Attacks on Candomblé
by Iya Melissa
Candomblé is a religion that, at its root, is representative of resistance.
Enslaved Africans resisted the Portuguese master by maintaining their religions through slavery. As Candomblé became structured and terreiros established, baba and Iyalorixas resisted against a Brazilian government that equated African religions with criminal activity. While Brazilians have the freedom to practice any religion they want today, Candomblé continues to suffer persecution at the hands of an intolerant government and hateful individuals.
In 2015, 11-year-old Kailane Campos – a new Iyawo – was attacked by fundamentalist evangelical terrorists who yelled at her in the street. One terrorist picked up a stone, threw it at her and hit her on the head. She passed out and was taken to the hospital.
One serious threat to Afro-Brazilian religions in 2016-17 was proposed legislation to outlaw ritual animal sacrifice.
And while incidents of breaking into terreiros to vandalize the property have always occurred, the past few days have seen their fair share of unique terrorist attacks. Not only have terreiros been invaded, but priests are being beaten and forced to destroy their own sacred spaces. This time, the terrorists aren’t fundamental christians. Instead, they’re drug dealers who are being paid thousands by pastors to rid specific communities of Afro-Brazilian religions. To add insult to injury, these criminals are posting videos of their heinous acts on social media so everyone gets the message – you could be next.
I struggled with whether or not to share the videos here, and decided against it for several reasons. On one hand, it’s extremely painful to watch priests being forced to smash the igbas of their Ile, break ileke Orisa, and other sacred objects – they must have been feeling agony and I can’t help but wonder what I would’ve done in their shoes.
On the other hand, I didn’t want to support the videos’ accumulation of likes.
Still, there’s a piece of me trying to understand the perspective of these terrorists. In one video, a drug dealer is heard very clearly instructing an elder to destroy the objects in one of the Orisa rooms of her Ile. Some of the words he used to describe the igbas made me wonder whether or not he had some personal experience with Candomblé, and whether he was conflicted himself about the atrocities he and his crew committed.
There are lots of unknowns. Lots of pain. Lots of sadness. But what I do know is that our religion is one of resilience. It survived the Middle Passage and slavery. I have to have faith that we’ll come out on the other side.