Atlantic Archives: Afro-Brazilians Fight Back Against Religious Violence


With the largest population of African descendants in the world, Brazil also has unbroken links to indigenous African spiritual practices and traditions. Many African Black people from the United States travel to Brazil to witness this community’s recognition of Black religious deities, ancestral reverence and matriarchal social systems. 

Most visitors from the states assume that the African spiritual communities blend in harmony with the dominant Catholic community and other Christian sects because historically Brazil is known for its religious synchronism. This, like the belief in racial harmony in Brazil, is an old and misunderstood 

Unfortunately, there is a great sacrifice made by those in the spiritual communities especially the oldest and largest community, Candomblé. 

Candomblé developed among Afro-Brazilian communities in the wake of the Atlantic slave trade from the 16th to the 19th centuries. It was born from a mixture of traditional religions brought to Brazil by the people of Africa. Enslaved Africans from West and Central Africa, mainly Yoruba, Fon and Bantu, and the Roman Catholic teachings of the Portuguese colonists, who then controlled the area. It was mainly concentrated in the Bahia region during the 19th century. 

After Brazil’s independence from Portugal, the 1891 constitution provided for religious freedom in the country, although Candomblé was still marginalized by the establishment. Roman Catholic institutions often associate it with crime. In the 20th century, a growing wave of migration from Bahia spread Candomblé throughout Brazil and abroad. The late 20th century saw an increasing connection between Candomblé and related traditions in West Africa and the Americas, such as Cuban Santería and Haitian Voodoo.  

With the wave of white nationalist, right-wing evangelical politics, the last decades have seen an increase of racial violence towards these majority poor religious communities.  Religious leaders are assaulted in public by evangelical mobs, the religious houses called “terreiros” are targets of arson, not unlike Black churches in the United States, and even more grave crimes.

The nation is reeling after the death last week of Maria Bernadette Pacífico. Mother Bernadette, as she was affectionately called, was murdered on Thursday, Aug. 17 in Bahia. Mother Bernadette was the national coordinator of the National Network of Black Rural  Communities (Conaq) and director of the Quilombo (spiritual community) Pitanga dos Palmares, located in the municipality of Simões Filho, in the state of Bahia. Local reports indicate that a set of disguised gunmen stormed the property, separated and tied up everyone after confiscating their cell phones. Then, her two grandchildren heard the gunshots as Mother Bernadette was killed in the next room.

 In a statement, her organization, Conaq mourned Bernadette’s death:

“The Conaq family deeply feels the loss of such a  woman of wisdom and true leadership. Her untimely departure is an irreparable loss not only for the community of the quilombola  but also to the entire human rights movement.”

This tragic event highlights the cruelty of the barriers that stand in the way of those who fight. While we mourn the loss of this brave leader, we must also be united and determined to continue her legacy. May her memory inspire new generations to continue to fight for a world where all voices are heard, all cultures and religions are respected and all rights are protected. guard.”

 Bernadette is the mother of Flávio Gabriel Pacífico dos Santos, a quilombo leader from the Pitanga dos Palmares community. Her son, Flávio was also murdered in an unsolved case six years earlier.

 “Conaq calls on the Brazilian state to take immediate action to protect the leaders of the Quilombo de Pitanga de Palmares. It is the duty of the state to ensure that a prompt and effective investigation is carried out and who is responsible. responsible for the crimes committed against the victims, the leaders of this Quilombo must be held accountable. It is important that justice be served, the truth  known and  the guilty punished. We want justice to honor the memory of the loss of our  leadership, but also so that we can affirm that in Brazil, acts of violence against quilombolas will not be tolerated,” the statement read.

Family members have reported that Mother Bernadette had been threatened for several months. During a meeting with the chief of the supreme court in January she informed him of her suspicion. She was assumed to be under the protection of the federal military police through a mandate from the justice department’s human rights division in Bahia for the past two years. Mother Bernadete’s spiritual community lies on over 800 hectares of fertile land housing 290 families. There, she managed an association of over 120 farmers who sold a large variety of food and goods.

Her community is demanding a quality investigation of religious and environmental racial crimes. The outrage has been steadily building. The National Association of Rural Black Quilombos states that Mother Bernadette is the 11th Black spiritual leader killed in the past 10 years. These Black communities are historically silenced in public with the exception of moments of racial exploitation mostly through the tourism industry. There is a well-documented history of Black spiritual communities being terrorized, raided and shut down by political actors since the abolition of slavery in 1888.

Protestors were organized almost immediately following the news. These spiritual communities represent spaces of resistance and political power in the same way as southern churches in the United States during the civil rights movement. Additionally, the quilombo communities provide African descendants with a space to preserve and protect the memory of our ancestors.

Follow the hashtag: #justiçaporbernadeteebinho or peep our stories

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