Many Candomblé communities in Brazil trace their central knowledge and practices to the Yoruba people who reside primarily in modern-day south-western Nigeria and who were trafficked in large numbers to Brazil during the final decades of the Atlantic slave trade. In June of 2014, the Alaafin (ruler) of Nigeria’s Oyo state (once the center of the Yoruba Empire) made a historic visit to Brazil and met with Candomblé devotees throughout the country. With his entourage of devotees of Yoruba religion from Nigeria, the Alaafin visited a sacred Candomblé site in Bahia-- the Xango stone. Shortly after the Alaafin’s visit, unidentified vandals dumped 500 pounds of salt and plastic bags on this site, and scrawled messages of hate on the stone.
In the summer of 2018, the king of Ile-Ife (the city that is regarded as the homeland of Yoruba people) also made a monumental visit to Brazil. Once again, Nigerian and Brazilian worshippers gathered at the Xango stone to perform religious rites. Not long after, vandals covered the stone and surrounding earth in hundreds of pounds of salt once more, as if trying to prevent these international collaborations from bearing future fruit.
The recent visits of these two politico-religious leaders from Nigeria to Brazil and the acts of intolerance targeting the precise sites of transnational ceremonies highlights the central questions that we will explore in this paper. What is the relationship between intolerance and the presence of Africana religions in the public sphere? How does national recognition, such as the declaration of the Xango stone as a heritage site, and international visibility, such as the visits of these Yoruba leaders, enhance or threaten the religious freedom of devotees in an era of growing intolerance?
Danielle N. Boaz (UNCC): A Stuart Hall Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University (2019-2020). She is also an Assistant Professor of Africana Studies in the area of social justice, human rights, and the law at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Danielle has a Ph.D. in history with a specialization in Africa, the African Diaspora, and the Caribbean; a J.D. with a concentration in International Law; and a LL.M. in Intercultural Human Rights. She is a licensed attorney in the State of Florida and the State of North Carolina. Danielle’s research focuses on the relationship between race and religious freedom, with an emphasis on the historical and present-day limitations on the right to practice African and African diaspora religions. She has published eleven articles and book chapters on this subject, exploring issues such as: the use of the term “voodoo” in U.S. court proceedings, the significance of ritual objects in the prosecution of Caribbean obeah cases, and police manipulation of Afro-Jamaican spiritual practices to obtain criminal confessions in Canada, among other things. Her first book manuscript, Banning Black Gods: African Diaspora Religions and the Law in the 21st Century, is currently under review.