Candomblé, the result of exchanges and adaptations between different religions from different African nations brought to Brazil under the slave regime, is an Afro-Brazilian cult born of the historical and social conformations of our country. The terreiros (yards), besides being sacred, are places of cultural resistance, memory preservation and of transmission of ancestral knowledge.
In the last decades of the twentieth century, in the midst of real estate speculation and constant threats of invasion of their territories, the Candomblé terreiros sought to guarantee their permanence and continuity through state protection. In this context, Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá was the second Afro-Brazilian cult temple to be recognized as a national heritage, or in other words of great importance to the history and memory of Brazil. The instrument used in this act of recognition, listing, not only ensures their continuation in the place where they have been established for decades, but also decrees that buildings cannot be demolished, attributes symbolic value and includes the terreiro on the list of what is considered heritage and must be preserved for future generations. Furthermore, it allows interventions to ensure its integrity using public resources. In the case of terreiros, preservation exceeds materiality, because it allows rituals and celebrations to be performed and perpetuated.
From a split with Terreiro da Casa Branca, Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá was founded in 1910 by Eugenia Anna dos Santos, known as Mother Aninha, who purchased a farm in São Gonçalo do Retiro, in the city of Salvador/BA, where the terreiro has been to the present day. To continue the work of Axé and represent it civically, in 1936 the Sociedade Civil da Cruz Santa (Holy Cross Civil Society) was created, whose president was once the artist Carybé. After the death of Mother Aninha in 1938, the Terreiro was led by Mother Senhora, then by Mother Ondina, and since 1976 it has been run by Mother Stella de Oxóssi.
Dedicated to Xangô, the Candomblé de São Gonçalo, as it is also known, follows the Ketu rite of the Nago nation, descended from the Yoruba people, coming from the region where Nigeria, Benin and Togo are today. It occupies an area of 39,000m2, of which about two-thirds is preserved dense vegetation, considered the only green space in the area. The importance of the forest, or “mata” to the existence of the terreiro and worship lies in the fact that nature is understood as the place where the sacred manifests. From there the essential plants are extracted for the rituals. The rest of the land is occupied following the characteristic ordering of Jejê-Nago terreiros with residential buildings – temporary and permanent homes – and religious buildings – including the barracão (shed), the main temple, the House of Xangô, individual temples to certain deities and the fountain of Oxum.
Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá is notable for housing the Eugênia Anna dos Santos School, municipalised in 1998, where Yoruba and History of Africa is taught (in accordance with Law 10,639/2003); the Ilê Ohum Ilailai Museum, founded in 1981; and the Ikojppo Ilê Iwe Axé Opô Afonjá Library, founded in 1996. Thus, besides the religious environment itself, it houses other educational spaces, preserving and disseminating the memory of the community and the history of Africans in Brazil.
The activities of the terreiro are divided into public and private moments. According to Mother Stella de Oxóssi, cited by Santos (1995, p.93)
the objective of Candomblé is to worship the Orixás, not only in nature and in their temples, but also in the coming of the Orixá to Earth, manifested in their children – the saint children – who undergo a very complex seven-year period of initiation. Periodically, the Candomblé terreiros hold large public festivals in honour of one or more honoured Orixás, being days of much joy, dedication and above all, respect for all the house’s children.
The public festivals have ritual dances, which strictly follow a grand tradition and in which only initiated people can participate. It is common to distribute the food offered to the honoured Orixá. Public festivals include, among others, one dedicated to Oxóssi, the great deity, king of hunters and the Ketu nation, held on the same day as Corpus Christi; another for Xangô, on 29 June, with the feast starting on the evening of the 28th; and cycles dedicated to certain orixás, such as Oxalá, the father of all deities. (SANTOS, 1988).
Recognized for its historical, ethnographic, cultural and social value, Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá contributes to the perpetuation of Afro-Brazilian culture, and alongside the terreiros of the Casa Branca and Gantois, forms the headquarter houses of Nago-tradition Candomblé.
Recife, 24 April 2014.
Translated by Peter Leamy, April 2015.
IPHAN. Processo de Tombamento n. 1.432–T–98. Terreiro de Candomblé do Axé Opô Afonjá/ Município de Salvador - Estado da Bahia. Salvador, 1998.
SANTOS, Deoscóredes Maximiliano dos (Mestre Didi). História de um Terreiro Nagô. 2. ed. São Paulo: Max Limonad, 1988.
SANTOS, Maria Stella de Azevedo. Meu tempo é agora. 2. ed. Curitiba: Projeto CENTRHU, 1995.
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Source: MORIM, Júlia. Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <https://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/en/>. Accessed: day month year. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.