Knowing the power that religions may have to produce upheavals, the Portuguese masters prohibited black slaves from professing their original religion.

In order to get around the prohibition, the slaves disguised their gods as Catholic saints, and worshipped them. The saints are called orixás (pronounced o-ree-sha) .

The holy places of slaves, equivalent to Catholic churches, are called terreiros. Despite all efforts from the Portuguese, orixás and terreiros remained all over Bahia, side by side with Catholicism.

In Brazil, only a few of the more than two hundred African orixás are worshipped. The orixás have their roots in the ancestors of the African clans, deified around five thousand years ago. They are believed to have the power to control the forces of Nature.

One of the most important orixás is Exu, the intermediary between men and gods, the guardian of crossroads.

Iemanjá, associated with the sea and water is also very important ( her Catholic saint counterpart is the Virgin Mary). Her February 2 festival, includes a grand maritime procession of participants offering flowers, can often be combined with a Carnaval visit.

Other orixás are Xangô, of fire and thunder and Iansã, of wind and lightning, owner of the souls of the dead.

Cults take place at the terreiros. The authorities of the terreiros are the ialorixá or mãe-de-santo (Portuguese for saint's mother), the priestess, and the babalorixá or pai-de-santo (saint's father), the high priest; both live in the terreiros.

Today, there are approximately two thousand terreiros in Salvador .

The most famous ones are:

Ilê Axé Iyá Nassô Oká or CASA BRANCA (White House).

Address: Av. Vasco da Gama, 463 - Vasco da Gama.

Tel: 3334.2900.

Mãe: Altamira Cecília dos Santos

Opened in 1830, is the oldest terreiro in Brazil. Ceremonies are on Sunday nights, beginning at 8 p.m.

Ilê Axê Opô Afonjá

Address: Rua Direta de São Gonçalo, 557 - Cabula.

Tel: 3384.5229/3384.6800.

Mãe: Estela

Opened in 1910, was declared Heritage Site by the State of Bahia.

Ilê Axé Iyá Omi Yamassê

Address: Alto do Gantois, 23 - Federação.

Tel: 3336.9594.

Mãe: Carmem

This later one is referred to as Terreiro do Gantois, and had as ialorixá, for 64 years Mãe Menininha do Gantois (1894 - 1986). She promoted the values of Candomblé and gained the admiration of personalities like Jorge Amado (writer), Caetano Veloso (singer) and Antônio Carlos Magalhães (most important politician in Bahia; so much so that he is usually referred to as "babalorixá of Bahia").

Ilê Axé Oxumaré or CASA DE OXUMARÉ

Address: Rua Pedro Gama, (no number) - 2nd Travessa - Federação.

Tel: 3237.2859.

Pai: Silvonilton

It was founded around 1900 and is descended from the Ketu Nation. Ceremonies begin at 8:00 p.m. (or so) on Wednesday nights, and last two to three hours. Visitors are welcome.


Address: José Ramos, 165, Vila América - Vasco da Gama.

Tel: 3261.2354.

Mãe: Aida


Address: Travessa de São Jorge, 65 E - Mata Escura do Retiro.

Tel: 3306.2163.

Pai: Eduarlindo


Address: Av. Beira Mar (no number) - Ponta de Areia.

Tel: 3631.4093.

Pai: Domingos dos Santos


Address: Rua Ferreira Santos 53 - Federação.

Tel: 3247.4974.

Mãe: Vitória


Address:Rua Queira Deus, 78 - Lauro de Freitas.

Tel: 3379.9181.

Mãe: Lúcia


Address: Rua Hélio Machado, 108 - Boca do Rio.

Tel: 3232.1460.

Mãe: Nicinha


Address: Travessa Manuel Rangel, 49, Vila Matos - Rio Vermelho(Travessa next to the Clínica Corpus).

Tel: 3247.8584.

Pai: Jailton Bispo dos Santos


Address: Rua Genesio Sales, 11 - Massaranduba.

Tel: 3316-2478.

Pai: Luís Roberto


Address: Rua José Orlando, 26 E, Entrada de Cajazeira 7 - Águas Claras.

Tel: 3395.7958.

Pai: Lázaro

The Igreja de Nosso Senhor do Bonfim is the best example of how the two religions merged. Until today, parishioners unite once a year to honor both African and Christian Gods.

The ritual washing of the steps of the Igreja do Nosso Senhor do Bonfim is held annually in January, on the second Sunday following the Wise Kings Day (January 6th). The 8 kilometer (5 mi) procession to the hill of Bonfim starts at 10am infront of the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Praia, at the lower city of Salvador. From there, fiver hundred women dressed in traditional African attire depart towards the church. They pour water and sprinkle lavender on the first ten steps and wash, singing hyns in African languages.

The washing of Bonfim attracts thousands of visitors, both Brazilian and foreigners.

Visiting a terreiro, and receiving the bless of a ialorixá or babalorixá is a must for all visitors of Bahia.

Most terreiros will permit visitors to attend their ceremonies. You can hire a tour guide to visit one of the night rituals. Should you go, dress respectfully. Trousers for men, and women should wear longer skirts. White is best because it is respectful to all the Orixás.

If you speak Portuguese to find information about houses of candomblé, where they are located, what nights they hold their ceremonies, and when they have their special festas, a good place to go is the FEDERAÇÃO BAIANA DE CULTO AFRO BRASILEIRO, located at Rua Portas do Carmo, 39, 1st floor) in Pelourinho (the telephone number is 348-17167).

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