Ancient African religious cults -- brought to South America in the days of slave trading -- have begun to pose something of a threat to orthodox religions in Brazil.
Ancient African religious cults -- brought to South America in the days of slave trading -- have begun to pose something of a threat to orthodox religions in Brazil. The figures vary, but millions of Brazilians of every age, class, race and creed, are now following the Gods of Africa's ancient civilisations.
The Roman Catholic church -- the largest in Brazil -- estimates that 12 million of Brazil's population of 100 million, are followers of the African sects. But sect leaders claim the number of serious believers is at least twice that figure.
The African cults were brought to Brazil during the slave-trading days of the 16th and 17th Centuries. Thousands of Africans -- mostly from the West Coast and Angola -- were shipped across the Atlantic to Brazil by the Portuguese, and set to work in mines and on sugar plantations.
The escape persecution for practising their cults, the slaves incorporated them into the Roman Catholic religion, embracing Jesus and the Saints, and adapting their festival days to those of the Roman Catholic church. The slaves thus preserved their form of worship, their identity and way of life. Three Afro-Brazilian cults -- Candomble. Macumba and Umbanda -- evolved from the combination of cult and Catholicism.
Cult festivals are marked by African dancing, chanting and drum-beating, creating an atmosphere in which followers go into trances and "speak in voices." In the Candomble cult, followers worship the God Obaluaie, the healer and patron of the sick and injured. Obsluaio, whose face is never seen, appears covered from head to knees in a long straw head-dress. While his followers dance about him and make offerings of food, he passes his hands over them and sprinkles them with pop-corn -- a sign of his cloak of protection.
Roman Catholic leaders are concerned that many people are attending Sunday Mass services, while at the same time following the African cults. They say Brazil may soon no longer be the world's largest Roman Catholic nation.