formed an ad-hoc group of friends. In this group, I met Natalia, and one night she mentioned she was attending to a Candomble in Salvador. Later on, she told me “I saw how your eyes got brighter when I mentioned the Candomble, I had to take you.”
Going to the ‘terreiro’ (the place where the ritual happens) was something reckless. I could have easily been killed, kidnapped, or who knows what. I adventured myself with a girl I just met, at night, in the guts of a city that’s submerged in poverty and misery. We left all of our valuables in my hostel room and took an uber to the terreiro. We didn’t have trouble finding it. I still remember the stairs we climbed, soon we arrived into a patio, with a huge bonfire at the center. I could see several people dressed up with traditional outfits. We had reached in the right place.
That night was the celebration of “São João” (San Juan in Spanish). And to my biggest surprises, Xangô! The knowledge of sharing the same Saint was comforting. Especially because injustice is the one thing that can upset me beyond reason. Such big coincidences in life only make us believe that these things are meant to be.
The experience was more than impressive. Used to Catholic rituals, at that time I had only been to Catholic church, I expected a lot of talking. To my biggest surprise, not much was said, and in a language that I didn’t understand.
The ritual started with percussion beats. These beats were increasing in intensity and complexity as the night progressed. To the sound of this music, people were dancing around the bonfire — the fire of Xangô. The music was intense and found a direct channel into my soul. I was fully tuned in. Suddenly, some of the men and women dancing around the fire started behaving erratically: Incorporation happened!
Incorporation is when the spirit of the Orixa takes possession of one of the participants of the ritual. After this, it’s the job of the rest of the participants to take care of the one who was incorporated. Otherwise, he could run away or hurt himself. We moved inside the house, where I was separated from Natalia as females were on one side of the room and males on the other. Xangô was greeting and hugging everyone who wanted to ask for his favor. I decided the experience was too intense for me to do so. The beats intensified.
Suddenly the participants started to pass over a tray with wet peanuts. I didn’t understand what it was, but I took a couple and ate them. I had neglected all the safety rules: Never take food from strangers. I decided to focus on the music. Suddenly, I closed my eyes and started dancing. I could not help myself; I only wanted to listen and move my body accordingly. I don’t know for how long I did this. The ritual overall took around 3 hours. The only thing I knew is that I opened my eyes when the beat stopped. The police were outside of the house.
I proceed to find Natalia, and we headed back to the hostel to pick up our stuff. The experience had ended.
That night I understood many things. Not only why people of African origin coincidentally produce the best beats and rhythms. But also how spirituality is independent of doctrine. Most religions teach spirituality through doctrine. Which in my terms is to align one’s soul, mind, and body. To be closer to their own notion God. Candomble is a story of injustice, where people were forced into a strange doctrine. At the same time is the living proof, that in spirituality, no matter what is the way that we choose, we all want the same thing.