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               Dia da Yemanjá

 Charlotte Eichhorn from

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It is February 2nd, an important day as the Afro-Brazilian New Year celebration in honor of the Queen of the Sea, Yemanjá, is taking place.

Shortly before Carnival, Afro-Brazilian communities 

celebrate their traditional New Year.

Nowadays, even in one of the most remote corners of Brazil, such as the small town of Canavieiras in Bahia, predominantly inhabited by Afro-Brazilians, in the middle of a neighborhood inhabited by families, one can find the "Candomblé-Terreiro" - the temple of Pai Carlos, where the "nature religion" Candomblé is worshiped with its gods, the Orixás, and the basic elements of earth, fire, water, and air.

Flags wave from one side of the street to the other, and the scent of good food fills the air. Many traditionally dressed residents sit at small tables. They are partially connected through cultural blood ties. There is a joyful festive atmosphere. For once, good neighborly relations are cultivated, while the less "good" ones are put on ice.

One can also see many so-called sympathizers - residents who do not belong to the traditional religion but are still interested in and want to participate in the festival.

After the meal donated by the Terreiro, a ritual for the sea goddess Yemanjá takes place on the other side of the street, in the local temple, also known as "Axé" or "Terreiro sacrada".


The religious leader of Candomblé, the Babalorixá, follows the traditions of his African Angola ancestors and is simply called "Pai" (Father) Carlos. Together with the hierarchically equal Dofona (Mother), he celebrates the ceremony, which, like in any religion, involves acts of submission towards him and the Dofona, as well as spiritual "trance".


This ceremony takes place before the official procession to the sea on the day of Queen Yemanjá.

Pai Carlos




a kind of "high priest" in his "Terreiro" (temple) in Canavieiras, Bahia.

Even uninformed sympathizers are welcome. They can observe and ask questions after the ceremony.

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The persecution of Afro-Brazilian cultural rites has lasted for hundreds of years.


In recent decades, various evangelical sects have gained ground in Brazil. Some of their followers have considered physical attacks against believers of different religions as normal, especially in relation to Afro-Brazilian culture. Until a few years ago, books, films, and internet forums related to this topic were frowned upon. 


According to a study, all religions in Brazil enjoy higher trust than traditional political parties. When the largest evangelical churches entered the political stage, religion and politics became intertwined. The evangelicals are the main reason why "Jair Messias Bolsonaro," himself a member of an evangelical sect, was elected president from 2018 to 2022. Under his government, the persecution of Afro-Brazilian culture intensified.

Nevertheless, although the descendants of the "Quilombolas" have long been protected as a traditional people by a government decree, it is still difficult for them to obtain Quilombola status. While attacks have slightly decreased under the new government, persecution will likely never completely disappear.

Of course, among the over 50% of Brazilians of color, there are also those who have no connection to the "Quilombolas" and their tradition.,  not least because there is still a lack of historical public debate.

Young people who publicly declare their devotion to Candomblé are still an exception, but they are visible and all the more committed, even if they do not want to be known by name for fear of being attacked.

Suppression of history education

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The exception;


Member Candomblé Group


Middle school teacher Norberto, who tries to teach his pupils about Afro-Brazilian cultural backgrounds and is a member of a "Terreiro sagrado", can tell a thing or two about it.

Noberto Caires PT Canes


Member Candomblé Group


passionate LGBT representative

Middle school teacher

History, Philosophy

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Meanwhile, approximately one-fourth of the white Brazilian population are members or sympathizers of rituals such as Candomblé and Umbanda, while some Indigenous people prefer Macumba, which is similar to their cosmovision.


Although the mindset of hatred has increased in Brazil as a whole, there has always been a threshold: for example, remnants of Afro-Brazilian rituals like old candles left at the beach are still untouched by many people. This is mainly out of superstition and fear of the Orixas' revenge, not necessarily out of respect for the religion.

Personal anecdote:

Already in the 80s, my former motorcycle accident was attributed by Brazilian friends and colleagues to a "negative" Macumba ceremony, to male cameramen I taught, so that I would disappear from their lives... which did happen. I had to be flown back to Switzerland for treatment.

Worldwide "Terreiros sagradas"

Terreiros exist not only in Brazil but also in other South American countries with a history of slavery, such as Argentina, Cuba, and the Caribbean islands, as well as among the original African peoples.


Belief in the spiritual and supernatural has been increasingly shared in Europe, including Switzerland, for decades. Both homesick Brazilians and initiated white women and men worship the Afro-Brazilian gods of nature in local "Terreiros sagradas," along with the fear of environmental destruction.

Pai Carlos  actually wanted to visit Swiss Terreiros with us, but unfortunately, he is unable to do so because he has to take care of his daughter who has cancer in Canavieiras.

Maybe next year.

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