Candomblé is an indigenous Afro-Brazilian religion with a strong matriarchal focus that is passed down from mother to daughter, having originated among African slaves brought to Brazil by the Portuguese during the transatlantic slave trade from the 1530s onward. The earliest forms of kandombele, a Kikongo word meaning “prayer,” were unwittingly aided in the mid-1700s when the pope declared that Africans had souls. This strengthened the process of syncretism in which slaves converted to Catholicism but preserved African religion by embedding it within Christian practices. This accounts for the important association of African orishas, or deities, with Catholic saints. Because Candomblé allowed slaves to imagine autonomous identities distinct from their existence as chattel, it subverted the dominance of the slaveholding class ...

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