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Salvador: Candomblé

An unique mixture of African religions and Roman Catholicism known as candomblé is practiced by many Brazilians of African descent in the cities and the Northeast.

Candomblé women dress in lace and hooped skirts, dance slowly, and chant in Yoruba. The men drum complex and powerful African rhythms. The terreiro is dominated by the women: only women dance, and only they enter a trance, the principal goal of the ceremony. Men play a supporting role.

The dance is very African, with graceful hand motions, swaying hips and light steps. When a dancer enters the trance, she shakes and writhes while assistants embrace and support her. Sometimes, even spectators go into trances, although this is discouraged.

The mãe de santo or pai de santo runs the service. The mãe pequena is entrusted with the training of priestesses; in this case, two filhos de santo: one a girl over seven years of age, the other a girl under seven. The initiates are called abian.

On a festival morning, the celebration commence with an animal sacrifice. Only initiates may attend this service. Later in the afternoon the padê ceremony is held to attract the attention of Exú, and this is followed by chanting for the orixás, which is accompanied by alabés (atabaque drummers). Omolú is one of the feared and respected orixá of plague and disease. He is worshipped only on Monday and his Christian syncretistic counterpart is either St Lazuras or St Roque. His costume consists of a straw belt encrusted with seashells, a straw mask and a cape and dress to cover his face and body, which have been disfigured by smallpox. When the dancers receive the spirit of Omolú in their trance, some leave the floor. They return with a person dressed from head to toe in long straw-like strands to represent Omolú. The dancing resumes.

The congregants are friendly and hospitable, but they don't orient their practice to outsiders. Westerners may attend, and many white Brazilians are members.

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