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Candomblé and Vodou

Frater Vameri

Photo by Jecosta at Pixabay.

I have recently complained to friends that the Brazilian academy lacked comparative studies between our religions and those of the countries of America. I maintain the complaint, but one work appeared on my radar: I found Joseph Handerson´s masters dissertation in which he briefly compared the Haitian Vodou to the Candomblé. I would like to dedicate this week's discussion to this work.

Handerson points out that both Haitian Vodou and Candomblé have roots in the Fon-ewe- speaking peoples and in the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey. The author begins the comparison by citing the use of the term vodoun: in Haiti, it would have given rise to the term Vodou, which would mean the spirituality itself; in Brazil, mainly among the Jeje and also in the Tambor de Mina, the term vodoun serves to classify the entities, resembling more closely what happened in the old Dahomey. It should be noted that there is also an understanding that the term Vodou in Haiti may have come from Vaudoux (see Moreau de Sant- Mery) which could have been derived from the French Vaudois which means heretic and sorcerer.

The author comments that both Haitian Vodou and Candomblé are syncretic or hybrid. Both of these spiritualities received influences from different African ethnicities and also from Catholicism (it is important to keep in mind that French and Portuguese Catholicisms are quite different) and also from the natives of the land. Thus, it is evident that identical religions could never arise in Haiti and in Brazil, but this also points to the fact that such religions do have elements in common and some, certainly, are structuring.

Handerson understands that Candomblé, similarly to Vodou, features elements from different ethnicities of Africans who were forcibly brought to Brazil. At this point, the author approaches the two religions precisely because of their mixture. This defines, of course, that mixtures much more than possibilities of diffusion can also be elements of aggregation.

Going forward, the author understands that the Houngan is equivalent to the Pai-de-Santo of Candomblé. This is a very direct comparison, which does not require much comment. These figures are priests who have the function of commanding the rites. However, it should be noted that there are fundamental differences in the way they receive their ranks. In any case, they also have the resemblance of exerting great influence in the community as well, as advisers and even exercising the role of healers.

Handerson tries to define Axé in terms of Vodou and risks that a person who has Axé may be a person who is with his ti-bom-ange and Gros-bom-ange in harmony. In other words, Handerson understands that Axé is a state of psychic and spiritual balance and is also all the strength that emanates from it. At this particular point, in fact, Axé seems to be commonly used as a synonym for energy, but it seems to me that the term encompasses greater complexity. Without getting into a long discussion, I feel that this equivalence made by Handerson would benefit from longer meditations. For example, the pwen of Vodou could easily be considered in this equation.

The author lists four points that he considers to be the main ones in the approximation between Vodou and Candomblé: possession; individuality of the divinity (that is, entities choose only certain individuals for their manifestations); the oracle (the divination); and the messenger (an intermediate entity that links men to spirits - Legba in Vodou and Exu in Candomblé). In general, this list does not seem wrong. In fact, possession is a phenomenon present in Vodou, as is the role of a messenger. The question of the connection of spirits to a certain person appears clearly in the met-tet, just as in Candomblé it appears in the Orixá of the head. On the oracle, Candomblé has the game of Búzios and more recently the insertion of Ifá has occurred. In Vodou, divination by dreams, letters and candles occurs frequently.

Joseph Handerson also points out that, like the Petwo and Rada division in Vodou , in Candomblé, spirits are also classified into "hot" and "cold". This division, in Candomblé, would be exposed by the frequent opposition in ritualistic elements, such as white / colored and food with / without seasoning, for example.

Well, In this article I have presented a brief summary of Handerson's ideas. It is nice to note that there is interest in the Brazilian academy in this kind of comparative study which can certainly reveal very important aspects of our own identity. However, it is certain that we need to go further on the subject, despite the interesting dissertation discussed here and the solid bibliographic review work on which it is based. The similarities and differences between the most diverse American religions call for fieldwork and more heads thinking about it.

Handerson's dissertation can be found here (in Portuguese only):

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