A Dialogue with Nature
: Sacrificial Offerings in Candomblé Religion

  • Giovanna Capponi

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The present work explores the relationships Candomblé followers interweave with
the environment and with animals through ritual offerings and sacrificial practices.
As a self-defined “religion of nature”, Afro-Brazilian Candomblé can be described
as the cult of the orixás, deities whose origins can be traced to West Africa and who
are connected with the natural elements in the landscape. The complex use of food
items, other elements and animals in the rituals makes it necessary to investigate
the role of these elements in Candomblé cosmology and to take into account emic
perceptions of human-environment relations. Ritual practices develop around
culturally determined ways of relating and perceiving the environment but they are
also subjected to modifications and innovations. By presenting detailed
ethnographic accounts of Candomblé rituals in Brazil but also in Italy (where a
Candomblé house has been active for two decades), this thesis demonstrates how
the ritual structure can be understood as a pattern that follows variations based on
the needs of humans, but also on the tastes of the invisible entities and the agency
of animals. The renegotiation of these elements takes the form of a dialogic process
between the different parts. Ritual offerings and sacrifices can be understood not
only as a form of feeding and exchanging favours with the orixás but also as a form
of communication between the visible and the invisible world. Moreover, the
constant correspondences and deferrals between humans, animals and orixás in the
chants, in the mythology and the ritual proceedings allow the possibility of
understanding animal sacrfice as being performed not only for the benefit, but also
as a substitute, of a human life. Lastly, this thesis shows how ritual change is also
expressed by the incorporation of contemporary notions of environmental ethics
and pollution, allowing for new understandings of natural landscapes as a social
and historical construct.
Date of Award13 Mar 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorGarry Marvin (Supervisor) & Istvan Praet (Supervisor)


  • human-environment relations, sacrifice, Candomble, ritual, Brazil

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