Image of the Day – Umbanda

Umbanda is another Afro-Brazilian religion, but unlike Candomblé, Umbanda is syncretic, combining elements of African religions, Catholicism, and nineteenth-century European spiritism. While Candomblé had its origins in the Northeast, Umbanda originated in Rio de Janeiro in the early-20th century (although some of its key practices date back to the late-19th century), ultimately spreading throughout southern Brazil. In spite of these differences, Umbanda and Candomblé share several traits, including the role of orixás (quasi-deities) and spirits of the dead guiding the living through difficult matters in this world. In this way, the idea of the survival of the spirit and of reincarnation plays an important role in Umbanda. Many of the orixás in Umbanda are synchronistic with Catholic Saints, and like Catholicism, there is a hierarchy of orixás in Umbanda, with Olorum (also called Oxalá) at the top. There are also good spirits that possess practitioners of Umbanda, providing them with guidance; these spirits can take the form of old black men (the Preto Velho), children, and Exus, or benevolent spirits. Priests and priestess are called pai-de santo and mãe-de-santo (father- and mother-of-saint, respectively), and practices can include offerings to the spirits, initiation rites, and ritual songs. Umbanda expanded rapidly during the 1930s and 1940s under the dictatorship of Getulio Vargas, the “Father of the Poor”; ironically, Vargas’s picture often occupied a place on Umbanda altars even while the police began to crack down on Umbanda practitioners. More recently, Pentecostals have spoken out against Umbanda, equating it to devilry and witchcraft. Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians have declared themselves devoted Umbandistas, and probably millions more have practiced Umbanda in some way, and it continues to this day, with regional variations in practices, throughout southern Brazil.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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3 Responses to Image of the Day – Umbanda

  1. Pingback: Image of the Day – Quimbanda « Americas South and North

  2. Pingback: The Persecution of Umbanda in Brazil « Americas South and North

  3. Rafa. says:

    Helo, at really Olorum(in Yoruba) means God(in English), Oxalá(Yoruba) is Jesus Crist in catholicism syncretic. Oxala is an “Orixá” and he is not God. So, is wrong write that we believe that Olorum and Oxalá is a unique “person”.

    Sorry by my bad English.

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