Oct 26 2011

What is capoeira’s relationship to religion and spirituality?

Capoeiristas are not required to practice a certain religion or any religion at all.

Capoeira is very loosely connected to candomblé (an African religion) and Catholicism: references to both orixás (the deities of candomblé) and Catholic saints appear in capoeira songs.

Why candomblé and Catholicism? Well, the African creators of the art brought their religion with them to Brazil. They were forced by the European slave masters to adopt Catholic practices; however, they used Catholicism as a façade behind which to practice their own religion. For example, each orixá of candomblé was associated with a Catholic saint, so that a slave could say a prayer to the Virgin Mary but in reality be praying to Iemanjá.

Partial list of orixá-saint correspondences:

  • Oxalá (supreme father and creator of the world) – Jesus
  • Iemanjá (goddess of the sea and mother of other orixás) – the Virgin Mary
  • Oxóssi (hunter god) – Saint George and Saint Sebastian
  • Xangô (king, god of thunder and justice) – Saint Peter, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Francis of Assisi
  • Oxumaré (god of duality, movement, perpetual renovation) – Saint Bartholomew
  • Ogum (explorer of paths) – Saint Anthony
  • Nanã (old goddess, co-creator of the world) – Saint Anna, mother of Mary
  • Iansã (warrior goddess) – Saint Barbara
  • Obá (goddess of suffering) – Saint Catherine, Saint Joan of Arc, Saint Martha
  • Obaluaiê (god of life, death, sickness, health) – Saint Lazarus
  • Ibeji (twin gods representing dualities) – Saints Cosme and Damien

Source: Cultos Afro-Brasileiros


Examples of songs with religious references:

Santa Maria mãe de Deus
Cheguei na igreja e me confessei

Saint Mary mother of God
I arrived in the church and confessed

Santo Antônio é protetor
Da barquinha de Noê

Saint Anthony is the protector
Of Noah’s little ark

Quando chego no terreiro
Trato logo de louvar
Louvo a Deus primeiramente
Louvo meu pai Oxalá
Também louvo o pai Xangô
E a rainha do mar
Peço licença Deus de Angola
Me dê o salão prá eu vadiar

When I arrive in the temple
I give praise
I praise God first
I praise my father Oxalá
I also praise father Xangô
And the queen of the sea
I ask permission from the God of Angola
Give me space to play