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Afro-Brazilian cults: ritual feeding

Afro-Brazilian cults are beliefs brought by enslaved people from various ethnic groups

Afro-Brazilian cults: ritual feeding

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 22/03/2023

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation - Specialist in Scientific Documentation

The saints satisfy their hunger for oil, honey, and flour, from the flesh of sacrifices and blood, life sap, revitalizing element of Ase’s action. (LODY, 1979, p. 19).

Afro-Brazilian cults are beliefs brought by enslaved people from various ethnic groups—mainly from the west coast of Africa—that were mixed or acculturated with Indigenous elements and divinities and with Catholicism, brought by the Portuguese colonizers.

This new form of popular religiosity has received several denominations, whose variety of rites vary according to the African tradition from which they come, and, above all, because of its formation in a specific region of the country. The best known are: Candomblé, in Bahia and other states; Xangô, in Pernambuco, Alagoas, and Sergipe; Umbanda, in Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, and other states; Tambor de Mina, Tambor de Nagô, and Canjerê, in Maranhão; Cabula, in Espírito Santo; and Batuque or Pará, in Rio Grande do Sul, where it is also called Nação.

For Afro-Brazilian cults, sacred diet is a determining factor for the union and the preservation of the gods’ actions. The cult ensures its survival through the common diet between the deities and their followers.

At the table of the Afro-Brazilian gods, the Orishas, the Voduns (Orishas from the Jêje culture), and the Inkices (Orishas from the Bantu culture) eat.

Ajeum, from Yoruba origin, is a term that refers to meals, and can be more literally translated as “banquet.” Such term means the act of eating and giving food to the deities in Afro-Brazilian cult centers. Ajeum, with its large tables served with common food and food for Orishas, is an important socio-religious moment in the public festivities in Candomblé centers. Every Afro-Brazilian cult ceremony, public or private, serve food.

The sacred diet of the Orishas is very diverse, composed by meat, fish, flour, honey, oils, and other ingredients that, according to the precepts of the cults, will result in food that the “santo” (saint) desires and likes. Regional culture influences a lot in the way of preparing food for the Orishas, in the terreiros (Afro-Brazilian shrines) of Xangô, in Candomblé, and other forms.

In Bahia, we notice an expressive votive cuisine with a very diversified menu and the presence of African influences in the names of the dishes, condiments, and products used.

In São Luís, in the state of Maranhão, corn aluás (fermented corn juice) are prepared with bread and vinegar and served in large bowls to the taste of the Voduns, as are pumpkins, boiled corn, and small acarajés, different from those in Bahia.

In the terreiros of Xangô, in Pernambuco, Alagoas, and Sergipe, there is a great use of herbs and broad beans, also used in the catimbós.

The iabassês, that is, the cooks in the terreiros, are women who dedicate themselves with religious vows to the preparation of ritual food. They know the secrets and what it takes to please, appease, invoke, or worship the African gods. They must act in the kitchen as in a sanctuary. The food that is not part of the ritual must be prepared elsewhere. By tradition, men should not frequent the sacred kitchen.

The preparation of food for the deities is traditionally slow cooking, sometimes taking whole nights. Moreover, depending on the dish, magic words and the day of the week must be considered. 

According to the anthropologist Raul Lody (1979, p. 32), several taboos and injunctions on the feeding of gods and people exist:

Iansã initiates cannot eat crab or pumpkin. People who have Oxum as their main Orisha must not eat fish without scales, especially sharks. Initiates of Omolu cannot eat crab. Xangô followers, for the most part, do not eat mutton and crab. Initiates of the Nação Gege Mahino are forbidden to eat pork, which is also not on any of the sacred menus of this culture.

A close relation exists between animals and the African gods. Their blood feeds them and reinforces their powers. Therefore, the animals chosen to be sacrificed and served as sacred food have a deep identification with the deity to whom the food will be offered. Each deity has a series of votive animals, which, besides being in perfect health conditions, are chosen by race, color, and sex (LODY, 1979, p. 62-63):

EXU – black goat and black rooster.

OGUM – goat of various colors, red and other colors rooster, conquém (guinea fowl, “tô-fraco”).

OXOSSI – ox, goat of various colors, rooster, and any type of hunting.

OXUM – yellow female goat, chicken, duck, conquém, light-colored doves.

LOGUM-EDÉ – the same animals for Oxossi and Oxum.

IANSÃ – brown female goat, Maltese pigeon, conquém, birds of reddish colors.

EWÁ – white goat, chicken, duck, and conquém.

OBÁ - female goat, chicken, duck, conquém, Austro-South American side-neck turtles.

XANGÔ – Austro-South American side-neck turtles, rooster, ram, goat, brown conquém.

NANÃ – female goat, chicken, and conquém, all in light colors.

OXUMARÉ – goat, rooster, brownish conquém.

OMOLU- galo porco, goat, conquém, dark or spotted colors.

IEMANJÁ – ram, duck, chicken, white or light colors female goat.

OXALÁ (as Oxalufam e Oxaguiam) – female goat, chicken, pigeon, all in white color.

IROKO – rooster, ram, goat, spotted or light-colored conquém.

OSSÃE – goat, chicken, rooster of various colors.

BAINE ou BAIANIM – conquém.

IBEJI - chicken of various colors.

Afro-Brazilian ritual gastronomy is full of details and symbolism. Many dishes are prepared with specific precepts and rigors for the menu of the Orishas, Voduns, and Inkices in the various terreiros of Afro-Brazilian cults, as well as for the frequenters of the terreiros. Below are some of these foods:

ABADÔ – also known as axoxô or axoxó – a species of flour prepared with red corn (Rio de Janeiro).

ABARÁ – pasta prepared with black beans, cooked in bain-marie, wrapped with banana leaf and a dried shrimp (Bahia).

AGRALÁ – farofa of fine flour with salt and palm oil (Rio de Janeiro).

AJABÔ - okras broken in small slices, seasoned with bee honey (Rio de Janeiro).

AMIÓ – a kind of porridge, with corn flour, chicken broth, and dried ground shrimps (Maranhão).

BADOFE – made with ox head seasoned with salt and garlic, cooked with palm oil, shrimp, onion, ginger, and other condiments. The dish is served with angu or acaçá (Bahia).

BEINHAN – boiled and slightly mashed yam root without any seasoning.

CANJERÊ – food prepared with dried shrimp, nuts, and peanuts (Pernambuco).

EBÓ - prepared with white corn, which after soaking in water is piled and cooked. There are several types of ebó (Bahia and Rio de Janeiro).

FAROFA DE DENDÊ  cassava flour, palm oil, and salt. It can also be prepared with onion, fried shrimps, or in spicy pasta (Bahia and Rio de Janeiro).

IXÉ – offal and other organs of the animals sacrificed in the slaughter rituals (Bahia and Rio de Janeiro).

OMALÁ – prepared with thinly sliced okra, seasoned with onion, dried shrimp, and palm oil and herbs, such as malanga, mustard, slender amaranth, pariparoba, and others (Bahia and Rio de Janeiro).

QUIBOLO – made from chopped okra, seasoned with palm oil, salt, and grated onion. After cooking, a porridge of rice flour and meat from sacrificed animals is mixed in (Alagoas).

QUITINDIM DE ODÉ- raw peanuts, honey, and chopped coconut mixed without cooking (Alagoas).




Recife, March 21, 2013.


sources consulted

LODY, Raul. Alimentação ritual. Ciência & Trópico, Recife, v. 5, n. 1, p. 37-47, jan./jun. 1977. 

LODY, Raul. Santo também come: estudo sócio-cultural da alimentação cerimonial em terreiros afro-brasileiros. Rio de Janeiro: Artenova;Recife: IJNPS, 1979.



how to quote this text

GASPAR, Lúcia. Cultos afro-brasileiros: alimentação ritual. In: Pesquisa Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2013. Available at: Access on: month day year. (Ex.: Aug. 6, 2020.)