Glossary of Terms


African Traditional Religion. There are two main concerns of ATR: one is ancestral veneration, and the other is service to the divinities.


the name of the most widely recognized African Traditional Religion (ATR) practiced in Brazil. There are many different denominations of ATR in Brazil, and there are many different sects of candomblé, called 'nations', including West, Central and Southern African traditions, such as ketu, bantu, and jeje.


refers to people born in Rio de Janeiro. Carioca da gema refers to people whose families have been born in Rio de Janeiro for many generations.

chattel slavery:

a form of slavery that involves a person owning another person as a piece of personal property—able to lend, rent, sell or inherit—in the same way one can own a cow or a pig. This is distinct from other types of slavery, like wage slavery, punishment, or indentured servitude.

escravo de ganho (earning slave):

a type of urban slavery where the enslaved person had to work at a job, but the wages/salaries were paid to the person designated as the 'master'. Typical jobs included construction and transportation of goods and people.


tight-knit urban communities that are self-built and self-organized due to lack of State services and infrastructure, like sewers, trash collection, and street lamps. Often referred to as "slums" or "shantytowns" in the international press, Rio de Janeiro has between 600-1000 favela communities, depending who's counting.


a drum rhythm, a song and a dance originating from Congo-Angola, which was continued by the enslaved in rural Brazil. Today, descendants keep this tradition in both rural and urban strongholds. Jongo is a symbol of political and cultural resistance.


a category of enslaved Africans who had adapted to the culture of their captors; an African-born person 'broken' by the slave system.


designates a large public area; a square.

mãe-de-santo or pai-de-santo:

Holy Mother or Holy Father; Priestess or Priest. In Candomblé and other ATRs, both men and women can rise to the highest ranks in the religious orders and lead groups of practitioners and initiates in their rituals, teaching the wisdom, the traditions and the secrets of their sect.


In humans, melanin is the biological substance that gives us color--skin, hair, eyes--and why skin gets darker in the sun. People with albinism have little to no melanin. Lighter-skinned people have less, while darker-skinned people have more of it.


(in Spanish: orisha); the divine spiritual entities at the center of ATR practices in Brazil. In short, the orixás represent the manifestations of the powers of nature — likely the origin of those similar pantheons in Greek or Roman mythology.


a racial category of brown-skinned or mixed-race people. Historically, in Brazil, race has often been designated in 3 categories: branco/branca=white; pardo/parda=brown or mixed-race; and preto/preta=black. For many Afro-Brazilians, "preto/preta" is an offensive term and they prefer "negro/negra". Also, there is some controversy around including "pardo/parda" with African identity, as it could be erasing indigenous identity. Indigenous-mixed Brazilians can be brown-skinned but not Afro-descendant.


designates a large public area; a plaza.

pretos novos:

(literally: new blacks) refers to the captured and enslaved Africans as they arrived in Brazil. Upon arrival to Brazilian shores, the pretos novos had been in captivity, on average, for one year.

pretos velhos:

(literally: old blacks) a powerful spiritual entity found in Camdomblé, Umbanda, and other ATRs. Spiritually, the pretos velhos act as guardian angels, protectors, and guides for the descendants of the enslaved in Brazil. They hold African memory and connect the New World to Old Africa.


(in Spanish: palenque) a community of runaway slaves; maroon community. There are over 2500 registered quilombos in Brazil, but the true number is still unknown.


In Candomblé and other ATRs, the terreiro is the place where the group gathers to practice their rituals. A practitioner belongs to a specific terreiro the same way a Christian belongs to a specific church, a Jew belongs to a specific synagogue, or a Muslim belongs to a specific mosque. Usually, the terreiro is an outdoor location, though in urban settings, it can be indoors, like a temple.

tigres (tigers):

a very low status enslaved person who was charged with carrying waste from homes and dumping it into the bay. Tigres carried the waste in large vessels on their heads and the foul contents would slop and slosh around as they walked through the city. The drips would permanently stain their skin, leaving a striping pattern and thus, they were called 'tigers'.


a syncretic religion that mixes traditions from Africa, the Roman Catholic saint system, the Spiritism practices of Allan Kardec, and indigenous religious practices. This religion was founded near Rio de Janeiro, in the city of Niteroí, but has spread throughout Brazil and South America.