Getting Involved in Candomblé

by Iya Melissa

Because Candomblé is the youngest Orisha tradition in the Orisha Diaspora (Outside of Brasil, Cuba or Nigeria) it can be a little more difficult to find fully initiated priests in the tradition. Not everyone that is initiated in Candomble becomes a Baba or Iya; there are different types of initiation into Candomble. Even those who have the path to become Baba or Iya must undergo at least 7 years of apprenticeship, and complete several obligations before being given license by their Baba/Ìyá to open their own house/Terreiro and initiate their own omorisa.

The obligation that takes place which allows one to function as a Baba or Iya is called the Deka or Igbase; without receipt of this rite, an initiate does not have the right to open their own terreiro and have godchildren. Having said that, there are some communities of Candomblé devotees that have come together in pockets of the States.

California, Illinois and New York are home to gatherings of Candomblé adherents and initiates, and there are also accessible knowledgeable Candomblé priests that could help point you in the right direction. Luckily, there are now terreiros/ile Orisa opening in the States. Hopefully this will help newcomers see the religion at work and give them a better sense of how to evaluate a priest as they are observed working in and directing a house and their godchildren.

When looking for a godparent, be sure to ask questions about their nation and lineage (in a respectful way). Are they in touch with their elders and siblings in Orisa? Find out if they have other godchildren near you, and contact them to see what their relationships are like and how the ile operates. If possible, speak to their elders or meet them if you have the opportunity.

Do not immediately create a relationship with the first person that you meet. Spend time with them, go to feasts, and have conversations with them. Ask questions about the responsibilities of belonging to this religion, rituals and costs involved, the obligations of a godchild, etc… Find the means to travel to Brazil so you can spend time with their family, visit a terreiro, go to Xires, and to see the religion in its natural context. Do not take for granted your social chemistry with a person as an indicator of how they will be as a godparent. Knowing them socially is fine, but get to see how they interact with other people in the religion in a religious setting.

It’s important to realize that, while it’s key to have a healthy relationship with the Baba/Iyalorixa, developing healthy relationships with other members of the ile is essential.  As you learn more about the religion, you’ll find that you learn just as much from your brothers and sisters in the ile as you do from your Baba/Iya.  As you’re taking your first steps in the religion, you’ll be known as an abiyan; a precious time where you’ll learn about customs in the ile and get a glimpse of your next steps as you watch your brothers and sisters move from being abiyans to Iyawos.  Savor the time.

See also: Getting Involved in Candomble Parts II and III.