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Axé, songs and reflections in Round Table Dialogue About Anti-Racist Struggles, Religious Intolerance and Confrontations

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”  This reflection, from black, North American poet Maya Angelou and reclaimed by Makota Celinha, set out in bold the theme of the round table dialogue “Between drums and bells: the resistance of black people,” held last Thursday (12).  This was the last live streaming event of the year in the CESE series “Ecumenical and Inter-religious Dialogue”.

Connection and exchange between invitees from Christian and African-origin religions enabled the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE) to participate in Black November, reaffirming its commitment to the anti-racist struggle and the promotion of dialogue between religions, raising awareness of the importance of religious pluralism in Brazil.

 

A recording of the event is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlwDe-tlRBc (in Portuguese

 

Fittingly, the mission to open the round table talks fell to Ekedi Denize, from the Casa Branca African-origin place of worship (Salvador, Bahia).  Denize provided a lesson about the context of the arrival of enslaved African people in Brazil, detailing their particular concentration in Bahia and providing evidence of the tradition of genocide against black and indigenous peoples.

“Despite the recognized importance of African-origin places of worship in Brazilian society, these religions have always been discriminated against and the target of countless violent attacks, from the colonization period until today, because of religious intolerance and racism”, she noted.  According to the data she provided, in Brazil, one report of religious intolerance is recorded every 15 hours and devotees of African-origin religions, such as Candomblé and Umbanda are their principal targets.

To advertise and confront the violence highlighted by Ekedi Denize, African-origin places of worship have organized the formation of networks in defence of their rights, for example the Makota Valdina Network against Religious Intolerance.

Hearing these reports, Sônia Mota, mediator of the round table and CESE Director, repudiated use of the bible as a justification for religious racism.  “There are almost two cases of religious intolerance a day! We cannot passively stand by while this is happening.  Here, we’re hoping to take one more step on the pathway to peace and to constructing productive and healthy dialogue,” she asserted with real hope.

Portraying the experiences, knowledge and struggles in the Northern Region, Mãe Beth (from the Rudembo Ngunzo Wá de Bamburusema Angola Nation place of worship) emphasized that we should not fight racism in the month of November alone. “Here in Pará, we have begun to put on our turbans and go out onto the street to break the evil eye against black people and traditional peoples of African origin.  Many pais de santo (priests) have been violently murdered or expelled from here.  This is done by religious people who invade African-origin places of worship and carry out violence with the bible in hand”, she pointed out.

With the coronavirus pandemic, the fight has become even more difficult, Mãe Beth reports.  But social work in the African-origin places of worship has not stopped and fundraising has been carried out to strengthen the community through staple food baskets containing masks and activity notebooks for children.

Mãe Beth finished her talk with a song for the sun, which emanates physical, mental and spiritual healing for every one of us. “The sun warms up at dawn and at night works to germinate, it gives us so many things.  May the sun shine on all the parts of our lives.”

Reverend Lilian, black feminist activist and theologian, guided the talk towards criticism of Euro-centric theories in Theology and for the visibility of struggles to strengthen the Africanity of Jesus within the Pastoral of the Black Embrace, coordinated by the Meridional Diocese of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil (Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil: IEAB) in Pernambuco.  “The way Theology was shown to us has prevented us from accessing our ancestry.  Dialogue with African-origin places of worship is fundamental to enabling us to promote the decolonization of our theological work from within,” she explained.

From Lilian’s point of view, being a Christian means needing to open oneself up to inter-religious dialogue and perceive every person’s responsibilities within this scenario.

The manifesto for State secularism was one of the points that oriented the explanations of Makota Celinha (General Coordinator of the National Centre of Africanity and Afro-Brazilian Resistance – Centro Nacional de Africanidade e Resistência Afro-Brasileira: CENARAB – and columnist of the Brasil de Fato MG newspaper), in reference to and in tune with previous talks about combatting religious intolerance against peoples from African-origin religions.  “We are important for the formation of this country and we only want to be happy. Those who have faith defend life, liberty and democracy.  Faith is not in keeping with racism and fascism”, noted Makota, concluding these thoughts in opposition to words prevalent within the current government’s discourse: “God is not above us.  God is within or beside every one of us.”

Regarding this year’s elections, Makota Celinha did not hold back and was categorical: those who have faith must fight for democracy.  “The democratic ruptures that have occurred play an active role in conservative religious sectors, allied to the political authorities and to capital.  The country is experiencing a wave of hate and prejudice.”  She enjoined: “These elected people need to take on a commitment to everybody, not only to that small part of Brazilian society.  We need municipalities that value diversity.  The state needs to be for each and every one.”

Inspired at various moments by the ancestral beauty and strength of songs performed by the singer, historian and Oyá female priest Rebeca Tárique, the round table finished with lightness and axé, with commitment rooted in the anti-racist struggle and against religious intolerance.

 

 

 

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