The Afro-Brazilian Tradition Behind Carnival

Afro-Brazilian Rituals Carnival BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of National Geographic.

The Afro tradition in Latin America is vast, especially in countries that were the gateway to the continent, such as Brazil. Known for its traditional Carnival, La Samba’s home has a rich tradition that comes from miscegenation and that few seem to know beyond its borders.

This year, amid the suspension of the iconic Carnival celebrations, we have decided to shed light on the rituals that occur during the first weeks of February.

In the Umbanda tradition, a syncretic Afro-Brazilian religion that blends African practices with Roman Catholicism, spiritism, and Native American beliefs, the days leading up to Carnival are dedicated to rituals of protection against evil spirits.

Priestess Laura D’Oya explained to the Associated Press that “many people take advantage of this period to do good actions, but others do bad things. It (the ceremony) is for protection against events that can be more common (during Carnival).”

Afro-Brazilian religious practices count just over half a million acolytes among the country’s 200 million citizens.

Amid the rise of radical evangelicalism, these religions have been the target of increasing intolerance, as is the case in other countries in the region, and some of their temples have been destroyed.

Although traditions such as Umbanda, Xambá, and Batuque are the product of miscegenation, other religions survive in Brazil that maintain their African roots almost entirely, as is the case of the traditional houses of Candomblé and Xangô of the Northeast.

For these believers, the Carnival period is a time of deep spirituality, in contrast to the colorful parties and dances in the streets that have made cities like Sao Paulo famous.

However, after the cancellation of Carnival for the first time in 103 years, and amid all the pain that the COVID pandemic has brought, it has never been more important to return to the origin; to the root of this spiritual interweaving, a fundamental pillar of Latin American resilience.