Sisterhood of the Good Death - Bahia
Irmandade de Boa Morte in Cachoeira - Bahia - Brazil. Sisterhood of descendants of slaves who resisted slavery and established their right to a dignified life.
Procession on the street by members of Boa Morte
The Festival exemplifies the syncretism of Catholicism and traditional African religion known in Brazil as Candomble. The “Good Death” refers to the blending of the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic Church and the Candomble worship of the iyas, female spirits of the Ancestors. Members of the Sisterhood who have transitioned and ancestors who during slavery, died free or fighting for liberation, are also venerated. They all are believed to have achieved the Good Death. The Virgin Mary, because of her bodily assumption, and the ancestors, because of their struggle and ultimate freedom before or upon death, were all insured a proper passage from the material to the spiritual world.
Mass at the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel,Bahia
The Sisterhood is said to be the oldest organization for Women of African Descent in the Americas. It is a vestige of African Secret female societies, and began more than 150 years ago in pre-abolition era Brazil. Brazil had more than four times as many Africans imported to its shores as the United States, with the majority entering the country through Bahia.
(Wearing costumes of "Creole" - torso head, trinkets, white coat, skirt and colorful slippers low - they become more colorful waterfall on the Sabbath and were, as always, welcomed with great affection by the people. "Little daughter Dona" (106 years) is the oldest of the Sisters of the Good Death. Age does not limit his actions and she walks the streets of Cachoeira without apparent fatigue. cachoeiranos collaborate with The Brotherhood, one of the symbols of the city.)
Throughout the colonial period, Cachoeira was a rich city at the heart of the cane-growing region; its beautiful examples of Baroque architecture attest to its former opulence. It is referred to as the Heroic City because of its role in fights against the Portuguese, but for people of African decent, the Sisters of Boa Morte are its true heroes.
Donna Filhinha (106 years)
In Colonial times when Candomble, a traditional African form of worship was outlawed, the Sisters cloaked their formation as a lay catholic sisterhood to pass down their traditions and pay homage to the orixas, disguised as Catholic Saints. They used their skills to earn money to buy others from servitude as well as their spiritual power and social network to provide new freed slaves protection, sanctuary and safe passage to quilombos, settlements of freed and escaped Africans. Brazil was the last country in the world to abolish slavery in 1888, due in part to the power and prowess of these amazing women.
Members of Sisterhood seated and having a chat during Boa Morte festival
During the incredible festival of all-night vigils, masses, processions, and feasts, the current Sisterhood show their gratitude and reverence to Nossa Sehnora who answered their prayers for freedom and to the original ancestors of the sisterhood by commemorating their death and ascension.
Irmandade de Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte
Traveling to Cachoeira for Boa Morte was my first experience outside of Brazil’s major metropolitan areas; in contrast to it’s more urbane Neighbor Salvador, better known Rio or bustling Sao Paolo, at first glance Cachoiera seems a sleepy, beautiful, but somewhat faded, almost abandoned colonial town. But as with the Virgin Mary who masks the Candomble rites and rituals, nothing at Boa Morte is exactly as it seems.
Worshippers holding candles at the church
As each day of the festival passes, the energy builds, people descend upon the City from every direction in tour buses, cars and taxis and the ceremonies begin to take a more secular than religious tone. Sound systems appear, and a carnival atmosphere develops. Bahianas, female vendors dressed in white with huge full skirts and colorful head scarves set up shop along the streets serving all manner of delights, most notably acarajé, black-eye peas fritters fried in palm oil, with a spicy shrimp sauce and vegetables, which is served like a sort of Brazilian Falafel or taco and is a signature dish of Bahia.
Procession in honor of Our Lady of Glory, in Cachoeira, Bahia.
On the final day the sisters become festive, with the black shawls and somber faces of the processions long gone they treat the crowds to a swirling, whirling solo dance inside a crowded circle known as Samba de Roda. Decked out in their jewels and white eyelet they dance and spin at the center of a circle of onlookers defying their mostly septuagenarian status. While much of the sacred rituals of Boa Morte are reserved for the members of the Sisterhood, the Samba de Roda is a public exhilarating, magical celebration of life and freedom.( http://globalaxe.org/blog/boa-morte-festival/)
Beautiful Afro-Brazilian kids at Boa Morte festival
A BROTHERHOOD OF OUR LADY OF GOOD DEATH, A PERSPECTIVE AND GENDER MUSEUM
Procession of of followers of Irmandade de Boa Morte in Cachoeira - Bahia - Brazil
This work is part of a larger project, the deployment of a new industry in the Museu Afro- Brazilian Cultural Heritage Sector Afro-Brazilian, which surveyed about prospects museum and gender in the Brotherhood of the Good Death, an institution created in the early nineteenth century by a group of black women, period in which there were other brotherhoods of white men, mulattoes and blacks, but none formed exclusively by black women. In this, they had freedom to choose, organize and reign in the festivities. Many churches held masses and processions, but none did as well as the Church of Barroquinha where they were. In 1820, presumably, the Brotherhood of Good Death in Cachoeira settled. From the creation this Fellowship was created the first Terreiro of Candomblé, Iya Omi Axe Intilá Aya, a house the background of the Church of Barroquinha after suffering persecution by the authorities, settled in neighborhood of Vasco da Gama, with the name of Iya Ile Oko Nasso, known as the White House, from 1920, gave birth to two more Terreiros: Ilê Axe Opo Afonjá in São Gonçalo do Retiro and Ilê Iya Iya OMIM masse, the Federation, known as Gantois.
The secular brotherhood known as the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Good Death, formed only by black women, born in the midst of a slave society unstable when the city of Salvador had a population of approximately 65,500 inhabitants divided into socio-occupational groups, with constant explosions antilusas popular revolts, the main one being the Malian revolt in 1835, according Reis (2003, p. 27). Until today keeps alive the brotherhood elements of african-Brazilian culture, such as religious rituals, oral, costume, cuisine, music, dance, among others; origin need not be exact, however, Tavares (1964, p. 335th) dates back to the 1820s, the Church of the Saviour in Barroquinha, resisting, so there nearly two centuries.
The Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Good Death, had since its inception, and continues to have, as its main objective, the devotion and the devotion to Our Lady, and still other objectives in the background, such as the practice of loans and aid financial donations and especially the purchase of manumission for enslaved; in cases of death associated with the Brotherhood took responsibility for burials and masses. The activities listed, the only one that does not apply to contemporaneity is purchase of manumission, the more they continue preserving, through its rituals, memory of their African ancestors. Importantly, the involvement of the sisters in the religious festivities colonial period was remarkable in the sense of organization and periodic celebrations of Masses (Reis, 2003, p. 332). The training and the goals of the Brotherhood of Good Death is approaching other brotherhoods color formed at the same time, however, this is one in which women reign completely. During its formation and legitimation in Bahian society, the sisters have suffered prejudices: color, gender, economic, among others. Being a society, markedly patriarchal and sexist, these women fought and negotiated to stand, able to show their work in organizations of the festivities of Our Lady and the achievement of its objectives, through their courage and strength.
Procession at Boa morte festival
It is noteworthy that Verger (1992, p. 101) speaks of the Brotherhood of Good Death as preserving the spirit of initiative nagôs that women had in Africa, related to the activities and direction administration. In the colonial period there were other brotherhoods linked to the Catholic Church, in its Most, formed by white men, mulattos and blacks, and among these brotherhoods black, still in force for the subdivision of ethnic origin: the Jeje, and the nagôs Angolans (Reis, 1991, p. 55), but was not common only formed a brotherhood for black women, slaves, ex-slaves and freed. In the other sororities, when had women in their composition, they had a much lower participation compared men. It was up to them just the organization of religious festivals of the Catholic Church, or participation in services and charity to the needy brethren (Reis, 1991 p. 58).
Followers release doves and pigeons into the air with a belief of returning with message of peace
In the case of the Brotherhood of the Good Death, women had complete freedom to decide and organize the festivities, since the men were not part of the group composition religious. Women of the Brotherhood were also known as black party high, stand out in the call for [...] African social elite in Bahia (Birth; Isidoro, 1988, p. 16). Relating to the creation of the Brotherhood of the Good Death, the Catholic character, the universe african-Brazilian religious, it is possible to find common links that refer to the rites of death and life, referring to ties Iyabás Candomblé linked to death and life: Nana and Iansã, Yemanja and Oshun, who have a point similar to the Death and Assumption. With the formation of the Brotherhood of Good Death records are also creating one of Terreiros the 1st of Candomblé in Brazil, linked to the Brotherhood because it was created [...] by women devotees of the Confraternity of Our Lady of the Good Death, [...], and a man supporter of the Brotherhood of Our Lord of the Martyrs, [...]. Verger (1992, p. 113), the Iya Omi Aya Intilá Axe in honor of Shango, a house at the bottom of Church Barroquinha, which housed political meetings and demonstrations of all kinds, Birth and Isidore (1988, p. 16). After its foundation, this Terreiro suffered various persecutions by the authorities civil and ecclesiastical, covering some localities soteropolitanas, settling in the neighborhood of Vasco da Gama, with the name of Iya Ile Oko Nasso, now known as Casa
Branca. From 1920 Terreiro this gave rise to two others: the Ile Axe Opo Afonjá, in São Gonçalo do Retiro and OMIM Iya Iya Ile Masse, the Federation, known as Terreiro do Gantois. The leaders of these Terreiros were part of the Brotherhood of the Good Death. In the registration processes of official history, many women began to anonymity, yet important names resisted to be forgotten, such as Hilaria Batista de Almeida, known as Aunt Ciata; Anna Eugenia dos Santos, known as Mother Aninha; Bibiana Maria do Espirito Santo, known as Mother Mary; Satira; Juliana; Sabina; Caetana; José Maria; Apollinaria; Justiniana; Xandinha; Zina; Mary Melo; Sinha shake; Agda Maria de Oliveira, among others; Birth (1998, p. 14). Based on the stories of women's lives in the past kept the Brotherhood, the Current sisters still preserving the material and immaterial culture african-Brazilian. Even in the nineteenth century the Brotherhood of Good Death expanded into the Reconcavo settling in the then Town of Our Lady of the Rosary of Porto da Cachoeira, (Born, 1998, p. 14), along with the growth of the Reconcavo, especially economic growth of the village and its harbor, which was a major in the Bahia time, where goods arriving and leaving from various parts of the world, especially slaves from different African nations.
In Waterfall, first, the Brotherhood settled in a house known as Casa star number 58, and all indications are that this house belonged to a legendary African lady by name Karoxa, (Birth; Isidore, 1988, p. 22). The house received this designation because of an Exu sitting in port Input in the form of a star, probably belonging to one of women with ties with the Brotherhood and Bogum of Candomblé, (Birth, 1998, p. 15-16). The activities performed in that house was formed the first Terreiro of Candomblé Jeje-Marrim nation that is one of the few with that name today, existing in Brazil, which is part of the Candomblé Bogum of the Old Mill in the Federation Salvador. The feast of Our Lady of the Good Death always happens in August, more precisely on days 13, 14 and 15, which are the days that are celebrated Death, Funeral andthe Assumption of Our Lady, an adaptation of the Christian calendar which commemorates the Assumption on August 15. Marked by processions and masses, this festival dates back to the fourth century AD in Antioch, (Costa, 2002, p. 13).
Mrs. Estelita Santana - Judge Perpetua the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Good Death in Cachoeira, tomorrow September 14 had completed 103 years. Mrs. Estelita Save! Save the Brotherhood! Save waterfall! Save Our Lady! :: Adenor GONDIM 09/13/09 [+] ::
Since then, Oriental culture that spread quickly to the West arriving in Brazil at the end of eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The feast of Our Lady of the Good Death was the most disputed the Catholic Church, many churches held masses and processions, celebrating the party the next day, no longer did so well as the chapel of Barroquinha, with longest route, the busiest and most ostentatious presentation (Campos, 2001 p. 358-359), being organized for years by the Brotherhood of the Lord of the Martyrs Barroquinha, and then began to share the same with the organization of the Brotherhood Boa Morte, who Priore was a group of black women devoted to Our Lady of Good Death.
The organization of festivities begins months before, when the sisters prepare for total devotion to Our Lady, seeking to divide tasks among themselves. On first day of the festival happens at the Funeral Mass in the Chapel of the Brotherhood itself, where ensure sisters Mary and sisters and remember deceased relatives, and soon after offer supper white foods when used without the presence of palm oil. On this day the sisters wear the white garment, symbolizing mourning in african-Brazilian culture. On second day, happens the mass of this body and follows the procession or funeral procession the streets of Cachoeira, with sisters dressed in their finery.
samba de roda
On the third day, is conducted Mass and procession of the Assumption of Our Lady Victorious in the streets of Waterfall, with sisters wearing the costume gala, but leaving on display the color red, symbolizing the joy and glory of Our Lady and wearing lots of jewelry. The procession is accompanied by thousands of visitors and intense fireworks. Shortly after Brotherhood procession to serve in their home-based feijoada accompanied by samba wheel, all in a peculiar mixture of the profane mystic-religious system, (Birth; Isidoro, 1988, p. 29). On this day Waterfall receives thousands of tourists, mainly african- Americans, and other Brotherhoods, and communities surrounding the capital,to honor this cultural practice that preserves important elements of african-memory Brazilian.
The Sisters of the Good Death, even in the face of varied cultural change, socio- economic and religious, keep finding reasons for their existence and social function, maintaining its tradition with strength and beauty, preserving traits of memories ancestors. The dynamic associative dating back to women's associations in Africa, if constitutes an important element for its own survival in Brazilian society; and currently, with little more than two dozen women. Initially the Brotherhood had over two hundred, but as a result of social dynamics This Brotherhood was losing adept. The Brotherhood of Good Death over the years has contributed to the Maintaining this rich memory african-Brazilian, keeping alive, either through records, either by oral or by the work with the community and with their own Brotherhood is the sacred rituals, the gift that keeps Brotherhood cultural memory african-Brazilian in their daily lives.
follow this link for further information:http://www.terra.com.br/revistaplaneta/mat_395.htm
THE FEAST OF GOOD DEATH: AN AFRO-CATHOLIC EMANCIPATION
CELEBRATION IN BRAZIL
Sheila S. Walker
The Feast of Good Death
Members of the Sisterhood feasting-Bahia,Brazil
Each year on the Friday evening nearest August 15 in the town of Cachoeira in the state of
Bahia in northeastern Brazil, several dozen Afro-Brazilian women begin the reenactment of the
complex Afro-Catholic religious ceremonial that their enslaved African an cestresses created
more than one and a half centuries ago. Catholic processions and masses in honor of the death
and assumption into heaven of the Virgin Mary are interwoven with symbols and interpretations
fundamental to the Candomblé, the religion of Yoruba origin that is the basis of Afro-Brazilian
spiritual life in Bahia and in the other parts of Brazil with significant populations of African origin.
The solemnity of the sacred celebration is complemented by an energetic samba de roda (ring
samba) typical of Cachoeira and based on African dance styles. The Festa da Boa Morte
(Feast of Good Death) is an exemplary manifestation of the multi-layered reality of AfroBrazilian culture.
The women are members of the Irmandade da Boa Morte (Sisterhood of Good Death)
created within the Catholic Church in the early nineteenth century, which numbered up to two
hundred women when Cachoeira was a wealthy sugar cane producing area. As the sisters
explained, the Virgin Mary died on a Friday and, being without sin, was assumed into heaven in
body and soul on the following Sunday—certainly a "good death." Hence the Catholic Feast of
the Assumption on August 15. The Virgin is known as Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte (Our
Lady of Good Death) from her death to her assumption, at which point she becomes Nossa
Senhora da Gloria (Our Lady of Glory). The real theme of the Boa Morte pageantry, then, is
less one of mourning for the Virgin Mary's death, than one of rejoicing for her assumption into
On Friday evening the sisters carry a reclining statue of Our Lady of Good Death in a solemn
procession through the streets to Cachoeira's largest church, where they place the statue in front
of the altar. After a mass of mourning for the Saint and for the deceased members of the
Sisterhood, they return to their meeting house to serve a dinner to the members of the
community who accompany them there.
On Saturday evening after spending the day preparing the feast they will serve on Sunday, the
sisters walk together to the church where another mass of mourning is said for Our Lady of
Good Death. They again carry the statue through the streets in a funeral procession
accompanied by mournful music from one of the town's two bands. The statue is then placed in
the museum of religious articles contiguous to the church, where it will remain during the year,
and a standing statue of Our Lady of Glory is taken from the museum into the church. Sisters
and people who have attended the mass touch the statue to request the saint's blessings, and the
On Sunday morning, the sisters again gather at their meeting house and walk together to the
church, taking their usual places in the front pews for the mass celebrating the assumption of
Our Lady of Glory into heaven. In a final triumphant procession, the statue of Our Lady of
Glory is carried through the town accompanied by bands playing joyous music, and by many of
the people who attended the mass, some of whom help the sisters to carry the statue. At the
end of the procession the sisters return the statue to the museum until their next annual
procession, and return to their meeting house followed by many people from the town. After
serving a copious meal to these guests, the sisters rest for the ring samba they will dance on
Sunday evening and repeat on Monday and Tuesday evenings, again offering food to all who
Although the priest who said the masses insisted that the Feast of Good Death was a purely
Catholic celebration, numerous indicators suggest that this is not the entire explanation of the
event. The most obvious indicator is that a purely Catholic ceremony in Bahia peopled
exclusively by Afro-Brazilian women is, while not entirely impossible, at least highly
improbable—and in this case is a definite misperception of the complex meanings of the event.
In Bahia, the area of Brazil in which African culture has remained the strongest and most
influential, the religion of the overwhelming majority of the Afro-Brazilian population, and of
much of the non-Afro-Brazilian population also, is the Candomblé. This is true in spite of most
Bahians', including Candomblé members' and leaders', formal membership in the Catholic
Church, and is consistent with the veneer of Catholicism that has allowed the Candomblé to
persist from the period of slavery up to the present in spite of persecution by the political
The Candomblé is based on the worship of the Orishás, the spiritual beings of the Yoruba
people of the current nation of Nigeria, whose religion managed to survive the middle passage
from West Africa to the Americas. The Orishás represent major forces of nature and human life,
and are intimately involved in the social and individual lives of their devotees. They are honored
in ceremonies in which they are believed to come into the human community by manifesting
themselves in the bodies of their devotees who have been prepared by initiation to receive them
and who, in a trance state, dance the movements characteristic of the Orishás to compelling
When forced to learn about Catholicism by the Portuguese and prohibited from worshipping the
Orishás openly during slavery, the Africans learned the names and characteristics of some of the
Catholic saints and established equivalences based on the similar attributes they perceived
between them and the Orishás. St. Lazarus the leper, the statue of whom shows his skin
covered by sores, was assimilated to Omolú or Obaluaiye, the Orishá of smallpox, which is
characterized by skin eruptions. By extension the Orishá of all illness and of death, Omolú can
also restore health and life. Maternal Orishás such as Yemanjá, Orishá of the ocean, were
assimilated to various versions of the Virgin Mary. And the most exalted Orishá, Oshalá, who
was responsible for creating human beings, was seen as equivalent to Jesus on the basis of the
importance of both in their respective religious systems.
There are no material images of the Orishás, who are supernatural forces, but the statues of the
saints came to represent the equivalent Orishás. And, on feast days for the saints the Africans
feigned that they were worshipping the saints to camouflage their real intention of honoring the
equivalent Orishás, a subterfuge that insured the preservation of their spiritual reality. Eventually
the Africans become Afro-Brazilians began to believe in the power of the saints to help them,
but never to the exclusion of the basis of their religious life—the Orishás. Thus, although the
Feast of Good Death clearly is a real Catholic celebration that represents more than just a
veneer of Catholicism, to say that it is purely Catholic ignores the meaning of much of the sisters'
symbolic behavior, and oversimplifies what is actually a complex cultural statement.
For the Friday procession the sisters wear the same elaborate lacey, long full skirts and blouses
that they wear to participate in Candomblé ceremonies. They also emphasize that the meal they
serve to the community is "white food," which, in terms of absolute color—fish, lettuce and
tomato salad, red berry wine—some of it is not. When asked why they wear white and serve
"white food," the sisters reply, "Because it is Friday." Friday is the day of Oshalá, who
represents peace and wisdom and whose color is white. "White food" in the Candomblé context
is food prepared without the red palm oil used in much Candomblé cookery. After Candomblé
ceremonies the favorite foods of the feted Orishá are served to everyone in attendance, which is
probably the model for the public feasting that characterizes the Feast of Good Death, as
opposed to other Catholic saints' days on which there is no feasting. On Fridays, however, no
food is prepared with palm oil because of Oshalá. This symbolism of the white clothes and food
on Friday suggests that the ostensibly Catholic pageantry may also contain other symbolic
behaviors that are more related to the Candomblé than to Catholicism.
For the Saturday and Sunday processions the women dress in the characteristic uniform of the
Sisterhood, consisting of a long black pleated skirt, white blouse and head tie, and black stole
lined with red satin and worn over one shoulder. Whereas on Saturday the stole is worn with
the black side out to express mourning for Our Lady of Good Death, on Sunday it is worn with
the red side out to express the joy of her assumption into heaven as Our Lady of Glory. On
Sunday the sisters add many chain-link necklaces and bracelets to make their outfits more
festive, and perhaps also to symbolize the chains of bondage from which their enslaved
ancestresses gained their freedom.
The beauty of the garment is one reason for which members of the Sisterhood say they like
belonging to it, some adding that the uniforms are also a source of spiritual protection. Sisters
have traditionally been buried in them. The Candomblé again provides the explanation for the
meaning of the otherwise not obvious red, black, and white colors of the Sisterhood's uniform,
which hardly represent Catholic mourning colors. They are rather the colors associated with the
Orishá Omolú, who can both bring and protect from death, a logical association for the Feast of
Good Death. Omolú's day of the week is Monday, one of the days of the feast, and on this
same Monday a major celebration is held for Omolú in Salvador, the state capital, that also
Most obviously unrelated to Catholicism are what are said by knowledgeable natives of
Cachoeira to be the totally private final acts of the complex pageantry. On Tuesday night after4
the final ring samba and meal, the sisters celebrate the culmination of their devotion. Entering
their other religious reality, they hold a Candomblé ceremony, only for themselves, to honor
their Orishás. Then the flowers that served as decor for the celebration for the saint as well as
any leftover food are deposited in a nearby river, which is exactly the way Candomblé
ceremonies for water Orishás such as Yemanjá end.
That these Candomblé symbols and meanings are integral to the Feast of Good Death does not
imply that the goal of the Sisterhood is not to honor the saint. When asked if there were a
relationship between the two religious systems, the president of the Sisterhood said that the
Sisterhood was one thing and the Candomblé another, then, apparently with no sense of cultural
dissonance, ended the conversation with "May Omolú bless you." In addition to her leading role
in the Sisterhood, she is an important Candomblé priestess. In fact, almost all of the sisters are
initiates and even priestesses of the Candomblé. Thus, although their sincere intent may be to
perform a Catholic ritual for their "little saint," as they affectionately call her, the spiritual
foundation of the lives of the sisters is the Candomblé, not Catholicism. Hence the basic
understandings, meanings, and symbols with which they have infused their Catholic behavior are
based on the Candomblé.
Brazil Building of the Sisterhood of Boa Morte (remaining group of slaves, first yard
of Church,Brazil is a Candomblé country)
Brazil Building of the Sisterhood of Boa Morte (remaining group of slaves, first yard
of Church,Brazil is a Candomblé country)
The statues of Our Lady of Good Death and Our Lady of Glory are both dressed in a light blue
cape over a white dress. These colors suggest an obvious relationship with Yemanjá, the Orishá
of the seas, whose day is Saturday, and whose colors are light blue and white, the colors of the
ocean. It is noteworthy that the three Orishás—Oshalá, Omolú and Yemanjá— whose color
symbols stand out in the Feast of Good Death are among the most important in the AfroBrazilian pantheon. Oshalá is the father of the other Orishás as well as of people, and in some
versions of the mythology Yemanjá is the mother of the other Orishás. They, thus, represent the
very fundamental principles of fatherhood and motherhood, hence procreation and the continuity
of life, and Omolú represents the triumph of life over death.
The Afro-Brazilian Sisterhoods and Brotherhoods
The Sisterhood of Good Death began in the Church of Barroquinha in Salvador in 1821, and
existed in the major towns in the area but died out everywhere except Cachoeira. The first
Candomblé temple openly institutionalized in Salvador was also created by women from the
Church of Barroquinha. The Casa Branca was officially instituted in 1850, and the other two
most traditional Candomblés in Salvador, Axé Opô Afonjá and Gantois, grew out of it. The
women who created these Candomblés and their successors have also been members of the
Sisterhood of Good Death.
The Sisterhood of Good Death was one of the numerous sisterhoods and brotherhoods of
African slaves and freedmen and women created within the Catholic Church in the l8th and l9th
centuries. The priests' major motive for creating such organizations was, not surprisingly, to
Catholicize the Africans and make them give up their own spiritual beliefs and practices. The
African and Afro-Brazilian sisterhoods and brotherhoods functioned as mutual aid and
benevolent societies in addition to the at least stated intention of promoting Catholicism. An5
estimated 85% of freed Black men and 83% of freed Black women were members of these
groups during the years 1790-1826 in Bahia. Their numbers decreased in the second half of the
nineteenthcentury as government agencies gradually took over the social security functions they
One of the major churches in Salvador, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos
(Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Black People), was built by members of the Irmandade
de Nossa Senhora do Rosário (Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary), which was created
in Bahia in the seventeenth century. In l704 the archbishop gave the African Brotherhood
permission to build a temple, which they finished in 1710, supplying their own materials and
working on it after finishing their regular jobs. Our Lady of the Rosary was honored annually by
the Brotherhood with a mass and an opulent procession on the second of October until l917.
Inside the church, in addition to a statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, there are also statues of
two Black saints—St. Anthony of Catigerona, an African, and St. Benedict the Moor.
The sisterhoods and brotherhoods were originally based on the African geographic and ethnic
origins of the members. The first Irmandades de Nossa Senhora do Rosário were constituted of
men from the Angola area and their descendants, and the Irmandade do Senhor da Redenção
na Bahia (Brotherhood of Our Lord of the Redemption in Bahia) were men of Gege or Ewe
origin from the current Benin-Togo area of West Africa. The exclusive memberships of these
initial brotherhoods led to the creation of others grouping men of other African ethnic groups
and then of mulattos, and they all eventually began to admit any Afro-Brazilian man as the
organized along the same ethnically particularistic lines. The Sisterhood of Good Death, like
Salvador's first Candomblé, was constituted of Gege women—the same Gege women!
The sisterhoods and brotherhoods have been characterized by a Brazilian scholar as, "the
fulcrum of one of the most important positions of resistance and defense of Blacks against
slavery in Brazil."(3) European white travelers in Bahia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
were impressed by the zeal and enthusiasm of the Afro-Brazilians' "external manifestations of the
Catholic religion," but few were aware of the African cultural legacy that remained under the
external appearance of religious orthodoxy. The evidence available, mainly in the form of the
oral tradition, points to the importance of these institutions as repositories of the African cultural
heritage.(4) In a study of the Brotherhoods of Our Lady of the Rosary as a counteracculturative reaction, Veríssimo de Melo makes the point that such an analytical perspective
provides the only way to understand "the interest of the Blacks in a religion, the Catholic
religion—totally foreign to their primitive [meaning, I would like to think, original] beliefs."(5)
Eighteenth- and nineteenthth-century commentators on these Afro-Catholic institutions reported
with some dismay seeing processions for Our Lady of the Rosary accompanied by the music of
drums and clarinets as well as fire works, and one observer was scandalized to see a statue of
the Virgin "painted black."(6) De Melo concludes that:
… in spite of its apparent Catholic significance, Our Lady of the Rosary was for Blacks
a transposition of the idol of their primitive religion—perhaps Yemanjá… Being unable6
to worship their gods publicly—because the slave masters did not permit the fetishist(7)
cult—the slaves affiliated with the Catholic brotherhoods, where they could, tranquilly,
through the process that would be known later as syncretism, worship their African
idols in the form of the Roman Catholic saints. Only through the phenomenon of
syncretism is it possible to understand the devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary and
other saints by the Black slaves.(8)
In addition to providing a context for the religious syncretism that allowed the Africans and
Afro-Brazilians to maintain their religious beliefs in disguised form, the sisterhoods and
brotherhoods had the important secular function of serving as credit unions through which the
slaves saved to buy their freedom in the form of cartas de alforría, "free papers". In Bahia
some of the enslaved negros de ganho were allowed to work for themselves, paying a certain
part of their income to their masters and using the rest for their own purposes. This primary role
as "liberation banks" was a major preoccupation of the sisterhoods and brotherhoods prior to
emancipation in 1888.
In an article on the Sociedade Protetora dos Desvalidos (Society for the Protection of the
Needy), Salvador's oldest existing autonomous Afro-Brazilian institution, Julio Santana Braga
emphasized the Society's central historic role as a credit union, membership in which was limited
to African and Afro-Brazilian men who could give proof of having a legitimate income. The
Society, which still owns a building in the Terreiro de Jesus in Salvador, and which recently
celebrated its 150th anniversary, was founded in 1832 by a free African, Manoel Victor Serra,
under the name of Irmandade de Nossa Senhora da Soledade Amparo dos Desvalidos
(Brotherhood of Our Lady of Solitude Shelter of the Needy). Inspired by the Brotherhood of
Our Lady of the Rosary, the Society had as its goals, in addition to the spiritual (Catholic)
instruction and uplifting of its members and the providing of help to the needy, the acquisition of
emancipation for all of its members. Like the other brotherhoods, it promised its still enslaved
members "free papers", "with which you will enjoy not only eternal freedom in the second
transmigration into the next life, but that will also free you in this one from the worst
Thus, the brotherhoods and sisterhoods were organizational structures within which Africans
and later Afro-Brazilians could organize under the aegis of the Catholic Church to oppose the
system of slavery, and in which free Blacks could collaborate with their still enslaved brothers
and sisters to increase the ranks of the free. The founders of the Society for the Protection of
the Needy were very preoccupied with the question of to whom to entrust their funds, not
wanting to entrust them to the priest of the church in which it was founded without numerous
precautions because the goals for which the African and Afro-Brazilian men intended to use the
money did not conform to the intentions of the church. Such disguised emancipation funds were
a prelude to the emancipation credit unions that sprang up beginning in 1834 in the context of
the abolitionist movement, in which members specifically pooled their money in the kind of
rotating credit system found in much of Africa and the Caribbean in order to buy free papers,
Further evidence of the other-than-religious intentions of the Society was that it was not until
three months after its founding that the members began to discuss what their religious obligations
would be. The decision was that they would celebrate an annual mass for Our Lady of Solitude
on November 16, a somewhat minimal requirement for a truly religious organization. The
religious goals of the Society, whether primordial in the intentions of the brothers or not, but
without which the group could not have been created, were used when it wanted to obtain
benefits for its members from the Catholic Church. The fact that the Society began as a Catholic
brotherhood did not, however, mean that only professed Catholics were accepted for full
membership. Proclaimed Muslims such as Manoel Nascimento, better known by his Islamic
name of Gibirilu, were also members, which suggests that Catholic purity was hardly a key issue
for the members. The fundamental requirement for membership in the Society was and still is to
be a Black man.(11)
Another major function of the brotherhoods and sisterhoods was to assure their members a
"good death"—a decent burial, like the African American burial societies in the United States.
Members stipulated the conditions in which they wanted to be buried, often dressed in the
uniform of the organization, which was probably their finest article of clothing. Church funerals
were held for members with all appropriate pomp and circumstance, such that the funerals of
poor Blacks on their final day of glory often rivaled those of rich whites.(12) A prominent
woman in Cachoeira recently said that she will join the Sisterhood of Good Death when she is
older so that she can have a church funeral and be buried in the opulent costume, thus assuring
herself a good death.
Such is the context in which the Sisterhood of Good Death began, its major concerns being, like
the other Afro-Catholic sisterhoods and brotherhoods, to help its members and to gain freedom
for those who were still enslaved. The founders of the Sisterhood made a vow to Our Lady of
Good Death that if she would free them from slavery, they would hold a procession and feast in
her honor every year. They interpreted their ability to save and buy their freedom as evidence of
the Virgin's intercession, and the current sisters' procession continues to fulfill the vow of their
ancestresses. That their vow was to Our Lady of Good Death/Our Lady of Glory suggests that
their own transition from slavery to freedom was like a resurrection from the death of their life as
slaves to a new heavenly life as free women. The yearly ceremonial may, thus, be viewed as an
emancipation celebration—the oldest continuous celebration of emancipation from slavery in the
Americas, performed by the oldest continuing African American women's organization in the
The Candomblé and the Sisterhood of Good Death
The Candomblé and the Sisterhood of Good Death represent two different techniques used by
the enslaved Africans to institutionalize and successfully maintain the reality and integrity of the
African spirituality that continues to be the basis of Afro-Brazilian life, in spite of Euro-Brazilian
efforts to eradicate this religious system and replace it with another one based on fundamentally
different conceptual and behavioral foundations, and serving antagonistic social and cultural
ends. The Sisterhood and Feast of Good Death represent the expression of African religious8
forms within the very institution whose explicit mission has been to eliminate them. They
represent the infiltration of the Orishás into the Catholic Church. The Afro-Catholic sisterhoods
and brotherhoods used what was to be an alienating institution as a cloak of protection within
which to express meanings essential to themselves and antithetical to the intentions of the
unwittingly complicitous host institution.
The Candomblé, in contrast, represents another style of Afro-Brazilian insistence on preserving
their religious integrity—outside of the institutions of Euro-Brazilian society. During slavery and
after, to the extent possible the Afro-Brazilians held their Candomblé ceremonies in rural areas
distant from their white oppressors. When this was impossible, they devised ways, by equating
the Orishás and the saints, to worship their prohibited African spiritual beings in full view of the
slave masters, with the approval of those committed to extirpating the African religious heritage.
The Feast of St. Lazarus, celebrated annually in mid-August in Salvador, offers an interesting
example of a kind of overt fusion of both forms. While a Catholic mass is being celebrated
within the Church of St. Lazarus, Candomblé members carrying statues of the saint go into a
trance and "manifest" and dance for Omolú in front of the church. The spatial locus of these two
forms of worship inside and outside of the church, in addition to being enforced by the Catholic
hierarchy, is symbolically appropriate and reflects the different styles used by Afro-Brazilians to
maintain their spiritual life and adapt it to the exigencies of a new and oppressive social
Whereas the sisterhoods and brotherhoods took the Orishás into the Catholic Church, hiding
them in the vestments of the saints, the Candomblé took the saints out of the church with which
to camouflage the Orishás. Whereas the sisterhoods and brotherhoods adopted and adapted
Catholic rituals in order to honor the Orishás in the form of the saints, the Candomblé adapted
its own rituals to honor the saints in order to honor the Orishás they represented.
The most extreme form of Afro-Brazilian resistance to cultural oppression, to oppression in
general, was the creation of quilombos, the independent communities set up in remote places
by people who physically escaped from the slave system rather than creating a way to preserve
their cultural space within it. Candomblés have been characterized as "internal quilombos," as
islands of African cultural self-preservation within Brazilian society
Every Day is Day Baianas, Boy!
Every Day is Day Baianas, Boy!
It is important to acknowledge that the nature of the saints and the Orishás, and hence of the
Afro-Brazilians' perceptions of them, is very different. The saints are abstract, and are known to
the Afro-Brazilians only in the form of pictures and plaster statues. The Orishás, in contrast,
descend to earth to the call of ceremonial drum rhythms to enter the bodies of their devotees,
who actually "become" the spiritual beings who have come to dance in the midst of their human
community. The Orishás have personalities and likes and dislikes, and they influence the daily
lives of their devotees. People's characters and fate are determined by the Orishás, who are
their spiritual guides and guardians, not by the saints.
It is significant that the two styles of religious self-affirmation represented by the Sisterhood of
Good Death and the Candomblé are not mutually exclusive options for Afro-Brazilians, but that,9
on the contrary, the same individuals founded, and their descendants still participate in, and are
leaders of, both systems. When the influential priestess of the Candomblé, Axé Opô Afonjá,
died in l967, a funeral ceremony was held, as it had been for her predecessor in l938, in the
Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Black People. But a Catholic funeral is not sufficient for a
Candomblé initiate, and a special Candomblé ceremony for the dead, an axexéi, was also held
The Sisterhood of Good Death preceded the official establishing of the Casa Branca
Candomblé as an Afro-Brazilian institution growing out of the Church of Barroquinha. The
Candomblé temple that eventually became overtly officialized as the Casa Branca, however,
existed before the entry of its members into the Catholic Church. According to one account,
there are people who attest that the Casa Branca is really more than 350 years old, dating from
the beginnings of slavery in Brazil. They say that its original location was in a subterranean spot
entered through a hole in a tree.(13) Although the specifics of this version of the original location
are clearly apocryphal, it is undeniable that forms of African religious worship began as soon as
the Africans reached Brazil, and not only preceded, but also precipitated the creation of the
In Cachoeira people say that the Sisterhood of Good Death grew out of a Candomblé whose
members were forced into the Catholic Church by a priest who was anxious to end their
autonomous religious life, and there is every reason to believe that its origins in Salvador were
the same. The original locus of the religious grouping that became known as the Casa Branca
was probably underground in the figurative rather than literal sense in that it was secluded in a
remote area because of persecution by slave owners, and also because such a location was
totally appropriate for a religion based on the forces of nature.
The church's drawing of Candomblé members into itself did not, however, kill the Candomblé,
as was the intent. The Candomblé went into the church in the form of the sisterhoods and
brotherhoods, going underground in a sense, and it came out again in the form of overt,
autonomous institutions. As a result of belonging to the Sisterhood of Good Death, the original
sisters were able to secure their freedom, for which they remained grateful to Our Lady of
Good Death/Our Lady of Glory. They also, while remaining members of the Catholic
Sisterhood, firmly institutionalized their own autonomous spiritual foundation outside of the
church. The Afro-Catholic sisterhoods and brotherhoods have almost gone out of existence,
whereas the Candomblé continues to flourish and proliferate. The Catholic Church used the
sisterhoods and brotherhoods to wage war on the Orishás—and the Orishás won the holy war. (http://dickinsg.intrasun.tcnj.edu/boamorte/Article.pdf)
Bota bother about it. Retei me and opened the doors was a disaster this stormy intercourse of colors.
dawn a lazy lost the fear of colors.