Esu/Eshu/Exu is NOT the Devil

oshunschild's Blog: Simply my thoughts and feelings about being an Iyalocha in London

There are so many misconceptions and misinformation regarding our religion. One of the most common which also results in instilling fear, is that Esu ( or Exu Eshu) is the Yoruba version of the Devil. This is a classic case of Western ideas being imposed in a completely different and separate belief system. Eshu is not the Devil, he is the deity of the crossroads. He represents different possibilities and multiple choices. We then are obliged to find ourselves the right way to go. There is always the possibility of choosing between classic Good and Evil scenarios. We all have choice. How we choose what to do and how we behave is really down to us as individuals and human beings. There is no external force of evil Time to take responsibility people. We all have choices and Eshu does nothing but presents possibilities. Please inform google that their interpretation…

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New neighbourhood, old issues

The new view makes it all worthwhile

The new view makes it all worthwhile

We are now living in Cabula, a district of Salvador with a distinctly African-sounding name that is home to one of its greatest terreiros (Afro-Brazilian temples). According to Wikipedia – caveats duly noted – this area used to be a maroon settlement, or quilombo, formed by escaped slaves of Bantu origin – from cultural groups currently found in Angola. Cabula is also the name of a secret 19th-century sect that combined elements of Spiritism, Islam and Bantu religious beliefs. Powerful stuff! I have also found that Cabula might also be the name of a town or region in Angola itself. Any confirmation of that will be greatly appreciated.

One thing I noticed right off when we moved into our new place was the high level of security – or at least, security preparedness. We received lots of keys, but the main doors to the two buildings in the complex are most always open. Now I know what all the keys are for.

Early this morning, before 6 am, I heard loud voices outside my bedroom door, which also leads to the outer staircase and the top end of the lift shaft. The building management had already advised us about a scheduled power outage that was supposed to start at 8 am, so I thought the voices and banging I heard were maintenance workers getting a head start. I almost popped my head out the door to complain. So glad I didn’t.

After tossing and turning in bed for a while, I heard more voices, and then the original two identified themselves as “police”. That gave me a chill, because the last time someone had shouted “police” outside my bedroom was when I lived in a very low-income district, and I had just heard the same voice issue death threats to the kids who were sheltering under our house’s overhang. I played possum both times.

This time around – and this is the most credible version of the story I’ve heard so far – an individual was seen running into the complex and the security guard called the police. The most incredible part – though I know it’s true – is that they actually came! They must have spent hours scouring every floor and stairwell, because I later heard that the police were still there when my housekeeper arrived at 7:30 am. They don’t seem to have found the intruder, and the janitor tells me no one was burglarised. The mystery deepens.

It is a bit strange after 17 years in a much larger complex with – presumably – much better security. Living in a country with such huge income disparities, where even people renting a flat in a run-down building in an up-and-coming neighbourhood would seem rich compared to those living in shacks in hardscrabble slums, invasions of apartment complexes are bound to happen. It’s not the first time we’ve experienced it – the last time was nearly 20 years ago. Two apartments in our building in Rio Vermelho were burglarised on All Souls’ Day, when many people in Bahia head for the cemeteries to remember their dead (we were home at the time, which may explain why we were spared).

Perhaps the main doors of this complex in Cabula will be locked from now on – or until we let our guard down once again.





Statues on the Dique do Tororó

Orisha statues by Tatti Moreno (photo: Sabrina Gledhill, 2012)

Orisha statues by Tatti Moreno (photo: Sabrina Gledhill, 2012)

In my last post, I reflected on the lack of wildfowl on the Dique do Tororó. I failed to mention another element that has become a permanent part of the landscape so far, heightening its status as a tourist attraction and picture postcard while causing some controversy. I’m referring to the statues of orishas, Afro-Brazilian divinities, created by sculptor Tatti Moreno and installed in and around Tororó during the most recent landscaping project completed in 1998.

The statues are controversial because the Pentecostals disapprove of religious imagery in general. The previous mayor, João Henrique Carneiro, was of that persuasion. He allegedly wanted to remove them for religious reasons, but their scenic and tourist value spoke louder. For practitioners of Candomblé, as orisha worship is called in Bahia, the statues are just that.  Statues. They do not contain any ashé – the divine energy of creation. The lagoon is sacred for its waters and is still the site of offerings, although they have to be made discreetly since the landscaping project was carried out.

Previously, the picturesque boats that transport pedestrians from one side to the other in lieu of a bridge could also be hired to go out to the deepest parts of the Dique that are sacred to Oshun and Yemanjá, and place offerings in the waters. To this day, in the wee hours before the Yemanjá Festival on 2 February, devotees head for Tororó to make offerings for Oshun, the divinity of fresh water, motherhood and prosperity, beforehand. That is because the feast of Our Lady of Light is actually Oshun’s day, according to the traditions that associate Afro-Brazilian divinities with Catholic saints (see my post on Afro-Brazilian syncretism).

Statue of Oxum by Tatti Moreno. Source:

Statue of Oshun by Tatti Moreno. Source:

Russian around Havana

I’m feeling a bit bereft because I’ve just finished reading all of Martin Cruz Smith’s beautifully written Renko novels. It turned into a project that lasted several months, starting with the most recent, Tatiana, and going back and forth till I finally decided to reread Gorky Park and move forward from there. After that strange, meandering journey with the poetic Russian chief inspector and sometime exile – an itinerary including lyrically rendered visits to Moscow, Alaska and Siberia – the last novel I read was Havana Bay. Incredibly enough (or perhaps not, since the author took the pen name “Cruz” from his abuelita), it includes a sensitive portrayal of Cuban Santeria. One could even call it emic – seen from the practitioner’s point of view. My only complaint is that it gives the impression that the only orishas worshipped in Cuba are Chango, Oshun, Oggun and Yemaya. Otherwise, I highly recommend it. But be sure to read Gorky Park, Polar Star and Red Square first.

(PS Since this is “a view from Brazil,” I should also add that I only managed to enjoy that journey without gaps of several months by purchasing the Kindle editions from Amazon)

Lesson learned


In my last post, I mentioned that practitioners of the traditional Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé are sick and tired of being studied. We’re also tired of being misunderstood – yes, I’m speaking as a practitioner. I was initiated as a novice more than 20 years ago, and over the last couple of decades, I have taken several people to visit Candomblé temples and even for divination sessions by having cowries or Ifá opeles (divining chains) cast for them by respected religious leaders. Some experiences were positive, and some left me full of regret.

My most recent experience was the worst. I naively neglected to give a visitor “the lecture” to give her some background on the subject, or at the very least some reading materials, like the entry on Afro-Brazilian religions I wrote for the Brazil Today encyclopaedia. Somehow, I assumed that she would approach the subject with an open mind. I also assumed that she respected my knowledge and judgement and would let me be her guide. Unfortunately, people who firmly believe that Candomblé, orisha worship and their cousins, like Santeria (Lukumi) and Vodun, are purely negative and devoted to doing harm had already influenced her mindset.The result was a bizarre post on a major blog – with a much larger readership than this one – calling Candomblé “black magic” and “witchcraft.” When I explained that these terms have been used to persecute my religion for centuries, she simply removed my name from the post. Later, after receiving comments from two of my friends and presumably many others, she changed the wording, but left in “black magic mini-break” because it was a “joke.”

I’m deeply saddened and disappointed by this experience. As a result, anyone who turns up asking about Candomblé and cowrie divination in the future will have to sit through “the lecture” and read up on the subject first – I recommend Robert Farris Thompson’s Flash of the Spirit, for starters. Otherwise they will find any doors I could open firmly shut. There are plenty of charlatans about who will be more than happy to take their money.

Ash Wednesday

Carnival is still going strong somewhere in Salvador, but for me, Ash Wednesday began on Sunday. On the morning of March 2, a beloved elder, mentor, spiritual guide and friend, Valdete Ribeiro dos Santos, better known as Detinha de Xangô and Obá Gesim, passed on and became an ancestral spirit. She was best known for her gorgeous orixá dolls, an art and craft that she handed down to her daughter-in-law, Maria Izabela “Bezita” dos Santos Silva, but for the Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá community, she was a haven, a consolation, a font of ancestral wisdom. Irreplaceable. R.I.P.

Detinha at book signing

Afro-Brazilian syncretism


Syncretism – or one religion “passing” as another – is a controversial topic in Brazil and other countries where Traditional African Religions are practised in various forms and guises. According to anthropologist Luis Nicolau Parés, African cultural groups traditionally adopted (and suppressed) the divinities of the groups they conquered and the defeated groups also adopted the divinities of their conquerors. Therefore, it is perfectly understandable that enslaved Africans should adopt or assimilate the saints worshipped by their Catholic conquerors – now called “masters.” Instead of being a form of camouflage, where people originally pretended to pray to Catholic saints in order to protect the worship of Afro-Brazilian divinities, syncretism could actually be the perpetuation of an ancient African practice. A different kind of resistance.