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Afro-Brazilian Religions
Umbanda – Candomblé
Culto aos EgungunCulto de Ifá IrmandadeConfraria
SincretismoXangô do Nordeste
Tambor de Mina

Afro-Brazilian religions

Catholicism Spiritism


Similar Religions
LukumiRegla de Ocha

Umbanda is an Afro-Brazilian religion that blends African religions with Catholicism, Spiritism (influenced by, but not limited to, Kardecism) and considerable indigenous lore.

Umbanda is related to, and has many similarities with, other Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomblé and Quimbanda, but has its own identity.

Although some of its beliefs and most of its practices existed in the late 19th century in almost all Brazil, it is assumed that Umbanda originated in Rio de Janeiro and surrounding areas in the early 20th century, mainly due to the work of a psychic (medium), Zélio Fernandino de Moraes, who practiced Umbanda among the poor Afro-Brazilian population. Since then, Umbanda has spread across mainly southern Brazil and even to neighboring countries like Uruguay and Argentina.

Umbanda has many branches, each one with a different set of beliefs and practices. Some of the Umbanda's basic beliefs are the existence of a One Supreme Creator God represented in the(the Orixá [Olorum] Or [Oxala]);natural forces or deities called Orixás;some of them synchronistic with Catholic Saints that act as God's energy and forces of nature; spirits of deceased people that counsel and guide believers through troubles in our material world; psychics called mediums who have a natural ability that can be perfected to bring messages from the spiritual world of Orixás and the guiding spirits; and reincarnation and spiritual evolution through many material lives (Karmic Law) and the practices of Charity and social fraternaty.

The information here presented is just a general view of all Umbanda branches, so some beliefs and practices here described could be different from those observed in a specific place.

Basic beliefs and practices

The Umbanda creeds and practices are an eclectic mixture from three main sources:

  1. from Catholicism, Umbanda adopted the ideas of Supreme and Only One Creator God, The Gospel scriptures, the cult of saints (associated with the Orixás and their icons, some feasts and the practice of charity;
  2. Umbanda adopted the creeds in spiritism as a medium to contact the spirits of deceased people, reincarnation and spiritual evolution through many physical existences, the practice of charity;
  3. from the African-Brazilian religions, specially the Umbanda rituals practiced mostly in Rio de Janeiro , São Paulo and Bahia, the Umbanda adopted the worship of Orixás, the incantations practices and most of its rituals (songs, dances, foods, beverages, cigar smoking, divination using cowrie shells – "jogo de búzios"). But Umbanda rejected the witchcraft, the colorful costumes and the animal sacrifices allowed in the Candomblé and Quiumbanda rituals.

Another important source of creeds and practices are those using the wisdom of the Oriental, esoteric and occultism philosophies (e.g., Tarot cards, David's Star, Johrei – healing using the hands).

The opposite side of the Umbanda, i.e., the practices that intended to cause evil doings, became known as Quimbanda, although most Umbandists consider Candomblé, a religion closer to the African roots, a kind of black witchcraft. Umbanda is juxtaposed with Quimbanda which now reclaims its identity as a separate, more African religion and distinct from both Umbanda and Candomblé.

One hundred years after its establishment, Umbanda is divided itself into several branches with different beliefs, creeds and practices. Some of these newer streams, such as Umbanda d'Angola and Umbanda Jejê, have a body of rituals, ceremonies and philosophies that makes them closer to other African-Brazilian religion Candomblé. The Umbanda Esotérica is heavily influenced by Oriental, esoteric and occultism philosophies.

Three principal items

The three major beliefs claimed by Umbandists are: The Pantheon, the Spirits' World and the Reincarnation.[1]


Umbanda has one supreme being related to the Catholic God known as Olorum (or Zambi) and many divine intermediary deities called Orixás.

The Orixás are further divided into different legions, phalanges, sub-phalanges, guides and protectors.[1] These groups can then be divided up even further into a multitude of spiritual beings.

Yemanjá, Queen of Sea

Eight main Orixás[1]

  1. Oxalá
    He is the chief Orixá who represents the Lord's Light, the Beginning, the Verbum. His celestial is the Sun, his ritual day is Sunday and his sacred color is white.
  2. Yemanjá
    She represents the feminine principle of creation. She is linked to the sea (and so considered the patron of fishermen) and to the moonlight. Her celestial body is the ocean, her ritual day is Saturday, and her sacred colors are bright blue and silver.
  3. Xangô
    He is the lord of justice and represents the lightning bolt. His ritual day is Wednesday and his sacred colors are red and/or brown. He is evoked when people need justice.
  4. Oxum
    She is the goddess of the rivers, of money, and of love. She is worshipped on Saturday and her sacred color is yellow and navy blue.
  5. Ogun
    He is a warrior that protects people in the military. He is evoked when someone wants help in a battle. His ritual day is Tuesday, and his sacred colour is blue in Candomblé and red in Umbanda.
  1. Oxóssi
    He is a hunter and protector of Nature. His day is Thursday and his sacred color is green.
  2. Ibeji
    Those are entities often related to children spirits, like the Crianças spirits. Their day is Sunday and their sacred colours are blue and pink.
  3. Omolu
    He is the Lord of Death and Diseases, the Orixá that brings health and heals. He is evoked when someone is sick, in order to cure. His ritual day is Monday, and his sacred colours are black and white or yellow and white.

World of the Spirits

Most followers of Umbanda believe that there are three distinct levels of spirits.

1. Pure Spirits
This level includes the angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim, spirits that reached spiritual perfection.[1] They are equated to the Biblical entities that communicated with the prophets and the Virgin Mary.
2. Good Spirits
This level includes the spirits that possess mediums (psychics) or initiates during the Umbanda public ceremonies and act as Guias (guides) advising and helping the believers.[2] These are the following spirits:
Caboclos (Half-breed Native Brazilian Peasants)
Those are spirits of deceased Native Brazilians or Half-breed Native Brazilinas. They are highly knowledgeable about medical herbs, often prescribing inexpensive remedies to ill people.
Preto Velho (Old Black Man)
Those are spirits of old slaves who died in captivity or after being beaten or flogged by their masters. They are wise, peaceful and kind spirits that know all about suffering, compassion, forgiveness and hope. Some of them are considered to be the old Yoruban priests that were first brought to Brazil. They also often prescribe herbal remedies. The female counterpart of this spirit is the Preta Velha ("old black woman") who demonstrates maternal compassion and concern.[3] In the beginning of Umbanda, Preto Velho introduced himself as an old slave who died after being flogged for some unjust accusation; today, Pretos Velhos introduce themselves as old slaves who died in persecution after they run away from the plantation.
Crianças (Children)
Those are the spirits of deceased children, generally characterized as being pure and joyful.[1]
Baianos (People from Bahia State)
The spirits of people who were learned in Umbanda, also considered as the spirits of deceased ancestors.
The spirits of deceased cowboys who lived a hard life in the sertão, the arid hinterlands of Northeastern Brazil.
Marujos or Marinheiros (Sailors)
Spirits of deceased sailors or fishermen that use the power of the ocean to protect people from evil.
The Umbanda Exu is a phalanx of spirits that are adjusted to Karma following the laws of Jesus Christ. They are confused with demons by the use of tridents, but the Tridents were never Satan's but Poseidon's, and they symbolize the fight against all evil. The offerings are made in the Small Kalunga (cemetery) or at crossroads. The offerings are done only when required by the spirits, never intending to harm anyone.

They never use black magic or ask for animal sacrifice. They protect people while they're on the streets, roads, nightclubs, etc., and also protect them from evil spirits (called obsessing spirits which are spirits that weren't touched by the light yet and use people to feed their bad habits such as addictions to drugs or low emotional states like anger, rage, sadness, guilt, revenge, etc.) and help people opening paths full of learning and success.

Most famous Exus: Lock-street (the souls of Embaré or the seven crossroads) - Tranca-ruas Exu Skull - Exu Caveira Exu Marabô - Exu Marabô Exu Tiriri - Exu Tiriri

This line is another type of Exu: The Malandragem. The Phalange Malandragem are spirits of bohemians who do almost everything as Street Exus. But they also teach what to do when dealing with people. They're good at giving advices.

"Malandragem"'s most famous entities:

Zé Pilintra John Razor (João Navalha) Mary Razor (Maria Navalha)

The female exus are the Pomba-Giras. Their action field is love but under no circumstances will they perform black magic. Pomba-Giras, like all Exus, undo black magic that exists in Quiumbanda always following Christian laws.

3. Darker Spirits
Some Umbanda believers avoid the spirits of this level, considered dark incarnations (obsessing spirits). Sometimes impure spirits can possess some psychics and cause many annoyances in a cult. So, priests and priestesses should know how to treat and send them to the correspondent evolved spiritual city which is connected to the Umbanda house, where they'll be cleaned by higher spirits, tought to find the light and evolve. So, the spirits of the city help during the process as much as the guides of the Umbanda psychics also help. The guides are responsible, in this case, for taking the darker spirits to the spiritual city and rebalancing the psychic.


The Law of the Reincarnation is the central point of the Karmic Law. It states that God creates spirits with Self Will all the time. The spirits universally pass through many stages of evolution. They have the choice of being good or bad, through ordinary acts and the love that they display towards other people. When they "die", they judge themselves; the good ones advance to a superior stage of spiritual evolution. Those who not succeed should reincarnate in the same or in an inferior level.[1]

Umbanda temples, priests and priestesses

Umbanda temples are autonomous organizations that focus around a leader, mediums (psychics who are able to intermediate communications between the physical and the spiritual worlds), initiates (people with psychic abilities who are being taught in the ways of Umbanda) and lay members.

During its first years, the Umbanda rituals were performed in poor suburban houses because the followers had no resources, and also to avoid police persecution. Most often, the leader's own house was used as a place for religious meetings. The rituals were performed in the backyard. Sometimes, a tent was pitched to protect the meeting from rain. Today, the Umbanda religious buildings are still called Terreiro (backyard) or Tenda (tent). When the religion flourished, buildings were specially constructed for ritual use.

Tendas or Terreiros usually look like ordinary houses when seen from the street. Some religious artifacts like African styled ceramic vases can be put on the walls or ceilings to give a touch of religious appearance to the house. A wood board with the name of the temple usually is placed over the main entrance. Larger Umbanda houses often are laid out in a fashion similar to a humble Catholic church. Even when the Tenda or Terreiro is specially built to be used in Umbanda rituals, a separated part is used as the home of the leader and his or her family. The areas for residence and rituals are close enough to be considered a single unit.

If a building is not available, rituals are still performed in a private backyard as well.[2]

Generally the Terreiro – the actual room used for rituals – is a large area covered by a simple roof of ceramic singles, with an altar at the back.[2]

Also, the Tendas or Terreiros is used directly or in a support capacity for charitable works to provide child care, medical clinics, assistance to orphanages, and distribution of medicines and/or food.[2]

The Terreiros have as their main leader a priest or priestess called "pai-de-santo" ("father-of-saint", if he is a male) or "mãe-de-santo" ("mother-of-saint", if she is female). The initiates, men or women, are usually called "filhos-de-santo" ("children-of-saint", masculine plural form), to show the structure within the religion. This does not imply sainthood on the part of the priest or priestess, but responsibility for certain rituals related to each saint they serve, (also called Orixás), as well as the saints of the filhos-de-santo under his/her responsibility.

Umbanda developed with almost no sexual discrimination. The leader could be male or female, pai-de-santo or mãe-de-santo, and his or her prestige depends only on their psychic powers and the wisdom shown within their pieces of advice. Its main difference when compared to the Catholic Church is that in Umbanda, homossexuals face no prejudice, for Umbanda does not judge his/her believers by sex, race or sexual choice.

Each Umbanda Terreiro practices the same religion with variations, according to the policies of the pai-de-santo's or the mãe-de-santo's spiritual mentor, as well as in accordance with the teachings and philosophies of the various traditions within Umbanda. During these ceremonies, the priests, priestesses, and initiates wear white costumes and pay homage to the spirits and Orixás.[2]

Rituals & ceremonies

One hundred years after its establishment, Umbanda is divided into several branches with different rituals and ceremonies. As the Terreiros de Umbanda are loosely united by the Umbanda federations, there is not a strong adherence to a single code of rite, ceremonies and creeds.

The Umbanda Branca, the original form created by Zélio de Moraes and his group, adopts the worship of Orixás and the African incantations practices, but they rejected the black witchcraft, the colorful costumes and the animal sacrifices practiced in the Macumba and Quimbanda rituals.[4] The pais-de-santos and the mães-de-santo always wear white outfits during the ceremonies of the Umbanda Branca. On the other hand, Umbanda d'Angola and Umbanda Jejê are newer sects with a body of rituals, ceremonies and philosophies that equate themselves with other African-Brazilian religions such as Candomblé, Jurema and Catimbó. Another recent branch, called Umbanda Esotérica, is heavily influenced by Eastern philosophies. The older Terreiros de Umbanda, those established before 1940, have not integrated these new trends and still practice the original rites and ceremonies in a simpler way, specially dedicating themselves to charity works, as preached by Zélio de Moraes and his group.

Umbanda ceremonies are generally open to the public and may take place several times a week.[2] Atabaque (Conga drums) and chanting play a central role in some Umbanda congregations, but are almost non-existent in others. The ceremonies may include offers to the spirits comprising fruits, wine, farofa, cachaça, popcorn, cigarettes, hard cider and other types of food or beverages. Each Orixá or spirit receives a proper offering, and initiation rites that range from the simple to complex.

During the ceremonies the priests and priestesses (pai-de-santo, mãe-de-santo, filhos-de-santo, initiates) and the public attending the meeting sing together, dance, drink beverages and smoke cigars under the spirit's influence. However, the use of such elements by these spirits aren't due to any addictions - they are used as sacred elements that help the spirits to nulify any negative energies surrounding the assisted person. The priests and priestesses are separated from the attending public, usually by a small fence. The priests, priestesses and some of the public gradually get immersed in the singing and dancing, and suddenly get possessed by deities and spirits, starting to act and speak with their personas.[2] Those in the public attending who become possessed are recognized as owners of special psychic power and, usually, after the ceremony, are invited to become initiates in the Terreiro. Sometimes, an experienced pai-de-santo or mãe-de-santo can dance and sing all night without, for mysterious reasons, being possessed by deities or spirits.

Intervention by spiritual beings in followers' daily lives is a central belief, so participation in Umbanda rites is important to appease deities and spirits.[2]

Music and dancing are always present in the Umbanda rituals. The public sing together the "pontos", religious songs intended to improve the psychics' concentration level. These songs often are taught by the spirits themselves, and their lyrics tell about charity, faith, and the Orixás' deeds. A "ponto" example is translated below:

Ponto de Mamãe Oxum (Umbanda Song of Mommy Oxum)
Water streams like crystal
Through Father Olorum's feet
Father Olorum created Nature
And made the Waterfalls
Which Xangô blessed
I am going to ask the permission of Oxalá
To bath in the waterfall
To clean all evil[5]


Historical background

In the late-19th century, many Brazilian scholars criticized the African-Brazilian religions, claiming they were primitive and hindered modernization.[2] At the same time, the Allan Kardec's Spiritism, a development of spiritualism creeds, was increasingly accepted by the Brazilian urban middle-class with followers since 1865.[4] The kardecists – followers of the Spiritism – were mainly middle class and white people, many of them belonging to military and professional careers. They were deeply influenced by Auguste Comte's philosophy, the Positivism, that aimed to join religion and science and to help the development of society to a higher level.


On November 15, 1908, a group of kardecists met to a séance in the neighborhood of Neves, São Gonçalo city, near the Federal Capital, Rio de Janeiro. Among them was Zélio Fernandino de Moraes, a 17 years old boy who was studying to join the Navy School and became a Naval Officer. During the séance, Zélio de Moraes incorporated a spirit who identified himself as the Caboclo das Sete Encruzilhadas (Half-Indian Peasant of the Seven Crossroads). After that, Zélio de Moraes incorporated another spirit who identified himself as Pai Antônio (Father Anthony),[4] a wise and old slave that had died after being savagely flogged by his master (a character similar to the Uncle Tom from Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel). Although the spirits of Indians and Afro-Brazilians were incorporated by the shamans in the various forms of Macumba creeds practiced around Rio de Janeiro city in the 19th century, the kardecists considered them inferior or undeveloped spirits.[4]

There are many, diverse and contradictory depositions of the events of that day, but most of the séance attendants were deeply outraged by the incorporation of underdeveloped spirits that could not provide useful or good advices.

Some depositions told that the incorporated spirits, the half-Indian Caboclo das Setes Encruzilhadas and the old black man Pai Antônio defied the kardecists asking them: "Why do you believe that a humble person can not be a soul that evolved to a superior plane during his physical life?.

According to one of the depositions, the spirit of the caboclo prophesied: "If you criticize the black and Indian (caboclo) spirits as underdeveloped, I should say that tomorrow I will be in the house of this instrument (the psychic Zélio de Moraes) to start a new cult where this black and Indian people could release their messages and, so, fulfill the mission that the spiritual plane has entrust them."[6]

In 1970 Zélio de Moraes told his own version of the events to Ronaldo Linares, today chairman of the Federação Umbandista do Grande ABC (Umbandist Federation of the ABC Region, near São Paulo city). He told that the spirit introduced himself as a Brazilian caboclo (half-Indian peasant) and was contested in the séance by a kardecist psychic who said that he could see "the remains of a priest garments over him". The caboclo then explained: "You are seeing the remains of a previous existence. I was a priest, my name was Gabriel Malagrida, I was charged of witchcraft and sacrificed in the Inquisition bonfire for having prophesied the earthquake that destroyed Lisbon in 1755. But, in my last physical existence, God allowed the privilege of being born as a Brazilian Indian". When asked about his name, the spirit answered: "If a name is necessary, call me the Caboclo das Sete Encruzilhadas (Half-Indian Peasant of the Seven Crossroads), because for me there will be no closed path. I come bringing the Umbanda, a religion that will harmonize the families and will last until the End of the Centuries."[4]

Due to these events, in the 1970s, November 15 was chosen as the day of Umbanda inauguration.

First years and the development

The first Terreiro de Umbanda was founded by Zélio de Moraes in an uncertain date of the 1920s and named Centro Espírita Nossa Senhora da Piedade (Spiritism Center of Our Lady of Sorrows). In 1940 Zélio de Moraes made a statute for this first Terreiro that was used as reference by the most of Terreiros that followed.[4]

The Umbanda religion started in a time when the Brazilian society was passing through a strong transformation process. The predominance of the agriculture in Brazilian economy was decreasing and the first steps of a late industrial revolution was expanding the working class.[4]

The American anthropologist Diana Brown, that pioneered the studies of Umbanda in the 1960s, verified that the Umbanda founders were most middle-class people, unsatisfied with the kardecist Spiritism that they previously followed and were occasional attendants of the Centros de Macumba (Macumba worships places) in the favelas (slums). The first Umbanda followers preferred the African and Native Brazilian spirits and gods worshipped in the Macumba rather than the highly evolved spirits of Spiritism considering them more able to heal and treat a broader spectrum of diseases and life problems.[7]

The first Umbanda followers felt that the Macumba rituals were more stimulating and dramatic than the Spiritism séances, but they rejected the animal sacrifices and the incorporation of what they considered devilish spirits, oftentimes called Kiumbas or Obsessing Spirits.[4]

Umbanda was born with an inner contraction. The first driving force intend to differentiate its practices from the presumed primitive African-Brazilian religions that they considered black witchcraft. The opposite driving force was the psychics incorporation of true Brazilian characters that honoured the Native Brazilians, the black slaves and their descendants.[4]

The first effort was made to "purify" the new-born religion taking out some of the African influence from the Umbanda. This kardecist Spiritism side of Umbanda is called Umbanda Branca (White Umbanda). The name does not refer to white people, but white witchcraft, opposing the Umbanda cult to the Quimbanda (black witchcraft) of traditional African rites (Macumba).

According to the anthropologist Diana Brown, Zélio de Moraes had just a symbolic participation in the creation of the Umbanda, acting like the speaker of a group that previously participated in Macumba cults. A collective effort was made by Zélio de Moraes and his group to promote the Umbanda Branca, developing practices acceptable by the white middle class and modernizing the African-Brazilian religions. Zélio de Moraes believed that he had made a rupture with the kardecist Spiritism, but he only expressed the eclectic mixture that developed before and after the appearance of the Caboclo das Sete Encruzilhadas.[8]

The Umbanda's initial defy was to incorporate the African influences and simultaneously to be different from its African origins. The Centro Espírita Nossa Senhora da Piedade, the first Umbanda's Terreiro keeps in its name the kardecist Spiritism reference (Centro EspíritaSpiritism Center) and also honor a Catholic saint (Nossa Senhora da Piedade – Our Lady of Sorrows).[4]

The first followers desperately needed to distinguish themselves from the Macumba and other African-Brazilian religions followers, for until the second half of the 20th century, all these faithful were considered criminals by the Brazilian government and periodically repressed. Despite the religious freedom assured by the first Brazilian Republican Constitution in 1891, the Criminal Law of 1890 forbade the "practice of Spiritism, witchcraft and its sortileges).[4] The Criminal Law of 1942 still condemned the "sorcerers", but not all, only those accused of using his or hers powers to evil doings. The anthropologist Yvonne Maggie says that, repressing the witchcraft, the Criminal Law demonstrates that the elite governing Brazil somehow believed in the supernatural power of the sorcerers.[4] Note that Brazilian legislators were not aware of witchcraft like that practiced in Europe, but only aimed to repress the African-Brazilian religions like Macumba and Candomblé that they equated to sorcery.

Expansion during Vargas Dictatorship

The first stage of the Umbanda expansion coincides with the social and political changes that occurred in the 1930s and with the nationalist and populist dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas (1930 to 1945). According to the anthropologist Diana Brown, Umbanda chose symbols like the caboclos (half-Indian Peasants) and pretos-velhos (old black men) influenced by the intense nationalism of Getúlio Vargas regime and its efforts to create a national culture that unified the Brazilian people.

The esteem of Brazilian natives and slaves generate the idea that the Umbanda is the only genuinely Brazilian religion, a fact contested by many scholars. The anthropologist Émerson Giumbelli remember that when Umbanda was consolidated around the 1930s, many religions also appeared and were reinforced with the same nationalist appeal. Giumbelli cites the cases of kardecist Spiritism with the 1938 release fo the book "Brasil, Coração do Mundo, Pátria do Evangelho" ("Brazil, Heart of the World, Fatherland of the Gospel") by the renowned psychic Chico Xavier, and the development of the Santo Daime religion in the Acre State.[4]

Getúlio Vargas became known as "pai dos pobres" (Patron of the Poors) and, also, as "pai da Umbanda" (Father of the Umbanda) among the emergent urban and working class. Until 1966 many Umbanda Terreiros had a Getúlio Vargas picture in a place of honor.[8]

Despite the identification with the objectives of the Getúlio Vargas Dictatorship, the Umbanda followers were persecuted. The police repression interrupted religious meetings, beat the psychics and followers and confiscated their instruments of cult. An entire collection of icons, costumes, garbs, amulets, instruments and objects of African-Brazilian religions confiscated by policemen is still kept in the Museu da Polícia (Museum of Police) in Rio de Janeiro city. Until recently, this collection was named the Collection of Black Witchcraft.[4]

A notable victim of the police repression was Euclydes Barbosa (1909–88). He was a great soccer back player known by the nickname Jaú, that played with the Corinthians team from 1932 to 1937 and with the Brazil's National Team in 1938 World Cup in France. Jaú was also a pai-de-santo (father-of-saint), priest of Umbanda cults, the precursor of Umbanda religion in São Paulo city and one of the first organizers in the 1950s of the Iemanjá feast in the São Paulo State beaches. Jaú was illegally imprisoned, beaten, tortured and publicly humiliated by the police because of his religious activities. Some Umbanda leaders call him the great martyr of their religion.[4]

Prime years after the Vargas Dictatorship

In the latter half of the 20th century the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda grew rapidly among transformation of Candomblé that was first noticed in Bahia.[9]

The independent Terreiros of Umbanda started to unite themselves in federations to strengthen its position against social discrimination and police repression. The first federation was founded by Zélio Fernandino in 1939.[4]

The end of the Getúlio Vargas Dictatorship and the reestablishment of democracy in 1945 advanced the religion freedom environment. In 1953, two Umbanda federations were founded in São Paulo. However, the Umbanda cults were still looked with suspicion by the Police Departments that demanded a compulsory registration of the Terreiros. Only in 1964, this obligation was released and just a civil registration in a public notary is required.

The populist character of the politics in Brazil between 1945 (the end of Getúlio Vargas Dictatorship) and 1964 (the start of the Military Dictatorship) supported the expansion of Umbanda. Then politicians became usual attendants of the Terreiros, specially before the elections.[8]

A research conducted by the anthropologists Lísias Nogueira Negrão and Maria Helena Concone revealed that in the 1940s in São Paulo, just 58 religious organizations were registered as Umbanda Terreiros, but 803 organizations declared themselves as Spiritism Centers. In the 1950s, positions inverted: 1,025 organizations declared themselves as Umbanda Terreiros, 845 as Spiritism Centers and only one Candomblé Terreiro. The apex was during the 1970s, with 7,627 Umbanda Terreiros, 856 Candomblé Terreiros and 202 Spiritism Centers.[4]

Brazil went from having around 50,000 Terreiros in the 1960s to 300,000 by the early 1980s. By the mid 1980s there had been an end to military rule and an increase in cultural consciousness.[3] These changes allowed for the condemning of slavery and the celebration of African heritage including the cult of the Orixás (Yoruba gods).

The period from the 1950s to the 1970s was the prime of the Umbanda religion. Police repression decreased, the number of followers soared, but the Catholic Church opposition increased. An intense religious campaign against the Umbanda cults was conducted in the pulpits and the press. Umbanda received criticism from the Catholic Church, which disagreed with the worship of spirits and the comparison that many Umbandistas made between Catholic Saints and Orixás (African gods).[3] Despite the criticism, even today, many Umbanda members also claim to be devout Catholics as well.[3] After the Vatican Council II (1962–65), the Catholic Church sought an ecumenical or tolerant relation even with the African-Brazilian religions.[4]

At this time, Umbanda become part of popular culture as many novelists and songwriters have written or sung about them. Several of Jorge Amado's works, for instance, are concerned with the trials and tribulations of the Afro-Brazilians. From the 1960s, many songs about Umbanda and the other Afro-Brazilian religions became popular. Among the notable Brazilian composers who treated the subject, Tom Jobim, Toquinho, Vinícius de Moraes, Geraldo Vandré and Clara Nunes are the most widely known. In the 1970s poet Vinícius de Moraes married his last wife, Gesse, in an Umbandista ceremony witnessed by many prominent figures of Brazilian culture and politics. Although largely accepted as part of Brazilian culture, at this time, most scholars considered Candomblé the pure and authentic religion, and despised Umbanda as just a kitsch eclectic cult.[8]


In 1974 Umbanda practitioners (Including declared and undeclared) were estimated to be about 30 million in a population of 120 million Brazilians.[2]

After the 1970s the Umbanda cults begun to be opposed by Pentecostals. Some Evangelical Pentecostal Churches, which have gained many adherents in Latin America in the last two decades, have begun attempting to evangelize and, in some cases, persecute practitioners of Umbanda and other African-derived religions.[2] Pentecostals always have a deep faith in the existence of spirits, but consider them demons. The practice of Umbanda and all the African-Brazilian religions are seen by the Pentecostal Churches as black witchcraft and devil worship, and the incorporation of Orixás is called demon possession.

Umbanda practitioners have taken cases to national courts and achieved a high measure of success. In 2005 the Superior Órgão de Umbanda do Estado de São Paulo (Superior Organization of Umbanda in São Paulo State) won a judicial case in the Federal Court against the television broadcasting systems Rede Record and Rede Mulher, that belong to the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus, a Neo Pentecostal Church. The Public Attorney (Ministério Público) denounced television programs that treated the African-Brazilian religions in a derogatory and discriminating way.[4]

The Pentecostal Churches converted a large number of the Umbanda followers, especially in the favelas. The Favela de Dona Marta, a shantytown in Rio de Janeiro, had in the middle of 1980s, six Terreiros de Umbanda, one Terreiro de Candomblé and one Spiritism Center. Today, all of them are closed, and there are eight Pentecostal Churches in the same shantytown.[4]

Since the 1970s Umbanda has been seen as part of the African heritage of Brazil. This allowed the development of some Umbanda rites like Umbanda d'Angola and Umbanda Jejê that emphasize the African tradition, coming closer to Candomblé rituals, and diverging from the Umbanda Branca created by Zélio de Moraes and his group. The influence of Oriental religions and the European occult created another Umbanda branch called the Umbanda Esotérica.


In the 2000 Brazilian census, 432 thousand Brazilians declared themselves Umbandistas, a 20% drop in relation to the 1991 census. Many people attend the Terreiros of Umbanda seeking counseling or healing, but they do not consider themselves Umbandistas.[4]

Despite all the troubles in the past or present, the Umbanda remains strong and renovated in Brazilian main cities like Rio de Janeiro (the greatest concentration of Umbandists) and São Paulo (the second greatest concentration of Umbandistas).[4] After the 1970s, Porto Alegre, the capital of the most southern Brazilian State, became the base of expansion of the Umbanda to Uruguay, Argentina. Today, Umbanda followers can be found in various parts of the United States as well.[2]

Umbanda was traditionally a religion of the black population and promoted emancipation and participation;[9] however, since the 1920s and early 1930s, Umbanda followers (as well as leaders and mediums) have come from various social, racial, and ethnic groups.[2] The American anthropologist Diana Brown made a field research in a Rio de Janeiro's favela (shantytown) in 1966. Originally, she believed that the Umbanda was a religion of poor black people. Her study, "Umbanda – Politics of an Urban Religious Movement", published in 1974, demonstrated that Umbanda, despite its strong presence in poor neighborhoods, was a religion created and dominated by the white middle class.[8] The spread of Umbanda in the middle class during the 1970s allured the participation even of descendants of immigrants from countries distant from African traditions. So, one can find descendants of Italian, Syrian-Lebanese and Japanese immigrants attending rites in the Terreiros de Umbanda, or even as Umbanda religious leaders (pai-de-santo or mãe-de-santo).

Notable Umbandists

  • Clara Nunes — Brazilian samba singer.
  • Vinícius de Moraes — Brazilian Poet.
  • Herivelto Martins — MPB singer and songwriter.


  • DaMatta, Roberto. Religion and Modernity:Three studies of Brazilian religiosity. Journal of Social History. Winter91, Vol. 25 Issue 2, pp. 389–406, 18p.
  • Sybille Pröschild: Das Heilige in der Umbanda. Geschichte, Merkmale und Anziehungskraft einer afro-brasilianischen Religion. Kontexte. Neue Beiträge zur historischen und systematischen Theologie, Band 39. Edition Ruprecht, Göttingen 2009. ISBN 978-3-7675-7126-6


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Dann, Graham M.S. Religion and Cultural Identity: The Case of Umbanda. Sociological Analysis, Vol. 30, No.3, pp. 208–225.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 Brown, Diana De G.; Mario Bick. Religion, Class, and Context: Continuities and Discontinuities in Brazilian Umbanda. American Ethnologist, Vol. 14, No. 1, Frontiers of Christian Evangelism. (Feb., 1987), pp. 73–93
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Hale, Lindsay Lauren. Preto Velho: Resistance, Redemption, and Engendered Representations of Slavery in a Brazilian Possession-Trance Religion. American Ethnologist, Vol. 24, No. 2 (May, 1997), pp. 392–414.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 4.20 4.21 Beraba, Marcelo. O Terreiro da Contradição. Folha de São Paulo; March 30, 2008
  5. Umbanda Ritual
  6. Oliveira, J. Alves; Umbanda Cristã e Brasileira; 1985; apud Beraba
  7. Brown, Diana; "Uma História da Umbanda no Rio", 1985; apud Beraba
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Novo Preto Velho. Interview of Diana Brown in Folha de São Paulo; March 30, 2008.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Troch, Lieve. Ecclesiogenesis: the patchwork of new religious communities in Brazil. Exchange 33, No. 1, 2004, pp. 54–72.

External links