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African Religions in Brazil  

Luis Nicolau Parés

Despite their diverse political and cultural backgrounds, West Africans and West Central Africans shared some basic religious orientations. With a strong pragmatic focus on solving problems in this world, the dynamism and flexibility of their religious practices were critical for their quick reactivation within Brazilian slave society. The Atlantic transfer, however, deprived African institutions of their structural social basis so a complex innovative process of re-institutionalization was necessary to allow new forms of Afro-Brazilian religions to emerge. Ritual associativism first occurred around the colonial Calundu, mostly concerned with interpersonal healing and divination interactions, but rapidly saw the formation of parallel religious congregations inspired by an ecclesiastical mode of organization based on the initiatory recruitment of novices and the worship of multiple deities. Despite common elements of healing, divination, sacrifice, spirit possession, initiation, and celebration, the genesis of Afro-Brazilian religions was marked by astounding pluralism and eclecticism that led to a wide range of regional variation. The demographics and cultural specificities of the enslaved in each place, as well as local historical circumstances, determined distinct processes of creative synthesis among the various African traditions and between these and hegemonic Iberian Catholicism, Amerindian healing practices, and others. The circulation of ideas and priests across the country and between Africa and Brazil after the end of the Atlantic slave trade also added to the 19th-century consolidation of an Afro-Brazilian religious field. Despite a history of continuous discrimination and persecution, alongside occasional selective tolerance, Afro-Brazilian religions offered a unique space for the transformative reproduction of African values, behaviors, and forms of sociability, which had a long-lasting effect on Brazilian national culture. The temples’ struggles for legitimacy and recognition was expressed in a latent tension between those which claimed an alleged African ritual purity and those accused of syncretism, a divide to which scholars greatly contributed to and which has oriented their classificatory efforts.

Article

Ahmadu Bamba  

Fallou Ngom

The mid-19th century was an era when the French colonial administration was consolidating its control over colonies in French West Africa. Having witnessed armed resistance movements from non-Muslim and Muslim leaders in the region, the French administration was suspicious of popular leaders who did not support the colonial agenda. Some were killed, and others were arrested, exiled, or put under house arrest in order to destroy their movements. Ahmadu Bamba (1853–1927) was one of the Muslim leaders the French administration regarded as a threat to colonial rule. Because he did not share the position of local Muslim leaders who allied with the Wolof ruling nobility whom he regarded as unjust, Bamba founded a new Sufi movement that sought to provide the masses with an ethics-centered Islamic education. His conflict with the Muslim leaders and Wolof aristocratic rulers exacerbated his tension with French administrators who saw him as an imminent threat. As a result, Bamba was arrested and exiled in Gabon (1895–1902) and Mauritania (1903–1907) and was kept under house arrest in Ceyeen-Jolof (1907–1912) and Diourbel (1912–1927). The exiles and arrests, which were designed to destroy his movement, did not work as his Murīdiyya order has become one of Senegal’s most culturally, economically, and politically powerful movements, with committed members spread around the world. His legacy endures. He was a prolific writer and has left an impressive corpus of Arabic texts that continue to guide his followers around the world. His senior disciples, who translated his ethos to the broader Wolof audiences using Wolofal or Wolof ʿAjamī (Wolof written with the Arabic script), have also left a rich corpus of primary sources that capture the history, traditions, and doctrine of the Murīdiyya from Murīd perspectives. Unfortunately, these sources remain largely inaccessible to academics.