Home - Black Gods in Exile

Photos by Pierre Verger and Mario Cravo Neto



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Orixás, or: Orishas

The deities worshipped in the Candomblé *) religion and brought to Brazil by abducted slaves, especially the Yoruba people *). In Africa, these were kings, queens, mythical heroes and other ancestors raised to the status of gods.

"Originally every group worshipped its own ancestors in Africa, and every township was bound to a local deity, often an ancestor of the local ruling dynasty, a leader of one's own clan, or a person who somehow uniquely helped and supported the group. ... Because of the changed conditions in the Diaspora, there developed a genuine pantheon of deities, in which a large number of Orixás were concentrated in the same terreiro *) as a mythical space. First and foremost was the maintaining of a symbolic heritage that supported all responsibility for the continuity of the African view of the world in exile. A repertoire of laws, focused on one's origins, was newly established in order to preserve the creative basis of African religiousness." [1]

"The Orixás are revelations of the spiritual power of the highest-ranking deity Olorun *). They are the mediators between the Supreme Being of Olorun and believers. The Orixás are ancestors as well as forces of nature." [2]

The Orixás clearly have their weakness and can make errors and mistakes. In his book Orixas Pierre Verger compares the Yoruba deities in Africa and the New World, and he assigns human archetypes to them. Every believer lives his entire life under the protection of his individually chosen Orixá.

The Orixás are closely connected to forces of nature such as air and water, as well as to mountains and animals. In addition, each deity has a specific attribute: a color, a metal, a day of the week, a favorite dish, a certain drumbeat, etc... Several Orixás also have concrete tasks and social functions, for example Xango's as a warrior, Oxossi's as a hunter, and Ogun's as a blacksmith.

In Brazil and other nations of the Americas - as in Cuba with the Santería - the African deities were disguised through their association with Catholic saints in order to practice the religion in spite of it being forbidden. In the Brazilian Candomblé, for example, Xango corresponds with Saint Hieronymus and Oxossi with Saint George (see individual Orixás).




Moema Parente Augel: AXÉ - Lebensenergie und sakrale Kraft. Die dynamische Struktur der Welt der Orixá. In: Trigon Nr. 4, Berlin 1994, p. 88



ebenda, p. 89

See also the links to the texts under
>> Glossary: Candomblé

See photos, texts:  >> Candomblé

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Some Orixás:

Olorun, Olodumaré
Highest deity

God messenger, guardian of the
pathways and sacrificial offerings

Children, fun, cheerfulness

very old goddess, lives in the marsh

Obaluaé, Omolu
Suffering, disease

Obatalá, Oxalá
Sun of Olorun

War, iron

Osain, Ossaim
Medicinal herbs, medicine

Hunting, hunter


Fire, thunder, lightning

Yansa, Iansa
Xango's wife,
thunderstorm, lightning

Yemanja, Iemanjá
Mother of several gods,
water, lives in the sea