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Afro-Brazilian Composting

Afro-Brazilian Religions and Composting

Not all Americans are familiar with the mystical Afro-Brazilian martial art called Capoeira, even fewer with the Afro-Brazilian religion called Candomblé, much less what they have to do with compost and composting.

They have everything to do with composting, they have even been called a reserve of sustainable practices with nature. Candomblé and Capoeira emerged from sustainable villages in Brazil during the days of slavery, villages called Quilombos, places where composting was necessary to cultivate crops in accordance to their religious practices.

Most all Afro-American religions, including those in the southern hemisphere suffer from serious discrimination due to the use of religious offerings that are non-perishable and therefore harmful to nature.

Misunderstanding about the meaning of such things as the burning of candles, clay plates filled with corn, glass bottles of heavy drink, plastic bottles of honey or any a number of materials that are not easily disposed of in nature have given even greater emphasis on the negative aspects of such religious practices and even been called unsustainable.

In Brazil however, Candomblé has recently taken on a cause for environmentalists as a reserve of Afro-Brazilian culture and identity through such simple practices as low-tech composting.

In today’s Brazil, sustainable practices are becoming more and more popular as a trend, and many have turned to Candomblé for alternative practices, as composting is a serious challenge for those who practice the religion today.

The Executive Secretary of the Minister of Culture Juca Ferreira in Brazil said in Salvador Bahia on the 12th of December 2003 at a the Seminar for Candomblé, Health and Axé (spiritual energy), the following:

“The desire – many times heroic – to dominate nature, stimulated the transforming energy of capitalism and allowed the fantastic development of productive forces and knowledge. But, today, we find ourselves at an impasse. We are before the possibility of an environmental unbalancing of no return in consequence of the human actions. We cannot discard that this unbalancing comes from the malpractice of life on the planet. The social and environmental impacts of such developments have brought us to this threatening point. The rise of the temperature of the earth, the destruction of entire ecosystems, the daily disappearance of thousands of species and the vertiginous reduction of drinking water supplies are symptoms of this global environmental crisis, a true challenge for all humanity.”

“Candomblé is more than an ally. It is a precursor of environmentalism, it is a reserve. The point of view of candomblé is deeper. It is not treated to defend. The reverence of Candomblé, praises, recognizes the sacred one, the manifestation of the Holy Ghost in nature. In this direction, candomblé is a cultural reserve for the change that we need to make for a more sustainable society, or rather, fraternal, just, tolerant with the differences between human beings, because it understands them and because it in general respects other forms of life and nature. Candomblé is, at the same time, space of tradition, base of resistance and place of renewal. The diffuse influence of candomblé in the set of Brazilian society has contributed for many of the qualities of our society. The ecological question demands a magnifying of this influence.” – translated by Babelfish

Juca Ferreira makes a point that has become a trend in Brazil in recent years, the Afro-Brazilian culture, of which Capoeira and Candomblé are integral parts. They teach of ways that countries like Brazil can become more sustainable through such simple things as composting and taking interest in the earth.

More importantly, Afro-Brazilian religions themselves need to take more interest in what the do with their offerings, which when neglected, can be harmful to nature. As this is a growing trend, it becomes more and more obvious that followers of the religion look to low-tech methods of recycling their offerings in creative and innovative ways.

So creative are these methods sometimes that they have even become the object of research in such famous universities as UFBA and USP. Composting in Candomblé is a perfect example of how a religion can play a big role in some of the habits that our society seems to have acquired and how a religion can learn to adapt to new situations that threaten its existence.

According to many researchers and historians, the most influential deities in Brazil come from a now extinct tribe in Africa called the Yorobá tribe who’s priests came to Brazil in slave ships along with there followers, a society that was once “one with nature.”

There are many other tribes that influenced Brazilian Candomblé and the many faces of the religion all point to one thing in common, “harmony with Mother Nature in all walks of life.”

In the days of slavery, slave owners, frowned upon African religions; for this reason it was always hidden and disguised in the form of more acceptable religions, such as Catholicism.

Capoeira has a similar story, but the only place the enslaved Africans in colonial Brazil ever found refuge, was in the escape of the rain forest, a place where sustainable practices meant survival.

In places known as Quilombos, African-Brazilian culture flourished and composting was an integral part of their sustainable villages, without composting, harvesting crops on time, would have been impossible.

We know that in the Quilombo, it was essential that people’s wastes all went into the same area, cured under the earth and turned several times a month until it smelled like earth, and could be put to work in the fields. This was part of religious ceremony and made the difference through prayer and offerings.

For example, animal manure, horse, pig, lamb and human, needed to be “planted” with other materials such as dried grass, sawdust and old leaves in order to get the favor of the gods. In those times the gods would speak to people through priests who would receive dreams that told them what to plant, where and how, and most importantly, it worked.

As a trend, the story of such sustainable villages as Quilombos is one that continues to make breakthroughs in both cultural discrimination of a traditionally Afro-Brazilian religion as well as opening minds on both sides of the coin to the richness of history.

Composting can be spiritual and it can be scientific, how we see the facts is up to our own hearts and minds.

Tribes like the Yorobá from where Candomblé first came to the Americas, are perfect examples of how spiritual ways can tell the same story science keeps telling us all along, that we need to treat the earth with a little respect, it is, after all, our home and composting is the first step to being respectful. (By Mario Lopez)

Why not learn about nature’s laws through a little ceremonial composting in our own lives?