Relocating the Sacred

African Divinities and Brazilian Cultural Hybridities

By Niyi Afolabi

Subjects: Latin American Studies, Black Studies, Religion, Cultural Studies, Literary Criticism
Series: SUNY series, Afro-Latinx Futures
Hardcover : 9781438490717, 366 pages, November 2022
Paperback : 9781438490724, 366 pages, May 2023

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Table of contents


Part I: Mapping the Sacred

1. Bahia: Yoruba Diasporic Domain of Activating the Sacred

2. Pierre Verger and Yoruba Ritual Altars in Brazil

3. Matriarchs of Candomblé: Mãe Stella de Oxóssi, Mãe Beata de Yemonjá, and Mãe Valnizia Bianch

Part II: The Sacred in Literary Manifestations

4. Jorge Amado and Vasconcelos Maia: The Sea/River as Iemojá/Oxum’s Domain

5. Abdias Nascimento and Nelson Rodrigues: The Fallen Angel as Betrayal of Blackness

6. Zora Seljan and Alfredo Dias Gomes: Sacred Feminine Solidarities and Sango’s Revenge

7. Raul Longo and Robson Pinheiro: Afro-Brazilian Deities in Literary Rituals

8. Cléo Martins and Chynae: Oiá and Oxossi in Invocations and Encounters

Part III: Hybridities in Afro-Brazilian Culture

9. Filhos de Gandhi and Cortejo Afro: Candomblé in the Carnivalesque Frame

10. Give Us This Day Our Daily Acarajé


Maps manifestations of the sacred and religious syncretism in Afro-Brazilian cultural forms.


Although Brazil is home to the largest African diaspora, the religions of its African descendants have often been syncretized and submerged, first under the force of colonialism and enslavement and later under the spurious banner of a harmonious national Brazilian character. Relocating the Sacred argues that these religions nevertheless have been preserved and manifested in a strategic corpus of shifting masks and masquerades of Afro-Brazilian identity. Following the re-Africanization process and black consciousness movement of the 1970s to 1990s, Afro-Brazilians have questioned racial democracy, seeing how its claim to harmony actually dispossesses them of political power. By embracing African deities as a source of creative inspiration and resistance, Afro-Brazilians have appropriated syncretism as a means of not only popularizing African culture but also decolonizing themselves from the past shame of slavery. This book maps the role of African heritage in—and relocation of the sacred to—three sites of Brazilian cultural production: ritual altars, literature, and carnival culture.

Niyi Afolabi is Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Identities in Flux: Race, Migration, and Citizenship in Brazil, also published by SUNY Press; Afro-Brazilians: Cultural Production in a Racial Democracy; and Ilê Aiyê in Brazil and the Reinvention of Africa.


"Relocating the Sacred is an important contribution to the study of Atlantic spiritualities and religiosities … Afolabi's book is a terrific study of African divinities in Brazil, but his study also sheds light on the enduring questions of the coloniality and politics of knowledge production about Africa and the looting and repatriation of African cultural objects (especially chapter 2). This book will be useful for students and scholars interested in the religion, history, material culture, literature, and anthropology of Africa and its diaspora." — Research in African Literatures

"…the book provides a thorough scholarly analysis, particularly in terms of literature. It is extensively researched, documented, and annotated … an excellent work of analytic scholarship." — Hispania

"Afolabi provides a subtle and exciting reading of the cosmology of African traditions in Brazilian cultural productions, showing the complicated ways race and racism operate on an aesthetic level." — Tshombe Miles, author of Race and Afro-Brazilian Agency in Brazil

"Relocating the Sacred makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the Yoruba diaspora and the transnational vivacity of African traditions. Afolabi brings to English-speaking audiences Afro-lusophone texts and contexts with remarkable translational capacity." — Felipe Fanuel Xavier Rodrigues, Federal University of Roraima, Brazil