12 Sep 2022


How Umbanda Relates to Brazilian National identity

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Umbanda is a Brazilian religion that worships or works through ancestral spirits, African ancestors (Pretos Velhos), and indigenous ancestors (Cobocros) among others. The religion is a combination of Brazilian religion influences, Catholicism, spiritism, and other religions from Africa. The religion is closely related to the Brazilian religion, Condomble, although not similar. The Umbanda religion is mostly practiced in the south side of Brazil and some parts neighboring nations such as Argentina and Uruguay. The religion summons the Brazilian Indians and the spirits of ancestral slaves to speak through mediums in trance (Hale, 2009) . 

The beliefs in Umbanda religion are not uniform among followers, but some beliefs are widely held. Among the commonly held beliefs is faith in Olorum, a supreme deity with several representations. The followers of this religion believe that the several Catholic saints emit Orixas, divine forces, and energies. The believers seek interactions with spirits of the dead and also have faith in the idea of karma, Christian charity, and reincarnation as well as believing in the abilities of both ancient magic and modern science. Most sociologists and historians believe the religion’s beliefs about Olorum and the existence of saints originated from Catholicism and spiritism. The religions believe in communicating with the dead in a wide variety of ways through mediums and psychics from traditional religions and adopted Orixas’ defication. 

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The Umbanda religion is subdivided into eight primary intermediaries. The chief intermediary is Oxala, with sin as the celestial body, Sunday as the ritual day, and white as his sacred color. Femininity in the religion is represented by Yemanja, with the ocean as the celestial body, Saturday as the ritual day, and bright blue as his sacred color. The intermediary of justice is Xango, Wednesday as the ritual day, and red as his sacred color. The goddess of money, waterways, and love is called Oxum, with Saturday as the ritual day, and green as his sacred color. The defender of soldiers is the Ogun, with Tuesday as the ritual day, and green as his sacred color. Ibeji is intermediaries related to children's spirits, with Sunday as the ritual day, and blue and pink as the sacred color. The intermediary of health, death, healing, and disease is called Omolu, with Monday as the ritual day, and black and white or black and red as his sacred colors (Hale, 2009) . 

The Umbanda religion is believed to have originated in Brazil in the early 1900s. The founder of the religion was a psychic called Zelio Fernandino Moraes, around Rio de Janeiro and its neighborhood were descendants of slaves, and many ex-slaves practiced versions of the religion that they adopted from their ancestors. The religion combined the traditional religion influenced by African culture with new religious practices, mostly advanced by Allan Kardec, a spiritist teacher. The exact date when Umbanda religion began is known to be November 15 th , 1908 when followers of the teachings of Allan Kardec took part, where Zerio Moraes also attended at the age of 17. Moraes manifested two spirits; Pai Anthony and Cobosclo das Sete Encruzilhadas, which were considered less superior by Kardec’s followers when compared to their regular spirits, therefore, his religion was considered as inferior by the Kardec’s. The Umbanda religion was ultimately produced as a new religion, autonomous from Kardec’s, and could not grow significantly until the 1930’s after the political conflicts which influenced many citizens to unite under the religion because it was considered by the majority as the only genuine Brazilian religion. 

Religious practices in Umbanda are carried out in temples led by psychics with the responsibilities of interacting with spirits on behalf of the living. Temples are called Tenda or Terreiro and are led by priests or priestesses. The followers of the religion gather in temples regularly and depending on particular Torreiro, or Umbanda’s branch, various ceremonies may include eating and drinking, chanting, dancing, as well as offering food and other items to spirits. Visitors might be requested to join groups if they manifest a spirit during the gatherings. 

The Umbanda religion faces great opposition from some Christian denominations that see it as false and ungodly, despite most Umbadists identifying their religion with the label “Catholic”. The Catholic Church opposes the religion terming misappropriate use of saints and the worship of spirits. The evangelical churches such as Pentecostal churches influences Umbanda in Brazil through evangelism, and together with other churches term spirit manifestation in this religion as demonic and contend that the manifestations are occasions of demon possession. The Umbanda religion has experienced a decline in the last few decades, especially in identification. Attendance is steady in Terreiros, and most of the followers are still in and around Brazil (Hale, 2009) . 

How Umbanda relates to Brazilian National identity 

The Umbanda religion symbolically elides and ultimately reinforces important social boundaries in Brazilian society, although being modern. The origin of the religion, trajectory, and status are tied with the issues of class and race in Brazil and also reflects the tensions in its ritual forms, elaboration, and institutionalization. The religion incorporates the key class and racial tensions prominent in Brazil, and levels or inverts elements that tend to be hierarchically arranged in the wider society. The hierarchical relationships are revealed and displaced by the religion, especially where Umbanda, Carvanal, and futebol foster strong brotherhood bonds to unite the powerless by virtue of their mystical and magical powers. The social tensions are reframed by the religion in part by availing symbolic resolutions of the tension in a way that is distanced from material effects. Millions of Brazilians are allowed by the religion to rehearse models of ritual agency reflecting and reframing constraints the society experience (Engler, 2009). 

The religion reflects the social and political structures of the Brazilian society. The various spirit is drawn from the national reality and transforms popular figures into symbols, as a dynamic aspect of its mutability and flexibility. The ideology of Umbanda religion aims at preserving and transforming the Afro-Brazilian cultural elements within the modernized society, as well as manifesting reinterpretation of older traditional values, rapture, and forgetting (Engler, 2009) . 

Brazil is a multicultural country and Umbadism is practiced by a wide range of people, and many people incorporate it as a way of life. The Brazilian national census department does not recognize Umbanda as a distinct and separate religion, and many followers consider themselves Catholics. The Umbanda practice is widespread and more prestigious without representing specific ethnic groups. The religion does not express cultural autonomy because it does not have a definable culture, and its aim does not seem to be self-government. The religion is popularly used as a method to receive help and advice for health and personal problems via spiritual possession, and increasing popularity in the metropolises of Brazil. 

The religion gained its popularity in the colonial period, as Brazilians were responding to slavery and the Portuguese state domination. The religion was not intended to resist other religions but was a means of survival in the oppression of slavery. The religion grew and survived in the 20 th century and gained legitimacy with high social acceptance. The financial returns involved in the survival of the religion are for cult leaders and center upkeep. Industrialization, the changing socio-cultural environment, and urbanization in Brazil breed more problems, and the medical facilities are inadequately improved to provide efficient services to the increasing population. The enhanced availability of the Umbanda religion to several regions in Brazil is because of advancement in communication and transport networks. 

The Umbanda religion relates to the Brazilian national identity by incorporating a wide range of cultures and religion and appeals to most of the citizens. The religion has been well established as a base because possession of spirits has existed for a long time in Brazilian societies, especially among indigenous Indians. Other religions such as Catholic have not changed much and have not attracted more people than Umbanda. The social life and internal beliefs of the religion such as respect, parties, outings, and personal satisfaction attract people. The reaction of the religion to the emerging environment changes because of the increased development in Brazil and appeal of the religion’s cult increases survival of the Umbanda religion by advantages overshadowing disadvantages. 

Umbanda has become a more nationalistic, de-Africanized, and bureaucratic. The religion was thought to be a reaction against the white prejudice with member African descent only. The non-blacks constitutes the largest proportion of the membership, and some Umbadists are elected to hold positions of political authorities. The religion was formed and has survived not to resist the sate domination but to escape from the negative influences in the developing world. The religion is still gaining much legitimacy and recognition as a spiritualist cult, and the rapid urbanization in the country will result to more followers of varying ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic status in search of assistance and advice in any health and personal problems. 

The uniqueness of Brazil as a Nation and how Umbanda Relates 

Brazil has amazing and unique aspects as a nation, with an approximate population of 194 million with ancestors from all over the world. Brazil is a country of immigrants, and the citizens have roots from Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and the Middle East. Most Brazilians have intermarried and the country has people from diverse multicultural backgrounds. More than 50% of the citizens in Brazil are of European descent, and 40% is made up of mixed European and African descent. The Umbanda religion relates to the diversity by combining influences of Spiritism, Catholicism, African religions, and the indigenous Amerindian religions. The religion promotes diversity and brings together people of various nationalities, races, religions, and sexes by valuing difference in people. 

People in Brazil are considered as beautiful, unique, and are part of the country and family of their origin. Most Brazilians were born in Brazil, although it is possible to gain citizenship naturally after 15 years of consecutive living in the country and having knowledge of Brazilian Portuguese language. Individuals from Portuguese speaking nations apply for naturalized citizenship after living for one year in Brazil. The Brazilian constitution allows people from Portugal to be granted the rights of Brazilian citizens. 

The Brazilians are loving, generous, and warm. People are more valued than material things, and relationships are highly respected and take precedence. The Umbanda religion promotes sharing and generosity. People share the little the little they have without discrimination based on race, gender, or religion. The religion promotes giving to others even when there is no much to give. People in Brazil love colors, parties, and celebrations similar to the Umbanda religion. 

Brazilians are extremely hardworking, although tasks are performed differently than in other nations. Punctuality is not thoroughly observed, unless in Sao Paolo which is more influenced by the western culture. The Brazilians go with the flow without stress about time. The Brazilian calendar has a lot of holidays, banks are open to customers from 11-4 pm, and the population thinks that other nations only think about work and business. The Umbanda religion believes the superior deity is in control of nature. Things move at a slower pace than in the western world, and the attitude is that things move along when they want to. 

The Brazilians are optimistic and believe in supreme beings that sustains them through difficulties. Speaking about spiritual matters in Brazil is very natural, and not controversial than in other nations like the US. The country is highly religious with approximately 90% of the population associating with some religion. The Umbanda religion promotes the religiosity by incorporating diversity, from the African influences from slavery and the recent migration from Middle East, Europe, and Asia. 


Engler, S. (2009). Umbanda and hybridity. Numen , 56 (5), 545-577. 

Hale, L. (2009). Hearing the mermaid's song: The Umbanda religion in Rio de Janeiro . UNM Press. 

Pierucci, A. F., & Prandi, R. (2000). Religious diversity in Brazil: numbers and perspectives in a sociological evaluation. International sociology , 15 (4), 629-639. 

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