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Primitive Peoples and Natural Religions of Brazil – The Macumba and Candomblé

May 05, 2023
In Brazil there are many nature religions

Macumba is a general variant of Afro-Brazilian cults that includes influences from Catholic religion, occultism, Native American cults, and spiritualism. In the family tree of Afro-Brazilian religions, macumba is a branch of candomblé.

Before the word macumba was associated with a religion, it referred to a percussion instrument of African origin, similar to today's reco-reco. A macumbeiro was the person who played this instrument.

Often, macumba refers only to the variety of folk religious traditions of African origin that exist in Brazil. Macumba often coexists or is syncretistically blended with the Catholic folk beliefs of broader strata of Brazilian society.

If you want to have a better understanding of African influence and natural religions on your Brazil vacation, read on!

Macumba in the context of other African-American religions

Two terms are used in the context of Afro-Brazilian religions. Once macumba, mostly in the catchment area of Rio de Janeiro, as a collective term for all Afro-Brazilian rituals. This term was very popular at the beginning of the 20th century, but then acquired a somewhat discriminatory connotation and is also incorrect in a spiritual sense. To call someone a macumbeiro today is an insult.

The second term is quimbanda. It refers to the so-called "dark side" of Afro-Brazilian religions, associated with black magic and witchcraft. A so-called "quimbanda work" refers to a ritual ordered and performed to hurt, if not kill, someone with the help of offerings. These magical rituals, performed in cemeteries or at road crossings, for example, often involve wax dolls of the victim in question or imaginary practices, such as writing the victim's name on a piece of paper, which is then crumpled and placed in the mouth of a frog. The victim is expected to die a death as agonizing as the frog. Quimbanda is practiced in strict secrecy. You will not find anyone who admits to being involved with this black magic.

However, there is also the concept of candomblé, which is about creating an exchange between the people and the gods, called orixás, nkises, or voduns. This term is not a negative term compared to macumba and is more commonly used for the natural religions in Brazil.

Macumba in Brazil and its manifestation

Macumba can also be directly associated with the rituals practiced in some Afro-Brazilian cults, which are characterized by mediumistic phenomena.

The name macumba is most common in Rio de Janeiro. In other parts of Brazil, the faith is known as candomblé in the Bahia region and xangô in the Recife region.

The prayers and songs in macumba are mostly written in Portuguese rather than an African language. As in Christianity, there is a "supreme being". This is called zumbi.

In the macumba, a special connection to the dead is usually maintained, which distinguishes it from other Afro-Brazilian cults.

Negative Practices

In general, the practice of macumba is wrongly associated with satanic rituals or black magic. This preconceived notion arose and strengthened in the mid-1920s, when the country's Christian churches began to spread a negative discourse about macumba, considering it desecrating to the laws of God.

Some refer to as macumba all practices related to the work of healers or even charlatans who abuse people's faith to extort money by claiming they can communicate with spirits and perform spells. An example of charlatanism is the promise of "Macumba online" that many Internet sites offer to interested users. This has given macumba a very negative reputation in Brazil. Macumba is surrounded by similar mysterious ideas as voodoo. Both have their origins in African religions.

Worship of the nature gods

Candomblé is ultimately an African nature religion that worships nature gods, the orixás, and offers sacrifices to them. They come from the four basic elements of earth, fire, water, and air. Among them are orixás of battle, protectors of the forest, expectant mothers, sailors and fishermen, and the poor. Each orixá has its syncretic equivalent among the saints of the Catholic Church, with its personal characteristics such as day of the week, color, clothing, greeting, and favorite food. Sunday is open to all the gods. Those who wish to identify with one of them can pray to him, asking above all for health, protection, and peace.


Belief in Mama África unites the descendants of many tribes once forcibly torn apart and transplanted to Brazil, a synthetic African nation, but one that has pulsed with new vitality since the end of slavery and is ruled by its own deities, who for centuries knew how to hide behind Catholic saints.

Today, candomblé is free, no longer persecuted as a pagan ritual, and even a quarter of all white Brazilians now profess to worship the gods of the former black slaves. The church reacts, tensions arise, but no religious struggle.

In Bahia, it is already a tradition to don white clothes on Friday to honor the god Oxalá, who was incarnated by Jesus Christ in syncretism with the Catholic religion of the Portuguese, but you don't have to be a member of candomblé to do so. Many other customs and traditions that once came to Bahia with this Afro-religion have become part of the daily life of modern baianos, in all social classes.

At the beginning of colonization, candomblé rituals were only practiced in the senzalas of the plantations on the grounds of the fazendas. The oldest terreiro de candomblé, a candomblé ritual meeting house in Bahia, was founded 450 years ago. It is known as Engenho Velho or Casa Branca and is located on Vasco da Gama Avenue in Salvador. From it, two other terreiros were later born, which are still of great importance to their followers: the Gantois and the Axé Opô Afonjá. From these two, many others developed.

A legacy of slavery

Macumba and candomblé have a long history, are the result of the fusion of African and Brazilian influences, and were strongly influenced by slavery. At the same time, behind the rather negative term macumba, it is important not to forget the rich culture of candomblé and other Afro-Brazilian cultures that enrich Brazil. During your Brazil trip you can see this for yourself!

Sources: www.brasilienportal.ch, www.significados.com.br, www.wikipedia.org

Source: Aventura do Brasil