“I love it and will die a believer,” said Rosalia Oliveira dos Santos, 92, a follower of the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble. Her comments were made while sitting atop the entrance to Rio de Janeiro's City Hall as she presided over a night ceremony known as “Xire,” opening the path to discussions on religious intolerance, racism and the defense of African culture in Brazil.
As the multi-layered, rhythmic sound of conga drums gave way to debate, dos Santos, also known as Mother Rosinha de Ode, said “undue things determined by God is abuse. How can they burn (Candomble yards and territories)? Why would they want to throw away, destroy everything?”
Though expressing concern that Candomble may be abolished, Mother Rosinha de Ode affirmed that she continues “receiving the Saints. I am Oxossi, Oxossi with Iansa.”
Mother Mara de Iemanja, a Candomble leader, a resident of the Ile Axe Egba Omo Eja House in northern Rio de Janeiro, gave blessings to Mother Rosinha de Ode. She is “one of the jewels of Candomble because we still have the chance to share with her this living history of Candomble, to partake in her knowledge, to be with her, to receive her Axe (power). That's why she's respected by all.”
Referencing Brazil's historical debt to African-descendants, Mother Mara de Iemanja said “we can no longer allow that our (religious) homes be vilified. We can no longer be disgraced because they turn our community into a marginalized community of which we're not. We are the workforce and a force of knowledge. Our greatest achievement is the history of our ancestors... We must honor this... (Brazil) does us no favor by accepting us.”
Candomble, an African-based syncretic religion in Brazil, empowered newly-formed autonomous communities known as quilombos and served as a religious tapestry that maintained ethnic and religious ties among African descendants throughout Brazil.
Discontented with the imposition of a colonial rule that went as far as preventing the expression of their religious worldview, Africans substituted the names of their Orixas (Yoruba deities) to Catholic Saints. The binary syncretism, which disguised their veneration, insured safety among worshippers.
At least 79 attacks against Candomble and other African-based religious territories were registered in the state of Rio de Janeiro last year.