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14 October 2014
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The Olugbajé feast. It is served in large leaves, and contains food sacred to all the deities. It is believed the food has healing powers.

Olugbajé feast
Practitioners of Candomblé believe in one all powerful God, Oludumaré, who is served by lesser deities called orixas. Candomblé practitioners believe that every person has their own individual orixa which controls his or her destiny and acts as a protector.

This is the Olugbajé feast, which is served in large leaves and contains food sacred to all the deities. It is believed the food has healing powers.

Photo © Roderick Steel

Initiation ceremony. The back of a boy can be seen, as he looks on at people dressed as brightly coloured orixa.

Finding your god
The boy being presented to the general public watches the deities that will protect him in the future.

Once a priest has determined which orixa belongs to the new initiate, which is done by the casting of cowry shells, a string of beads are consecrated to that deity and placed round the initiate's neck. The initiate spends up to a month in seclusion, participating in other important rituals, before being presented to the general public.

Photo © Roderick Steel

Three women stand bent, dressed in white, clutching metal walking sticks.

Oxalá is worshipped in Candomblé as an old man, bent over his magical staff, and as a young warrior who brandishes a sword.

Candomblé practitioners believe that every person has an individual orixa which controls his or her destiny and acts as a protector. Each orixa represents a force in nature and is associated with certain foods, colours, animals and days of the week.

Photo © Roderick Steel

Crowd of people in a room. Foreground shows people on the floor preparing food in leaves. Main background shows man, dressed in white, standing up with rafia fringe covering his face, dancing.

The figure in the background is Omolu, an orixa whose body was covered with smallpox sores at birth, and for this reason appears covered in rafia. He is a healer and his dance alludes to his healing powers.

Worship takes the form of specially choreographed dances and hymns. The dance is a call to the spirits. At its height, the worshipper's orixa temporarily possesses the dancer's body and he or she enters into a trance like state and dances alone.

Photo © Roderick Steel

Man sitting on chair with his head covered by silver fringe all the way to the floor. Female worshippers prostrate before him.

This is Xapanã, a royal spirit from the Dambirá family.

Candomblé practitioners revere nature, and worship the spirits that are found in trees, plants and other natural things. However, ancestor worship forms a large part of Candomblé practice. Past ancestors are venerated and deified.

Photo © Roderick Steel

Woman in an elaborate dress wearing a gold plated crown, dancing.

Oxum's dance recalls her bathing in a waterfall, and summoning the forces that control pregnancy and childbirth. The young woman possessed by Oxum dances alongside her mother.

Oxum likes beauty, and devotes her life to it. She is also the goddess of love and fertility, and looks after newborns up to the age of about 4. The city of Salvadore in Brazil is believed to be run by Oxum; it is said its people love the good things in life.

Photo © Roderick Steel

Three women seated on chairs in a large hall. Wearing masks, other dancers swirl around them

Oxum's festival
Oxum has many avatars, and wears colors and ritual staffs in accordance with these different identities. Three oxums are pictured here, in her annual festival, called "Festa das Iabás".

Women are extremely important in Candomblé worship and often hold the highest positions. They are known as 'mother of saint' when they lead the worship ceremonies, and usually act as head priest.

Photo © Roderick Steel

Out in the open sea, men surround a statue of a female, and female hands reach down from a boat towards the offering.

During a festival called Iemanjá gifts are taken out to sea and submerged, where they are received by the Queen of the Seas in her oceanic sanctuary.

There is no concept of good or bad in Candomblé. Each person is only required to fulfil his or her destiny to the fullest, whatever that may be. However, Candomblé teaches that any evil you cause will return to you eventually. It is the responsibility of the ancestor spirits to make sure that past moral standards are continued in the present.

Photo © Roderick Steel

A man crouched on the floor slowly rises. He is wearing dark green palm fronds on his head, which completely cover his face.

Ogum, god of iron, presides over technology and agriculture. He is seen kneeling on the ground, wearing his crown of palm fronds.

During worship ceremonies, specially choreographed dances will be performed in order to become possessed of the ancestor spirit. The possessed may then act out scenes from the community to highlight both good and bad actions in a sort of public tribunal.

Photo © Roderick Steel

Women dressed in dark blue dresses, with metal hats on their heads. They are all running in one direction.

Candomblé now
Ogum is one of the most fierce deities. He charges towards the drums where he will show his mythical dances.

Bahia in Brazil is the centre of Candomblé. Around two million people profess to follow this colourful religion, and many people from African countries visit Bahia in order to learn more about their ancestral faith.

Photo © Roderick Steel

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