Candomblé Terreiro – Temple Talk

A terreiro (te-hair-o) is a religious temple where Candomblé adherents go for worship. Terreiros are both large and small, urban and suburban, luxurious and modest.  The oldest terreiros in Brazil are well over 100 years old.

Initiations and other rituals, as well as feasts or drummings take place in the terreiro. Unlike in other Orisha traditions, initiates’ Orishas remain in the terreiro – a sacred space. While it’s not unheard of, it is certainly uncommon and not the norm for one to have their Orisha in their residence.

Some priests live in their terreiro, and it’s not uncommon to find other members of the ile living in the terreiro as well. Although some terreiros are rented – meaning the Baba or Iyalorixa does not own the physical building – they are indeed permanent spaces for worship. In other words, in Candomble, we do not rent spaces for a specific time period to perform a particular ritual.

Although no two terreiros are the same, they all share basic elements.

The entrance of a terreiro will always feature the shrines of Eshu and Ogun who stand guard at the door.  Upon entering, it is customary to greet them.

The Barracão (bah-haa-cown) would be similar to a sanctuary.  The area tends to be a square (or rectangular in a small terreiro). Many things happen in the barracão, but it is principally used for worship, feasts (called Xirê – shee-ray).  The barracão typically tends to be indoors, but in some terreiros it is mounted outside under a tent.  In many terreiros, the barracão also tends to be where everyone sleeps at night after a ritual or Xirê.

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Atabaque (ah-tah-bah-kee), seen in the header, are the sacred drums housed in every terreiro.  The Atabaque belong to the house, live in the barracão, and do not travel with drummers as they do in other Orisha traditions.  They are one of the most important elements of the terreiro, because they communicate with the Orisha.  The Atabaque are typically opposite the main entrance to the barracão, so you will see them as soon as you walk in.

The Ariaxe (ah-ree-ah-shay) is a sacred spot located in the center of the barracão.  You will notice either a tile in the center of the barracão that is a different color (or a larger square in comparison to the rest) or a column in the center of the barracão.  Either of these mark the location of the Ariaxe; when dancing the Xirê everyone moves counter-clockwise about the Ariaxe.

The kitchen is a central location of any terreiro regardless of the size.  A lot of things in Candomblé involve food, both for us and the Orisha, so there is always movement (and learning) happening in the kitchen.  Some terreiros have multiple kitchens.

Orisha rooms are also important components of a terreiro; Orisha shrines are typically not visible to the public in Candomblé.  The number of rooms really depends on the size of the terreiro.  Some terreiros are large enough that each Orisha (or Orisha family) has its own house. Others have smaller rooms within the terreiro that house Orisha (or Orisha famiiles).

The Ronko (hon-kó) is what is known in English as the room or in Lukumi as igbodu.   This is the sacred room where many rituals and initiations occur. It is typically out of sight to visitors.

Terreiros that are built on enough land may also have a backyard with herbs and sacred trees used in ritual.  The terreiro’s size and finances dictate how many bathrooms you will find in the temple, in addition to other rooms or spaces like private bedrooms, a lounge, a dinning room, etc.  Hopefully you’ll have an opportunity to visit a terreiro the next time you’re in Brazil.  When you do, now you’ll understand what you’re looking at!

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