Devotees of traditional Afro-Brazilian religions are preparing for intensification in the already high rate of suppression and violent assaults against them as evangelical Christians have become growingly strengthened after being entrusted with helping President Jair Bolsonaro’s election last fall.
In a nation that is strongly Christian, less than 1% of Brazilians, or about half a million people, practice Umbanda and Candomblé, the nation’s primary religions of African origin. This tiny minority, however, records maximum cases of religious intolerance. In the first six months of 2018, out of 116 reports of discrimination received through a special government telephone line, 72 had Candomblecists and Umbandists as victims.
Onslaughts can comprise of assaults or vandalism at places of worship, known as terreiros, verbal abuse or even physical violence. Candomblecists and Umbandists are often identifiable by their traditional garb or embellishment worn on their clothes. Their worship music, which is usually rich in thumping, makes their ceremonies easily distinguishable.
In an onslaught in the city of Salvador in January, Rychelmy Imbiriba, a Candomblé babalorisha, or priest, was pistol-whipped in his terreiro in what may have begun as a robbery. Six young people attacked Imbiriba while shouting that they were Satan worshippers and that macumbeiros (a derogatory term for Candomblecists and Umbandists) needs to die.
According to Ivanir dos Santos, a scholar and Candomblé leader, believers in Afro-Brazilian religions have been facing discrimination since colonial times. Under Bolsonaro, the climate for Afro-Brazilian adherents is going to get worse. Last year, during his campaign, Bolsonaro unapologetically disregard the concerns of indigenous and Afro-Brazilian communities, announcing that there is no such thing as this secular state. The state is Christian and the minority would need to change if they can.