Quimbanda Religion: History and Beliefs

Altar to Exu and Pomba Gira

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One of the African diasporic religious belief systems, Quimbanda is found primarily in Brazil, and originated during the period of the transatlantic slave trade. Although structurally similar to Umbanda, Quimbanda is a unique and different set of beliefs and practices, separate from other African traditional religions.

Key Takeaways: Quimbanda Religion

  • Quimbanda is one of several religious systems that is part of the African diaspora.
  • Practitioners of Quimbanda perform rituals called trabalhos, which can be used to ask the spirits for assistance with love, justice, business, and vengeance.
  • Unlike Umbanda and some of the other Afro-Brazilian religions, Quimbanda does not invoke any of the Catholic saints; instead, practitioners call upon the spirits of Exus, Pomba Giras, and Ogum.

History and Origins

Exú - Pomba Gira
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During the transatlantic slave trade of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, African beliefs and practices traveled to places all over North and South America. Enslaved people in many places, including Brazil, gradually brought their culture and traditions to blend with those of indigenous people already in the Americas. In addition, they adapted some of the beliefs of their European owners, and of free black people, called libertos, in Brazil, which was part of the Portuguese colonial empire.

As Portugal began to realize that Europeans were outnumbered by people of African descent, both free and enslaved, the regime pushed for social measures that ostensibly were meant to control the influence of African beliefs. Instead, it had the opposite effect, and ended up sorting the black population into groups based upon their countries of origin. This, in turn, led to pockets of people with similar national backgrounds coming together to share their beliefs and practices, which they nourished and protected.

While many enslaved people converted to Catholicism, others began to follow a religion called Macumba, which was a syncretic blend of African spirituality mixed with Catholic saints. From Macumba, which was popular in urban areas like Rio de Janeiro, two distinct subgroups formed: Umbanda and Quimbanda. While Umbanda continued to incorporate European beliefs and saints into practice, Quimbanda rejected the Christian influence on spiritual hierarchy, and returned to a more African-based system.

Although the Afro-Brazilian religions were largely ignored for years, they are beginning to see a resurgence in popularity. During the twentieth century, a movement towards re-Africanization brought Quimbanda and other African Traditional Religions back into the public eye, and the spirits of Quimbanda have been embraced as symbols of freedom and independence among the many people in Brazil's population whose ancestors were enslaved.

The Spirits of Quimbanda

In Quimbanda, the collective group of male spirits are known as Exus, who are very powerful beings called upon to intervene in material matters, as well as those related to the human experience. The Exus might be called upon by a practitioner for issues connected to love, power, justice, and vengeance. Although only a small percentage of Brazil's population acknowledges that they practice Quimbanda, it's not uncommon for people to consult with the Exus prior to going to court or entering into major business contracts.

The female spirits of Quindamba are called the Pomba Giras, and they typically represent sexuality and feminine power. Like many other African diasporic goddesses, the Pomba Giras are a collective, who manifest in a number of different forms. Maria Molambo, the "lady of the trash," might be invoked to bring bad luck to an enemy. Rainha do Cemitério is the queen of the graveyards and the dead. Dama da Noite is the lady of the night, associated with darkness. Women often invoke the Pomba Giras in ritual to regain control over their relationships with men—husbands, lovers, or fathers. For many female practitioners, work with the Pomba Giras can be an effective economic strategy, in a culture where women's ability to generate income is often restricted.

Ogum appears as an intermediary during rituals, and is connected to warfare and conflict. Similarly to Ogun in the Yoruba and Candomble religions, Ogum is associated with the crossroads, and is viewed as a powerful orisha.

Practices and Ritual

Exú - Pomba Gira
Carlos Fabal / Getty Images

Traditional Quimbanda rituals are called a trabalho. A trabalho might be performed for a variety of purposes: to bring about justice in a court case, to seek vengeance or cause harm to an enemy, or to open the road to success ahead of a practitioner. In addition to magical purposes, a ritual always includes the dedication to one of the powerful Quimbanda spirits. Offerings are made, typically of an alcoholic drink—beer for Ogum, or rum for the Exus—and food, which is usually peppers and a blend of palm oil and manioc flour. Other items such as cigars, candles, and red carnations are usually presented as well.

To ask Exus for aid with justice, a practitioner might use white candles, a written petition, and an offering of rum. For assistance with seduction of a woman, one might visit a crossroads at midnight—a t-shaped one, which is considered female, rather than an intersection—and honor the Pomba Giras with champagne, red roses arranged in the shape of a horseshoe, and the intended target's name written on a piece of paper placed in a cup.

Work with the Exus and Pomba Giras is not for everyone; only those who are trained and initiated into the beliefs and practice of Quimbanda are permitted to perform rituals.

Resources

  • “African-Derived Religions in Brazil.” Religious Literacy Project, https://rlp.hds.harvard.edu/faq/african-derived-religions-brazil.
  • Ashcraft-Eason, Lillian, et al. Women and New and Africana Religions. Praeger, 2010.
  • Brant Carvalho, Juliana Barros, and José Francisco Miguel Henriques. “Umbanda and Quimbanda: Black Alternative to White Morality.” Psicologia USP, Instituto De Psicologia, http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0103-65642019000100211&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en.
  • Diana De G. Brown, and Mario Bick. “Religion, Class, and Context: Continuities and Discontinuities in Brazilian Umbanda.” American Ethnologist, vol. 14, no. 1, 1987, pp. 73–93. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/645634.
  • Hess, David J. “Umbanda and Quimbanda Magic in Brazil: Rethinking Aspects of Bastide's Work.” Archives De Sciences Sociales Des Religions, vol. 37, no. 79, 1992, pp. 135–153. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30128587.