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Afro-Brazilian Religious Jewerly

A subject of analysis for analysts and researchers, the afro-Brazilian adornments and jewelry were already described and painted by foreign travelers and artists since the colonial times.

Afro-Brazilian Religious Jewerly

Last update: 11/10/2013

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

...] The jewelry used by the African women of Bahia are very beautiful and very original. That refers to both the free ones and the ones that are still slaves serving the great families, concerned about the affirmation of their opulence, even in the richness of ornaments used by their house slaves. [...] (VERGER, 1981, p. 222)

A subject of analysis for analysts and researchers, the afro-Brazilian adornments and jewelry were already described and painted by foreign travelers and artists since the colonial times.

Gilberto Freyre, in his book Nordeste, describes their variety in detail:

[...] Necklaces and big beads under the lace of the corselet; in the higher part of the left arm, a big gold bracelet; in her wrists, gold bead and shell bracelets from the Coast of Africa; in her ears, gold earrings or coral pendants. They are followed by balangandãs, a type of silver hoop hung on a chain made of the same metal, that reaches the middle of the back. Several amulets are stuck to it... [...] (FREYRE quoted by VERGER, 1981, p.222).

Jewelry made of gold and silver, in Brazilian colonial times, meant power, both for the slave-owner and the free female slaves, that kept the habit of embellishing themselves with exuberance, indifferent to the contempt of white women, leaving for future generations the inheritance of precious objects about the history of the country, kept today in some of its museums.

In the afro-Brazilian religions, the main role of women is representing orishas through a ritual dance, when deities are represented by colors, materials, gestures, body posture and objects, that work as markets for recognizing the orisha. Among these objects are fios-de-conta (bead necklaces), quelês, earrings, bracelets and anklets.

The fios-de-conta (also called ilequês), as their name in Portuguese says itself, are beads put into wires. Conventionally made from raffia palm, they were replaced later by cotton  strings and, more recently, by nylon. In Umbanda, they are known as guias and in Mina, in Maranhã, specially the worship places in São Luís, as rosários. The beads, depending on the colors, identify gods, as well as the way they are worn associate the person wearing them to the deities in terms of mythical affiliation or devotion bonds. Certain types of necklaces also indicate functions or social positions of their bearer.

According to Raul Lody (2001, p. 59) “the fio-de-contas is a social and religious emblem that marks an ethical and cultural commitment between the man and the saint. It is an object for everyday, public use, positioning the individual in the worship place society” [...]

The most used materials are dough, glasses, ceramics and, more recently, plastic. There is also a combination of special beads with small coral tubes, as well as weaved threads made of raffia palm or buriti,  with beads and shells known as xubetas and mocãs. Besides the beads from different material, several objects compose the fios-de-contas, determining social and religious functions: figs made of wood, coral, bones, plastic, ivory, gold, silver, nickel silver; oxê, a double-edge axe, made of golden brass, silver, nickel silver, silver metal and gold; silver coins; mojos made of leather or fabric, silver, nickel silver And silver metal pestle hand; ofás (bow and arrows) made of gold, silver, brass and silver or golden metal; small medals with images of Catholic saint such as Saint George, Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian; horsehair and human hair, clusters made of gold, silver, nickel silver, golden brass and copper; animal teeth (collared peccary, jaguar) and rooster spurs, usually covered in silver, nickel silver and golden; shells covered in silver and nickel silver; Holy Spirit doves made of silver, nickel silver and silver metal; swords, knives and saddlebags made of copper, silver, gold, silver and golden metal; beetle horn covered in gold.

There are also special fios-de-conta, made of several beads and materials, some imported from Africa, which brings them closer and legitimates the principles of ancestrality. They are considered special due to criteria regarding their rarity, aesthetics, monetary value and for being considered jewelry by the worshippers.

After their owner dies, the fios-de-conta may be placed in mortuary offers or have their most valuable beads distributed between people of the community. Those beads will be part of new fios-de-conta or incorporated to one that’s already finished, or even be used in earrings. Whatever the use, there has to be a new blessing, to purify the relationship of the original bearer.
The quelês are fios-de-conta organized in the shape of a choker. They mark the “periods of religious initiation or obligations that imply passages in social power of candomblé.” (LODY, 2001, p. 37).

The earrings are made with different beads, national or imported, of different colors, materials and shapes: cylinder corals, covered in gold, silver, nickel silver and copper; bicolor, streaked and printed beads, usually made of glass, dough, porcelain and plastic; pitanga and pitanguinha, earring in a shape similar to the fruit, with a coral (or colored dough that resemble coral) in the center and with silver, silver, nickel silver and gold edges. There are, even though rare, earring made of agate and amber; shells covered in gold, silver and nickel silver; hoops (small, medium and large) and lunas made of gold and silver.

The bracelets and anklet, used on an everyday basis, are hoops made of golden brass, copper, iron, aluminum, led, silver, bronze, corals, leather, weaved raffia palm, with details in shells and beads. Hoops made of copper, bronze, iron and weaved raffia palm with rattles made of brass or other silver or golden material are also used as anklets.

There is a specialized workmanship for manufacturing those objects. They are the ferramenteiros or ferramenteiros de santo, the creators of afro-Brazilian jewelry, responsible for the pieces used in public and private ceremonies of afro-Brazilian worships all over the country.

Recife, June 27, 2013.

sources consulted

BELLANI, Angélica. Joias inspiradas na cultura afro-brasileira Navio Negreiro. 2005. 70 f. Trabalho de Conclusão de Curso (Graduação em Design) – Curso de Design, Universidade Tuiuti do Paraná, Curitiba, 2005.

JOALHERIA afro-brasileira. Available at: <>. Accessed: 19 jun. 2013.

LODY, Raul. Jóias de Axé: fios-de-contas e outros adornos do corpo: a joalheria afro-brasileira. Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand Brasil, 2001.

SAVI, Mônica Mariani. Joalheria de rituais afro-brasileiros: visão etnológica, função e relações religiosas, Florianópolis – SC. 2009. Trabalho de Conclusão de Curso (Graduação em Artes Plásticas )- Curso de Artes, Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, 2009.  Available at: <>. Accessed: 21 jun. 2013.

VERGER, Pierre. Noticias da Bahia – 1850. Salvador: Corrupio, 1981.

how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Joalheria religiosa afro-brasileira. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: day month year. Ex: 6 August. 2009.