The rite is a central theme of the anthropology of religion, constituting, according to W. R. Smith, “the ancient religion in its totality”. He states that “…primitively, religion was not a system of beliefs with practical applications, but a set of fixed traditional practices to which all members of society were subjected”. Ritual hypertrophy configures the central aspect in ancient religions of ancient structure, as is the case with African matrix religions. Along these lines, Radcliffe-Brown states that beliefs have a much more variable and volatile character in the face of the rite, which presents itself in a more consistent and perennial manner, which is why, according to him, rites should be the privileged object of study in the discipline. For Durkheim, the rite has a social dimension, has a character of repeatability, performs a specific function within a society. In Freud’s wake, Malinowski conceives a psychological dimension in the ritual, which would function as a cathartic and reassuring. Malinowski also observes a ‘magical’ dimension in the ritual, resulting from the fact that its effectiveness resides in him, i.e. when he summons an immanent power (the mana), distinguished in his idea from the ‘religious’ dimension, which occurs when its effectiveness depends on the intervention of powers outside the rite (gods and spirits). Marcel Mauss made a decisive contribution in the theoretical approach to the rite. According to him, the rite is a “traditional act” adopted by the collectivity or by an authority recognized by it, and which deals with things conceived as “sacred”. For Mauss the rite has the coercive function of manipulating things by means of offerings and requests. Victor Turner, for his part, considers that the study of rituals must be accompanied by the study of symbols, affirming that symbols are multifaceted, i.e., they represent several things at the same time. For Turner, religious life presents characteristics proper to communitas, having “qualities of passage”. Finally, for Turner the ritual is a system of symbols that “stores traditional knowledge”, possessing a rigid and repetitive character, possessing a dramatic charge that allows the group to overcome divisions and reaffirm unity.
Present in the coat of arms of the Nigerian republic, the horse is deeply connected to the culture of the country, from the Islamic peoples who introduced it to the Yorùbáland. It is estimated that Òyó was established as a city in 1400. According to Stride & Ifeka (1971), the first monarch of Òyó would have been Oranmiyan Omoluabi Odede, originally from Ifé, who would be succeeded by his eldest son, Dada Ajaká, a king with no military spirit, who would be deposed and succeeded by Sàngó, his younger brother, who would prove to be an extremely combative monarch. After his death, Ajaká would have returned to the throne, presenting himself much more violent and combative. However, it would be Kori, Ajaká’s successor, who would conquer the area known as the metropolitan Òyó, beginning a century of enormous expansion. With the death of Aláàfin Olúwásò and the arrival on the scene of his son, the eighth Aláàfin, Onigbogi, Òyó faces collapse at the hands of the powerful Nupé army, whom the Òyó called Tapá, and who were led by Tsoede (Stride & Ifeka 1971), around 1535, and the royal family went into exile in the kingdom of Borgu (Oliver & Atmore 2001). This period of exile lasted 80 years, during which the Nupe took over the region of Òyó. The 17th century marked the period of the reconquest of Òyó, thanks to a well-organized army, with strong armor and, above all, mounted on horseback. With a new military power, Òyó is reconquered and a new capital is erected, Òyó-Igboho.
The Horse in Religion
This short historical passage introduces the theme of the horse. In Yorùbá culture, the horse is therefore associated with royalty, representing the superiority of the kingdom of Òyó. According to oral and textual sources, Sàngó was an excellent rider, having owned a royal stable of 10,000 horses. This aspect is extremely present in SàngóÕs cult, where it is stated that his initiated, élégún Sàngó, are ridden by him. At the same time, due to the speed that the horse possesses, allowing fast and long-distance movements, he is associated with lightning, mythical-natural weapon that Sàngó would use to defeat his enemies.
In Candomblé, the horse is equally present, in the mythological, musical and choreographic aspects. In fact, if in the cult of Òsoòsì (Oxóssi) the presence of the horse is quite evident, since during the xirê — i.e., the praiseworthy part of Candomblé that precedes the invocation of Òrìsàs (Orixás) into trance — at the moment Oxóssi is greeted, the members of the terreiro present at the “roda” perform the gestures of the mount, pulling the reins of the horse from one side to the other, indicating a change of course, in the case of Sàngó (Xangô) this aspect is not particularly evident or not widespread among the members of Candomblé. Nevertheless, it is precisely in his cult that the horse is most obviously present, with enormous emphasis on ritual trance. Sàngó’s dance with his hands closed and arms extended, side by side, is commonly interpreted as symbolizing the carriage of the double-edged axes (oxé) and/or the sère (xére; instrument containing the seeds that invoke the sound of rain). However, this dance represents, at least equally, the ferocious mount of Xangô towards battle. At the same time, the rhythm called Alujá is sung. The alujá is a fast rhythm, of a military nature, whose variations produced in the larger atabaque, the hwm, the soloist, variations known as “folds”, reproduce the advance of the Òyó cavalry in charge of the enemy.
The authors soon noticed that more than their peers in academia, the bulk of the readers of their scientific productions came from their own research contexts. This is particularly evident in what concerns African-American religions. The eminently hypertrophic ritual character (Prandi, 2000) of these religions, which constitutes the religious ethos itself (Ferreira Dias, 2013a), overcoming the cosmological dimensions, the aspects linked to collective memory and the normative importance of the processes of learning and transmission of knowledge (Berliner & Sarró, 2007).
The production of a new religious dynamic, resulting from globalization and with it from the growing transnationalization of religions and New Age movements – a context where religion has a market dimension – leads to a ‘rational choice’ (Stark & Bainbridge, 1985) in the selection among religious offerings, also giving rise to an intense search for religious knowledge that challenges the classical logic of learning. It is not surprising, then, that Sérgio Ferretti (2001), relates the normative importance that his works, and his wife’s holds for the Pernambuco Xangô, or Salamone (2001), reveals to us the case of a yorùbá bàbáláàwó who presents himself as an ‘anthropologist in training’. The classic traffic between the academy and the Bahian terreiros of Candomblé (Seeber-Tegethoff, 2007; Castillo, 2010), not only brought a ritual importance of reading (just seeing the impact of the work of Pierre Verger or Juana Elbein dos Santos), but also a scientificization of religious discourse, accelerated with the departure of devotees to universities (Seeber-Tegethoff, 2007); dos Santos & dos Santos, 2013), after an initial wave of researchers, who moved from the academy to the terreiros.
This process of intellectualization of religious discourse led to Paul Christopher Johnson (2002) to use the term ‘Protestant Candomblé’. In other ‘afro-religious’ scenarios analogous processes can be found. Umbanda, considered ‘the Brazilian religion par excellence’, which perpetuates the myth of ‘the three races’ (Furuya, 1974; Ortiz, 1978), is marked by the permanent intellectualization of its discourse and praxis (Birman, 1978; Brown, 1985; Novaes, 2017). The so-called Afro-Cuban religion, which includes several religious segments, bears the same imprint (Palmié, 2007, 2013), highlighting a transatlantic process of religious intellectualization. In the African context, the emergence of a Yorùbá ethnic and religious identity is not without an intellectual cultural revival (Peel, 2000; Matory, 2005), in which an attempt is made to draw a continuum against Egypt (Lucas, 1948, 1995; Wescott, 1957; Lawal, 1975; Imhotep, 2012) in order to legitimize and superiorize local religious practices.
In social sciences, data, theories, and conclusions are mostly subjective, depending on context, moments — the moment of fieldwork and the theoretical moment, i.e. the framework in fashion — and methodology. Most in general social sciences are conservative, despite its capacity to build a liberal and equal measure for all social components. I mean, social sciences allow us to see a society as mutant landscape, but paradoxically, in what comes to reinvent themselves, social sciences remain conservative, disapproving new conceptualizations and methods.
Because researchers depend on journals and books to find their (our) work recognized, and since journals, criterial lays on double-blind peer-reviews, we know live a peer-review tyranny. In several cases, we are facing not suggestions in order to improve our paper but actually we changing the layout to match with peers’ reading desire. In the very end the paper is no longer our idea but a given theme text, very similar to what children do at school – “you must do a composition about your holidays”.
In a lecture on Creole Culture, in Yale, in 1989, Robert Farris Thompson argues that African or Afro-descendant cultures should be looked as this and that cultures. This was a very important advice, which Salamone (2001) took seriously while analysing the case of a Nigerian healer, babalawo (Ifa priest) and Anthropologist that declares himself as monotheist and polytheist. Salamone deals with several coincidentia oppositorum facts. This remind us that our occidental framework of A or B is not operative in all kinds of contexts.
This is very clear when it came to study Yorùbá religion(s). Long-term discussions on ‘monotheist versus polytheist’ in this context, can still be found in some literature, despite the win of monotheist ideology, due to some scholar’s work as Idowu (Olodumare: God in Yoruba belief) and Ifá theology, deeply embodied in monotheist perspective. In a previous paper, published in 2013, following the path of Hallgren’s The Good Things in Life, I argued that Yorùbá religious context shall be understood as an open fluid system. We must remember Peel’s words (1968) … “…the whole system looks different from different social standpoint” (p.29). In fact, the whole system looks different because, in fact, it is.
Stating: religion in Yorùbá context is a this and that case. It is monotheist and polytheist. A good example of this and that pattern of thought can be found on the Orisha. When asked about Oshun, if She is the river, the deity of the river or the woman that died on river, a Yoruba will answer: all. She is the woman that died on the river, the deity of the river and the river itself.
Everyone who is familiarized with Yorùbá religious culture, and its Brazilian counterpart Candomblé, knows well the concept of “White Deities”, the Òrìsà Funfun. Many authors mention them in different aspects. While Verger (2002*) devoted his attention to historical-oral aspects of the cult, ritual and visual-aesthetical elements, Hallgren (1988) places those deities in terms of what it calls “white circle”, which pretends to be an arrange of deities, originated from Ilé-Ifè, based on whiteness element. Suzanne Blier, in many of her works, postulated the importance of this white element in Fon-Dahomey culture in European-African Atlantic encounters. Not only Blier but also many other authors refer that this white element was vital in primordial Afro-European contact in this area since many deities were associated with whiteness and because of that, the natives interpreted the arrival of those white, long-bearded men as they come of gods.
Nevertheless, despite the fact of Yorùbá Òrìsà Funfun are deeply associated with whiteness, they are generally translated as “Gods/deities who dresses in white”. However, they are named Òrìsà Funfun, which literally means “White Gods”. We have a serious problem in our hands because they are never mentioned as “Òrìsà Àso Funfun”, “Gods in white cloths”. They are White Gods. Obviously, this presented a serious dilemma for natives during the colonization and slave trade, a fact that remains in the present day-by-day religious life of African and its descendants. A people that were enslaved, that was forced to work in New World, that was and stills are largely oppressed, would easily made a slight change of theology, presenting those White Gods as Black Gods that Dresses in White.
* Brazilian commemorative edition