• Many Afro-Brazilians are faithful practitioners of African traditional religions.
• The Ooni of Ife paid a 5-day visit to Brazil, as part of his mission to reunite Afro-Brazilians with Africa.
• The Ooni named a community of slave descendants a Yoruba territory.
• The strong ties between Africa and Brazil dates back to the slave trade era.
The Ooni of Ife, a Nigerian traditional ruler and Co-Chairman of the National Traditional Council, inaugurated a Yoruba Religion day called “Isese Day” at the banquet hall of the Presidential Palace in capital city Brasilia on Tuesday.
Oba—“king” in Yoruba—Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi is the ruler of Ile-Ife, an ancient Yoruba kingdom in southwestern Osun State in Nigeria.
The Ooni’s reign, which started in 2015, has been characterised by many interesting events, including a Hollywood feature, multiple marriages in the space of months, and more importantly, a quest to strengthen relationships with the African diaspora.
The 58-year-old monarch, alongside a 40-member entourage, paid an official visit to three other cities in the South American country, as part of his global tour for the African People’s Peace and Progress Agenda.
The Ooni also unveiled several initiatives aimed at the reunification of the over 100 million Afro-Brazilians via his “Back to Home” programme, according to Voice of Nigeria.
At the private meeting in the Brazilian Presidential Palace, the monarch appreciated the exceptional contributions of Afro-Brazilians to the country and urged President Lula da Silva to honour his vow to empower Afro-Brazilians by integrating them into the government.
The Ooni decorated the President and his wife Rosangela Lula da Silva as “Omo Oduduwa”, meaning they are descendants of Oduduwa, the revered father and leader of the Yoruba race.
After advocating for increased commercial and cultural exchanges between Brazil and Nigeria, the Ooni referenced da Silva’s visit to Nigeria during his first term as president between 2003-2010.
“I can remember very vividly your pronouncement on love and respect to African people during your visit to Nigeria in 2003 while the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, was in the office. We have you in our prayers and we pray that the Almighty Olodumare (God) continues to be with you. Africa is proud of you,” he said.
Da Silva responded by thanking the Ooni and commending his dedication towards reuniting Afro-Brazilians and other Africans in the diaspora.
He stressed the importance of strengthened ties between Brazil and Africa, considering it was the home continent of his people.
“My wife is here, always calls you ‘My father’. Your love for us and for our country is indeed well appreciated and I promise you my continued love for Africa. I have visited 44 countries in Africa and opened 19 embassies because Brazil of my administration has a historic pact to Africa,” President da Silva said.
The President also assured the Ooni and his entourage that Isese Day would become a permanent fixture in Brazil.
Brazilian President’s Commitment to Afro-Brazilian Empowerment
In January, Ogunwusi congratulated President da Silva on his re-election and pledged his support to his administration, particularly with regard to the President’s commitment to Afro-Brazilians.
Although Ogunwusi was unable to attend da Silva’s inauguration in person as it coincided with the traditional Oduduwa Festival in his kingdom, he sent a heartfelt address through his media aide Moses Olafare to recognise the significance of such a commitment.
“…Don’t forget that Africans represent not less than 60 per cent of the population in Brazil. Therefore, if that is what he has come to do, then, the entire African people worldwide will support him. If a government is about the masses here, it means that the government is for Africa,” Ogunwusi stated.
The Ooni also expressed hopes for a productive partnership between Africa at large and President da Silva, especially in areas of cultural tourism and traditional religion.
Ooni’s Address to the Brazilian Parliament
Also on Tuesday 21st March, the Ooni gave a special address at the Federal House of Representatives Chamber in Brasilia, in which he urged the parliament to support the President with pro-Afro-Brazilian legislation, as needed.
“We cannot afford to be divided again. We are one, irrespective of colour and race. President Lula is our pride, he remains determined to do well for Africa, and you must support him with legislation helpful to his mission for Africa.
“That’s all I beg of you if truly we are one big family. What we need now is to unite for the growth of all persons and be good to all regardless of religious and cultural differences,” he appealed.
Thereafter, he declared that there were dedicated lands in his kingdom for them to come build their homes on and invest in.
“I’m sitting on an ancient throne of over hundreds of centuries, a sacred throne of the Kingdom where most of you all migrated from. Beyond here in Brazil, I am delighted to inform you that you all have a home in my Kingdom and there are free lands for you to come and build your homes across Africa.”
About the Isese Day, the monarch excitedly shared, “I am elated that this is becoming a reality, a day where National Orisa Day will be publicly recognized by the Brazilian parliament and Yoruba heritage will also gain global recognition. It shows the commitment of the President in granting freedom of religious association and also the preservation of cultural heritage that existed centuries ago. Oduduwa is notable for peace, this step will quench the tussle against racial discrimination, it will also unite the whole of Brazil through religious integration and enhance racial equality and equity.”
The Parliament’s Deputy Speaker Hon. Deputado Vincentinho Requerente welcomed the Ooni warmly, describing him as a caring father whom the Afro-Brazilian community hold in high regard. Requerente also dubbed the Ooni’s visit a “history-making day”.
Ooni Names Yoruba Territory in Brazil
During his official visit to the country’s north-eastern Bahia State, the Ooni issued a Certificate of Yoruba Territory to a Quilombola territory called Quingoma.
The Quilombola are residents of a Quilombo, a settlement originally established by escaped slaves of African descent.
The Quilombola in the Quingoma community were said to have received and welcomed Yoruba slaves during the slave trade era.
“Currently, around 580 families live in the area covering approximately 1,200 hectares. Quingoma has been recognized as a Quilombola territory by the Palmares Foundation since 2013,” the statement said.
The community received the title with much jubilation, regarding it as a reinforcement of their connection with the Motherland.
According to the Ooni, the people of the community still hold the Yoruba religion in high esteem, regularly performing religious rituals to gods “Orisa” like Sango, Yemoja, Ogun and Obatala.
He noted that their priests, called “Babalawos”, were grounded in the Yoruba religion and could render panegyrics just like the Babalawos back in Nigeria.
The Centuries-Old Brazil-Africa Connection
After the US, Brazil is the non-African country with the second largest population of Black People, who identify as “Preto” in the country. However, due to centuries of interracial mixing, there are over 100 million Brazilians in total who can trace their roots to Africa.
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The Portuguese slave trade, which started in the 16th century and ended in the 19th century, saw slaves come in mostly from Mozambique, Angola, Nigeria, Congo, Benin and Ghana.
The Yorubas were the most populous amongst the Nigerian slaves.
The influence of Yoruba slave descendants on Brazilian culture is most prominently represented by the widespread practice of Yoruba religion.
The Afro-Brazilian religion “Candomblé” involves the worship of Yoruba deities called Orixas—spelt “Orisa” in Yoruba.
Candomblé originated in Brazil during the 19th century and takes on influence from the Yoruba Religion, the religions of the Bantu and Gbe people, as well as Roman Catholicism. However, many practitioners have called for the removal of the latter’s influence on the religion, so as to more closely mirror traditional West African religions.
The practices in Candomblé and Yoruba religion bear many similarities, except for a few adaptations to the order or function of the deities. Additionally, in some factions of the former religion, the deities are not given Yoruba names.
Candomblé is also practiced in Argentina and Uruguay.
In Lagos, the commercial capital and most populous city of Nigeria, it is common to find locals with Portuguese last names such as “da Silva”, “da Costa” , Fernandez” and so on.
These locals are descendants of escaped or freed slaves who returned from Brazil in the 19th century.
The slave returnees—including a few from Cuba—were called Amaros or Agudas and many of them were descendants of Yoruba groups, however, a few of them were said to be descendants of other African territories.
A large proportion of the returnees settled in the Lagos Island area, or “Isale Eko”, and up till now, there are a few traceable Brazilian cultural influences amongst locals of the area.
Moreso, a number of old buildings in Lagos Island sport typical Brazilian architectural styles, a legacy of the Brazilian slave returnees.
Interestingly, Lagos is the Portuguese word for “lakes”, so named by a Portuguese explorer in the 15th century.
Sources: Punch, The Nation, Voice of Nigeria.