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Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370 www.brill.


Transatlantic Dialogue:
Roger Bastide and the African American Religions*

Stefania Capone
Directeur de recherches CNRS, Laboratoire d’ethnologie et de sociologie comparative, MAE—
Université de Paris X, 11, Allée de l’Université, 92023 Nanterre Cedex, France

This article considers the role played by Roger Bastide in the development of studies of religions
and cultures of African origin in Brazil. Bastide’s interpretation of syncretism in religious phe-
nomena has left its imprint on Afro-Brazilian studies. I will analyze two paradigms used by this
author in his treatment of the logic of syncretism: the ‘principle of compartmentalization’ and
the opposition between material acculturation and formal acculturation. I will show how, within
the Afro-American religious universe, one finds two types of differentially defined syncretism: an
Afro-African syncretism, prior to slavery, that lays the foundation for the idea of a basic unity of
African culture, and an Afro-western syncretism that one must fight today. The notion of ‘ritual
panafricanism’, which accounts for this ‘positive’ syncretism between religions with a similar
ancestry, revives the Afro-Brazilian vision of ‘unity in diversity’ that is largely inspired by Bastid-
ian theories.

Roger Bastide, Afro-Brazilian religions, Candomblé, syncretism, acculturation.

Roger Bastide was one of the scholars who have most influenced the develop-
ment of studies on religions and cultures of African origin in Brazil. Upon his
arrival in São Paulo in the late 1930s, he initiated an intense dialogue with
Brazilian scholars of black cultures. He took up interpretative schemes that
were already in use at the time while elaborating a singular vision of syncretic
processes in Brazilian society.1 Following the example of his predecessors, Bas-
tide’s work aimed to account for African cultural influences within formerly
slaveholding American societies. The problem of acculturation thus became a

* Translated from the French by Adeline Masquelier, Tulane University, New Orleans, USA

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2007 DOI: 10.1163/157006607X211969

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S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370 337

recurring theme in his work, which, through notions like ‘syncretism’ and
‘reinterpretation’, attempted to grasp the processes that enabled the formation
of African-American cultures. In its multiple manifestations, Afro-Brazilian
culture was thus the ‘sociological laboratory’ in which Bastide tested his theo-
ries on cultural contact.
But Bastide’s work is also particularly important because it helps us think
of American societies’ relationship to Africa. The emergence of studies on
‘African civilizations’ in the Americas coincided in a significant manner with
the abolition of slavery at the very same time when blacks were given citizen-
ship. The issue then was to find out whether or not blacks would be integrated
into the nation: could they be assimilated or were they instead bearers of a
foreign ‘culture’, of modes of thought that would prevent their integration
into western society? For a long time, an idea prevalent in African American
studies was that blacks, when they had managed to preserve African traditions,
belonged to another world and remained ‘impermeable’ (to use Bastide’s word)
to ‘modern ideas’. It was as if the perpetuation of an African memory and
the commitment to one’s origins enabled the societies which Bastide called
‘African societies’ to escape history whereas ‘Negro societies’, on the other
hand, were permeable to history and change. The formation of a domain of
African Americanist knowledge was thus marked from the beginning by an
unease: an unease in regard to the very idea of physical and cultural mixing
and the inevitable degeneration that would ensue, as well as an unease con-
cerning the severance from the original culture and the impossibility of con-
vincingly retracing one’s cultural origins. The development of an African
Americanist domain has thus been motivated by an obsessive quest: that of
African origins, of a direct link with a territory—Africa—and with an original
culture. The African past thus becomes both a temporal and a spatial meta-
phor that helps generate the idea of a field—the African American field—
whose main classificatory concept is undoubtedly Africa. As we shall see,
nevertheless, this Africa is no longer a real Africa; it is no longer a continent
inhabited by men and women, a place from where the ancestors of African
Americans were snatched, and to where African Americans now wish to
return. It is instead a ‘mythical’ Africa, a symbol that must be reactivated on
American soil, and a source of legitimation for those who have been initiated
into African American religions. In the discourse of the social actors and
practitioners of these religions, the link with Africa and the rupture brought
about by slavery are constant points of reference. The African Americanist
domain thus develops around the tension between continuity and discontinu-
ity, between commitment to and betrayal of origins, between ‘purity’ and

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338 S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370

Nevertheless, despite his reliance on prior works, it is Bastide’s interpreta-

tion of syncretism in religious phenomena and, in particular, his famous ‘prin-
ciple of compartmentalization’2 that have left their imprint on Afro-Brazilian
studies. In this article, I will show how Bastide’s theory of syncretism is the
product of an intense dialogue with Brazilian modernists (such as Mario de
Andrade), with folklorists, psychiatrists and physicians who studied Afro-
Brazilian religions in the 1930s and 1940s (Edison Carneiro and Arthur
Ramos in particular), as well as with scholars of African American cultures
(such as Melville J. Herskovits in the US and Fernando Ortiz in Cuba). Con-
trary to what one might think at first glance, Brazil did more than simply
provide a terrain for a French sociologist arrived from Europe with his ideas
and his interpretations of social facts ( faits sociaux). In reality, the dialogue
with Brazilian scholars was extremely important and Bastide was undoubtedly
indebted to his Brazilian colleagues for the analyses of Brazilian reality they
had elaborated.
In Brazil, the debate on Afro-Brazilian culture revolved around notions
such as ‘syncretism’ and ‘reinterpretation’ until the end of the 1950s when
Pierre Verger’s work inaugurated a new phase in Afro-Brazilian studies that
highlighted the links with African cultures. Afro-Brazilian studies thus became
the hunting ground of ‘Africanists’, a new generation of Brazilian anthropolo-
gists who, inspired by Verger’s work, would look to Africa for evidence of the
continuity of African tradition in certain Afro-Brazilian religious practices. At
a time when UNESCO-sponsored research on racial relations marked the
beginning of a sociological phase in Afro-Brazilian studies in the Brazilian
Sudeste (southeastern region), there was in the Nordeste (northestern region)
a return to a culturalist approach aimed at emphasizing the continuity rather
than the rupture with African cultures. Today, this foundational tension
between the quest for African cultural roots and the sociological study of black
populations continues to shape Afro-Brazilian studies and Verger’s influence is
still strong in Brazil among religious practitioners and anthropologists in
search of Africa.
Ever since the emergence of African American studies, it has been a matter
of finding Africa in America: the methods and results varied, but the founda-
tional tension between these two poles was always there. Thus for Arthur
Ramos (1979 [1937]: vxiii) who wrote the first book on black cultures in the
New World in 1937, it was necessary to preserve the method of the school of
Raymundo Nina Rodrigues (the precursor of Afro-Brazilian studies) by study-
ing ‘African cultures to better understand blacks in the New World’. Roger
Bastide (1971 [1967]: 8) on the other hand wrote, thirty years later, that ‘the
best method of investigating African American social groups is not to start in

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S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370 339

Africa, and see how much of what we find here survives across the Atlantic,
but rather to study African American cultural patterns as they exist today, and
then work gradually back from them towards Africa.’ From Africa to America
and vice-versa, one cannot apparently make sense without the other.
This has led, among blacks of the New World, to the identification of cul-
tural paradigms that generated what might be called ‘a geography of African
cultures’, in which each culture has set the tone for one—and only one—
region of America (Bastide ibid.: 11). In the British colonies, the dominant
African culture was supposedly Fanti-Ashanti, while Spanish and Portuguese
colonies were allegedly influenced by Yoruba culture and French colonies by
Dahomean culture.3 But the quest for cultural origins is not simply the con-
cern of anthropologists. The discourse on origins is ubiquitous among practi-
tioners of African American religions. If there is a ‘verificationist epistemology’
(Scott 1991) in this domain, it is already present at an embryonic though
significant stage in the discourse of ritual actors. This convergence of dis-
courses—one indigenous, the other scholarly—runs across the entirety of the
African American field (cf. Capone 1999; Palmié 2002).
In order to show the range of this ‘transatlantic dialogue’ between the Bra-
zilian ‘Africanists’ and the French ‘Brazilianists’ in which Africa occupied a
central place, I will analyze two types of paradigm used by Roger Bastide when
he considered the logic of syncretism: the ‘principle of compartmentalization’
(principe de coupure) and the opposition between material acculturation and
formal acculturation. My analysis will shed light on two extremely important
elements of Bastidian theory: the negation—with the principle of compart-
mentalization—of syncretism as a form of mixing and the reaction to the
theory of the marginal man, torn between two universes and personified by
the African American in general and the Afro-Brazilian in particular. We shall
see that, for Bastide, there is a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ syncretism: the former retains
classificatory distinctions while the latter irredeemably dissolves them. In the
first case, Africa is preserved; in the second, it is dissolved in a new reality
characterized by cultural discontinuity. In Bastide’s thought, these two syncre-
tisms set the stage for the tension between ‘africanitude’ and ‘négritude’, where
Africa finds all its significance in relation to the African American present.
With the principle of compartmentalization, Bastide opened the way to the
process of re-Africanization, or what we could call the purification and legiti-
mization of religious traditions. The principle of compartmentalization and
the notion of ‘cultural encystment’ (enkystement culturel ), which leads one to
accept the unreality of syncretism, established the theoretical bases of current
struggles against syncretism and of re-Africanization movements (Capone
1999). If there was an accommodation to the dominant civilization, it was in

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340 S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370

fact ‘counter-acculturative’ because accommodation was nothing but a simu-

lacrum to better preserve African cultures and traditions. The notion of syn-
cretism was thus transformed into another notion that presently enjoys
widespread currency in Brazil and the United States: the notion of ‘resistant
accommodation’. Once having originated out of a transatlantic dialogue
between Europe and Latin America, it is from the United States that such
theories of syncretism are nowadays re-emerging under different guises. I will
show how two types of syncretism are operating within the African American
religious universe: an ‘Afro-African’ syncretism from which the belief in a basic
unity of ‘African culture’ originated and an ‘Afro-western’ syncretism that must
be eliminated. The notion of ‘ritual panafricanism’, which I propose to account
for this ‘positive’ syncretism between two ‘sister religions’, re-enacts the Afro-
Brazilian dream of ‘unity in diversity’ that is largely inspired by Bastidian

Roger Bastide, or the mirror of the other

Roger Bastide was born on 1 April 1898 in Nîmes, south of France, the son of
teachers. He was raised as a Protestant and worked as a teacher of philosophy
in several secondary schools in France. Having long been fascinated by the
Other, he embarked in 1930 on his first sociological research on a group of
immigrants in France and produced Les Arméniens à Valence, a study that
appeared in the Revue Internationale de Sociologie in 1931. As Ravelet (1993)
noted, this first study on acculturation brings to mind the opening of his most
famous work, Les religions africaines au Brésil (1960), by raising issues that are
at the heart of the Bastidian analysis of Afro-Brazilian cultures and religions:
the exile from the native soil, the memory embedded in the hearts and minds
of immigrants (Bastide would later speak of corporeal imprinting of collective
memory) and the re-inscription of this memory in a new territory. As he
wrote: ‘A native land is above all about the soil; when this soil is taken away
from you, can you build an artificial territory? Armenians . . . thought that
they could keep Armenia alive by carrying in their hearts and minds images of
the distant land’ (in Ravelet 1993). One already detects in this 1931 text the
preoccupation with processes of acculturation that would underlie the entirety
of Bastide’s work until his death in 1974.
In 1938, Bastide was invited to Brazil to take up the chair of sociology at
the University of São Paulo vacated by Claude Lévi-Strauss. The contract he
signed with the university specified that he was to teach Durkheimian sociol-
ogy and, in reaction to Lévi-Strauss’s resignation to conduct research among

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S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370 341

the Nambikwara and the Bororo, obliged him to confine his research to the
vacation periods of the academic year. This arrangement accounts for his lim-
ited fieldwork. In Le Candomblé de Bahia (1958: 14), Bastide admits that he
did not spend more than nine months in total in the field. A maximum of five
months were spent in Salvador de Bahia, spread over seven consecutive years
from 1944 to 1951. His work thus took place through ongoing contacts with
‘local experts’ rather than as an extended observation of the rituals he studied:
‘. . . this meant that I could get to know well a [house of ] Candomblé during
the three vacation months. The rituals that took place during the time when
there were no vacations, I could not learn about them’ (in Cardoso 1994: 72).
Early in his stay in Brazil, Bastide focused on his teaching and his intense
work as a critic in several Brazilian publications. The years from 1939 to 1945
were the most prolific of his career with four books, 81 reviews and 217 arti-
cles, an output that translates into almost an article a week (Ravelet 1993).
Bastide started reading the work of Brazilian sociologists and kept company
with a number of intellectuals including Gilberto Freyre, Sergio Milliet and
Paulo Duarte. But it is above all Bastide’s affinities with the modernist group
of São Paulo, and especially with Mario de Andrade, that shaped his first steps
in Brazil. Fernanda A. Peixoto (1988) suggests that, in his discovery of Brazil,
Bastide conducted himself as a ‘tourist apprentice’ like his privileged inter-
locutor, Mario de Andrade (1996), who coined the phrase. It is in his debate
with the modernists that the French sociologist refined his gaze as the for-
eigner searching for the ‘Brazilian soul’. This intensive dialogue emerges in
Bastide’s writings on Brazilian art, and especially in his musings on the baroque
and the work of Aleijadinho, the famous mulatto sculptor of baroque religious
imagery during the eighteenth-century gold rush in Minas Gerais. In his early
writings, one already finds Bastide’s questioning the authenticity and original-
ity of Brazilian culture and his particular concern for syncretism without
which it is not possible to understand Brazilian reality. Yet the analysis which
Bastide put forward around what he called ‘aesthetic métissage’ already carries
within it its counterweight: an ‘aesthetic resistance’ to the work not only in
plastic arts but also in music, in songs and in Afro-Brazilian rituals (Peixoto
1988: 16).
It was not until early 1944 that Bastide made his first trip in the Nordeste,
from 19 January to 29 February. During this trip, in which he visited Recife,
João Pessoa and Salvador de Bahia, he met the novelist Jorge Amado, who
would become his cicerone in the world of Bahian Candomblé. Conversations
with Candomblé initiates thereafter took place through the great Bahian
writer as an intermediary, or through rather precarious linguistic exchanges
where, according to Amado, ‘French and Nagô’ were intermixed since, despite

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342 S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370

having spent six years in Brazil, Bastide did not speak Portuguese fluently
(Lühning 2002: 10).4 During the remainder of his stay in Brazil, Bastide
would return to Salvador only in January 1949 and August 1951. After return-
ing to France, he would make two other short trips, a week-long trip in Sep-
tember 1962 and another one in August 1973, accompanied by his former
student, Renato Ortiz (Ravelet 1993). During his second trip to Salvador in
1949, his good friend Pierre Verger was in Africa and could not accompany
him on his visits to Candomblé houses (Verger 1994). It was apparently
during this trip that Bastide participated in his first divination session at
the house of the pai-de-santo Vidal in the Brotas quarter and was told of
his mythical bond with the orixá Xangô Ogodô.5 In 1951 during his third
trip, in the famous terreiro (cult house) of the Axé Opô Afonjá, Bastide carried
out the ceremony of consecration of necklaces, called ‘lavagem de contas’
(cleansing of the beads), through which a minimal commitment is established
between a person and his protective divinity.6 At that time, Verger had already
become his principal interlocutor; he was a kind of local representative of
the world of Candomblé and a translator of the religious universe for his fel-
low countryman.
Upon his arrival in Brazil in 1946, after a long journey across Latin Amer-
ica, Verger had met Bastide in São Paulo. The latter advised him to go to Bahia
to find the imprints of Africa, which Verger already knew because he had
worked there as a photographer. Verger arrived in Salvador on 5 August 1946.
After falling under the spell of the city and its religious traditions, he decided
to settle there.7 As Bastide (1958) puts it, Verger was looking to highlight
black Bahians’ loyalty to Africa through a comparison between Africa and
Bahia. As the spiritual son of the mãe-de-santo (chief priestess) of the Axé Opô
Afonjá, Senhora d’Oxum, who had succeeded the famous mãe Aninha who
had died in 1938, Verger was not very interested in anthropology; during his
successive trips to Africa, he took notes only to ‘fulfill his role as a messenger’
and to be able to ‘talk about Africa’ to his Bahian friends (Métraux and Verger
1994: 62). In 1952, he left for Porto Novo (Benin) from where he made some
brief forays into Nigeria. It is during one of these short trips that he obtained
a letter from the king of Oshogbo for Senhora (ibid.: 158).8
But the greatest token of recognition which Verger brought back from
Africa for his Bahian mãe-de-santo was a letter from the Aláàfin (king) of Oyo
to Senhora in which she was addressed as Ìyá Nasó: this was the oyè (honorific
title) of the priestess in charge of the worship of Shangó in Oyo, the former
capital of the Yoruba empire, as well as the name of the founder of Engenho
Velho, the first Candomblé terreiro in Salvador de Bahia. Senhora’s son,
Deoscóredes M. Dos Santos, remembers this event:

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S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370 343

In August of 1952, Pierre Verger arrived from Africa with a xeré and an edu ara Xangô
that had been entrusted to him by the Ona Mogba (priest of Xangô) on orders from
the Oba Adeniran Adeyemi, Alafin of Oyo, so that they could be delivered to Maria
Bibiana do Espirito Santo, Senhora. These gifts were accompanied by a letter that
granted her the title of Iyá Nassô, something that was confirmed in the terreiro of the
Axé Opô Afonjá on August 9, 1953, in the presence of all the ‘sons’ [initiates] of the
house, the representatives of several terreiros, intellectuals, friends of the sect [sic],
writers, journalists, etc. This event marks the renewal of former religious relations
between Africa and Bahia, relations which later intensified because Mãe Senhora
maintained a permanent exchange of gifts and messages with kings and other person-
alities of the sect in Africa (Santos 1988: 18-19).9

The symbolic value of this missive, which the direct descendant of the god
Shangó in Africa10 was addressing to Senhora, was crucial to the assertion of
her authority for she was mãe-de-santo of a terreiro of which Xangô was the
protective orixá. Moreover, with this title, Senhora became the legitimate heir
to the ‘real’ Nagô (Yoruba) tradition: ‘By abolishing the past thanks to this
distinction, Senhora became spiritually the founder of the Candomblé family
of the Ketu [Yoruba sub-group] “nation” in Bahia, all of whom originated
from Barroquinha (Engenho Velho cult house)’ (Verger 1981: 30). Verger
spent many years dividing his time between Brazil and Africa, where in 1953,
he had been initiated into the Ifá cult and become a babalawo (diviner) under
the ritual name of Fatumbi: ‘Ifá brought me back into the world.’ Through his
comings and goings, he facilitated a flow of information that symbolically
connected Brazil to Africa.11
Bastide’s privileged relationship with Verger, maintained through an intense
correspondence between São Paulo and Salvador, eventually led him to make
his first research trip to Africa, from 13 July to 22 September 1958. During
the trip, Verger played the role of cicerone, as Amado had done in Salvador in
1944.12 It was a research trip carried out under the auspices of the Institut
Français d’Afrique Noire for the purpose of ‘finding [in Africa] the sources of
Brazilian religions’ (Ravelet 1993). Thus, if Bastide helped Verger discover
‘Africa in Brazil’ during their 1946 encounter, it was Verger who, twelve years
later, showed him the ‘influence of Brazil in Dahomey and Nigeria’ (Verger
2002: 39). During this trip, Bastide was wearing his consecrated necklace like
a ‘passport’ that would open the doors of communities of initiates of the
Shangó cult to him. Bastide was welcomed like a ‘brother’ by those initiates
and received from them the name Aroselo malogbo which Verger (ibid.: 47)
translates as ‘the one who owns an oșe (a double-edged axe, symbol of Shangó)
will never grow old.’
The trip took place shortly after the defense of his Doctorat d’État in 1957,
and before Roger Bastide was offered the chair of social and religious anthro-

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344 S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370

pology at the Sorbonne in Paris. Bastide had returned temporarily to France

in 1952, teaching in Paris from November to June and in São Paulo from June
to November before returning to his native country for good in 1954 (Ravelet
1993). In 1952, he participated in the UNESCO Project on race relations in
Brazil. Initiated thanks to his friendship with Alfred Métraux whom he met in
São Paulo in 1951, this first collaboration would lead to new research on Afri-
can students in France. The African journey among Yoruba marked the end of
his Afro-Brazilian fieldwork. From then on, Bastide would devote his research
to social psychology. In 1959, he created the Center for Social Psychiatry, and,
following the death of Georges Gurvitch in 1965, became director of the Cen-
ter for the Sociology of Knowledge.13 In 1968, Bastide retired but this did not
prevent him from continuing his activities at the Center for Social Psychiatry
in Paris. Before his death, Bastide managed to return briefly to Brazil and
made a last visit to Salvador in 1973. His ‘adventure with the Other’ finally
ended on 10 April 1974.

The ‘principle of compartmentalization’, or the negation of

marginal man
The Bastidian vision of Afro-Brazilian religions and of Bahian Candomblé in
particular is strongly influenced by the work previously undertaken by Brazil-
ian ‘Africanists’.14 In his writings, one finds a dualistic vision of Brazilian soci-
ety that had already attained dominance in the studies of black cultures at the
time of Bastide’s arrival in Brazil. This vision was already present in the turn-
of-the-century writings of Raymundo Nina Rodrigues (1900) who distin-
guished African blacks (former slaves born in Africa), for whom conversion
was nothing but a ‘juxtaposition of exteriorities’, from Creole blacks (‘the
Negroes’) who were responsible for the degeneration of African religious prac-
tices and their subsequent mixing.15 Roger Bastide repeated those distinctions
while formulating a theory of syncretism based on this essential difference
between blacks who were members of ‘traditional’ Candomblé and blacks who
were members of ‘syncretic’ cults. For the former, syncretism was but an illu-
sion, for the latter, it led to the loss of African tradition and the fusion of dis-
tinct cultural contributions.
The keystone of the Bastidian theory of syncretism is undoubtedly the
‘principle of compartmentalization’ (principe de coupure) which allows for the
alternation or cohabitation, in a single individual or within a single group, of
logics or categories that are supposedly otherwise incompatible and irreduc-
ible (cf. Mary 2000). According to Bastide, the principle of compartmental-
ization should enable one to live simultaneously in two distinct and

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S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370 345

contradictory worlds: one can thus be a good Catholic while being at the same
time a Candomblé adept. The western world and the African world can
thereby coexist without mixing. The principle of compartmentalization also
implies the existence of two types of thought: western thought, ‘modern and
rational’, and African thought, ‘traditional and mystical’. This difference
underlies the principle of compartmentalization: only when a serious change
of mentality occurs, thanks to what Bastide (1970a) calls ‘formal accultura-
tion’, can these two types of thought merge. The evolution of this concept
from the 1950s to the time of Bastide’s death is not without contradictions
and unexpected reversals. With the principle of compartmentalization, Bas-
tide tried to reconcile Lévy-Bruhl’s law of mystical participations and
Durkheim’s law of classifications, bringing together two theoretical positions
that were hardly compatible. The principle of compartmentalization aimed to
demonstrate that, rather than being generalized as Lévy-Bruhl claimed, mysti-
cal participation followed a very precise logic. Nevertheless, Bastide was caught
in the same trap as Lévy-Bruhl (who assumed the existence of a primitive
mentality that differed from that of the west) when he claimed that primitive
classifications do not form classes that fit into each other ‘like in our western
thought’ because ‘they do not permit the formal or concrete functioning of
operational mechanisms’ (Bastide 1954: 494). The notion of incompatibility
between these two mentalities was to be further developed in the 1958 text
where Bastide wondered about the limitations of the principle of compart-
mentalization. If compartmentalization were complete, it would make action
and thought impossible. It was necessary, therefore, to identify a ‘will to link
the compartments of the real’ through the creation of a ‘dialectic of the cos-
mos’ (Bastide 1958: 241). Exu, the divine trickster who enables communica-
tion between the world of gods and the world of humans, thus becomes this
dialectical element, that is, the divinity that permits the ‘communicability of
classificatory concepts’.
The principle of compartmentalization can thus shed light on the problem
of syncretism because, on the one hand, it enables a ‘duality without marginal-
ity’ (Bastide 1954: 499) while, on the other, it negates mixing: ‘The term
“syncretism” is proper but, without explanation, it can lead to confusion. It
is not about mixing, it is about role substitution as in role playing, depend-
ing on whether one belongs to one compartment of the real or the other’
(ibid.: 500). This introduces two extremely important concepts of Bastidian
theory: the negation of syncretism as mixing and the answer to the theory
of marginal man, torn between two universes. This marginality is resolved
by what A. Mary (2000: 186) rightly calls ‘the magic of the principle of

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346 S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370

The theory of marginal man had been central to the debates on the pro-
cesses of acculturation, in particular in the work of Park (1928) and Stone-
quist (1937). This debate on acculturation was taken up in Brazil by Arthur
Ramos who, in 1937, published a final chapter on ‘black acculturation’ in his
study of black cultures in the New World. In this book, he cited the Commis-
sion for the Study of Acculturation, formed by Robert Redfield, Ralph Linton
and Melville J. Herskovits, which had defined processes of acculturation as
‘phenomena resulting from direct and continuous contact between groups of
individuals from distinct cultures and that provoke changes in original cul-
tural models from one or several of the groups in question’ (Herskovits 1938).
These processes of cultural and social change also provoke the disorganization
and reorganization of individual personalities. R. Park (1928) used the expres-
sion ‘marginal man’ to designate the member of a cultural group who, after
coming into contact with another group, lost his characteristics without
becoming integrated into the dominant group. He thus becomes ‘marginal’
since he is at the margins of two cultures: the culture that he lost and the other
that he has not yet assimilated (Ramos 1979: 244). According to these theo-
ries, cultural syncretism also apparently leads to a ‘psychic syncretism’. Bas-
tide’s principle of compartmentalization was designed to challenge this link by
showing that it is possible to live between two distinct and incompatible
worlds without experiencing any tension.
In his analysis of syncretic processes, however, Bastide was indebted not
only to North American theories on acculturation—with which he would
interact until the end—but also to analyses produced by Brazilian scholars, in
particular Arthur Ramos who, at the time of Bastide’s arrival in Brazil, was the
leading authority on Afro-Brazilian cultures and religions.17 Without a doubt,
Ramos had a great influence on the future evolution of Bastide’s thought, in
particular his interest in social psychology, central as it was to theories of
acculturation, which posited that reaction against assimilation to a new cul-
ture could result in ‘counter-acculturative’ movements.18 In such contexts,
cultures of origin would keep their ‘psychological strength’ to compensate for
feelings of inferiority as well as through the ‘prestige bestowed upon individu-
als when a reversion to former pre-acculturative situation occurs’ (Ramos 1979
[1937]: 245). We shall see that these ideas would be taken up by Bastide when
he tackled the problem of ‘Negro-African collective memory’ and the move-
ment of ‘return to Africa’.
In reality, these exchanges with Ramos were but one facet of a more com-
plex dialogue in which two other specialists on black cultures in the New
World intervened as well: the North American Melville J. Herskovits and the
Cuban Fernando Ortiz. While Herskovits became, as we shall see, Bastide’s

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main interlocutor when Bastide tried to differentiate his work from the accul-
turation theories elaborated by his great American rival, Fernando Ortiz was
one of the few Latin American researchers to make an original contribution to
the discourse on acculturation processes. Fernando Ortiz knew the work of
Nina Rodrigues, whom he cited repeatedly in his own writings (Ortiz 1939: 86)
and with whom he shared an interest in the theories of Italian criminologists
Cesare Lombroso and Enrico Ferri. Like Arthur Ramos and his master, Nina
Rodrigues, Fernando Ortiz thought that it was necessary to study African
cultures in order to understand the ‘survivals’ of these cultures in America. To
do that, however, one should first study African American cultures and then
retrace their African origins (Iznaga 1989: 6). Like Arthur Ramos, who had
published Guerra e Relações de Raça in 1943 in order to challenge the notion
of race by positioning himself against the racist theories of Nazism, Fernando
Ortiz wrote El Engaño de las Razas, first published in 1946, in which he dem-
onstrated the impossibility of studying Latin American cultures in terms of
race. Only syncretism and mixing could account for Latin American realities.
Ortiz (1940: 136-137) has been the only one to elaborate a new concept to
describe the encounter between cultures: transculturación. This Spanish neolo-
gism permitted a certain freedom from a value system based on a set of norma-
tive concepts tightly linked to the term ‘acculturation’ as Malinowski (1940)
rightly noted in his introduction to Ortiz’s study, Contrapunteo cubano del
tabaco y el azúcar. Transculturation referred to ‘extremely complex transmuta-
tions’ (Ortiz 1940: 137) that give birth to a new culture, in which the ele-
ments in contact come to fuse, an idea that calls to mind the ‘sociology of
interpenetration of civilizations’ that Bastide set out to develop in his study on
Les religions africaines au Brésil (1960).

Syncretism refuted

Elsewhere (Capone 2001), I have shown how, far from offering a possible
interpretation of the processes of syncretism, Bastide’s principle of compart-
mentalization appears instead to adopt prejudices—dear to a certain anthro-
pological tradition—that equate mixing with a sign of degeneration from an
original state of cultural purity. The principle of compartmentalization is cer-
tainly not about ‘mestizo logic’. Indeed, according to Bastide, in addition to
the classical opposition between magical syncretism and religious syncretism,
there was another opposition between what he called ‘mosaic syncretism’
(within which the principle of compartmentalization can function) and the
fusional syncretism, which was instead condemned to mixing. In the ‘mosaic

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348 S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370

syncretism’, which characterizes the Nagô cult houses, there is a separation

rather than a fusion between the different rituals (Bastide 1971 [1967]). As in
the case of the principle of compartmentalization, one finds here the idea that
there are different compartments of the real that form classes that do not fit
with each other (Bastide 1954). The separation between different rituals gen-
erates what Bastide called a ‘mosaic development’ which he saw as character-
izing Africa. Such a concept allowed for the maintenance of African traditions
without the possibility of mixing and degradation as was the case in Maroon
societies: ‘Thus the marrons had an African model available which would allow
them to establish ethnically distinct cults—e.g. the Kromanti winti and the
Ewe vodous—on a basis of co-existence. This they did by setting them up as
separate fraternities, with different music, dances and languages for their
chants’ (Bastide 1971 [1967]: 69). The process of mosaic formation thus does
not imply a fusion of cultural features and rituals from different peoples. What
we have here is a syncretism without mixing.
Yet when Bastide talks about ‘Bantu’ blacks or ‘Negro societies’, whom he
sees as having lost their connection with their original culture and an African
collective memory, we are dealing with another type of syncretism: it is the
fusional syncretism in which the constituent elements cannot be identified.
An example of fusional syncretism is provided by Macumba, another Afro-
Brazilian religion which represents for Bastide ‘a civilisation [sic] which is the
result of cultural fusion—and one where the constituent elements have so far
coalesced into a single whole that they are no longer individually recognisable’
(ibid.: 82-83). On the other hand, the Caboclo Candomblé, which is suppos-
edly less traditional than the Nagô Candomblé, has managed to preserve an
essentially African structure by maintaining a separation of ritual spaces: ‘In
the temple we find a sharp distinction between the “territory” allotted to the
Indian spirits, and the African sanctuary, or pégi, while during ceremonies the
vodous or orisha are invoked in African languages, the caboclos in Portuguese’
(Bastide 1996c: 89).19
Mosaic syncretism preserves the separation of classes while fusional syncre-
tism confounds them. For Bastide, these two types of syncretism correspond
to two types of African American society (one ‘African’, the other ‘Negro’) and
two types of more or less traditional black (the Yoruba and the Bantu). Among
the ‘Bantu’, there is no longer a principle of compartmentalization at work
because syncretism has brought about a significant change of mentality.
Despite the fluidity of Bastide’s thought, one finds here again the dualistic
structure that opposes two types of black and two types of response to accul-
turation: the notion of compartmentalization for ‘traditional’ blacks, a process
which does not lead to a change of mentality; and ‘formal acculturation’ for
‘modern’ blacks, which leads to psychic transformations and the interpenetration

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of structures of feeling ( formes de sentir). We have seen that this dualistic vision
of Brazilian society was already present in the writings of Nina Rodrigues
who opposed ‘African’ blacks and the Creole blacks (‘the Negroes’) who were
responsible for the degradation of religious practices. Bastide takes up this
distinction that had been reaffirmed in the works of Edison Carneiro and
Arthur Ramos. Thus, despite the influence of theories on acculturation that
underscored the impossibility of a complete cultural transfer, an essential
difference was posited in Afro-Brazilian studies between blacks with a differing
degree of attachment to tradition (cf. Capone 1999, 2000). Arthur Ramos
(2005: 15) had already written in 1934 that African cultures had not been
transplanted in their original purity, but that they had been ‘mixed and trans-
formed in a process that we now call acculturation’. The Brazilian school
of Nina Rodrigues was, in his opinion, characterized by ‘the study of the
transformation of these cultures and in particular of religious syncretism’. In
Nina Rodrigues’s book, L’animisme fétichiste des Nègres bahianais, one finds
constant references to ‘hybrid associations’ and ‘mixed beliefs’ that resulted
from contact between African religions and Catholicism, founding what he
called ‘the illusion of catechesis’. Yet this notion, which is behind the Bastidian
theory of the mask, operates only among a certain category of blacks, the
‘African’ blacks who have learned to preserve their traditions in the face of
acculturative pressures.
Bastide’s entire work is thus structured around an unending play between
two opposite poles resulting from this dualistic vision of Brazilian society.
Bastide progressively replaces the ‘Africans’/‘Negroes’ dichotomy of Nina
Rodrigues (taken up by Bastide in 1967 when he analyses the different models
of social organization in Les Amériques noires) with another internal dichotomy,
‘Nagô blacks’/‘Bantu blacks’ which generates an avalanche set of oppositions:

1. mosaic syncretism/fusional syncretism

2. purity/degradation
3. religion/magic
4. resistance/adaptation
5. tradition/modernity
6. African religious civilization/class ideology
7. African society/Negro society
8. continuity/discontinuity
9. material acculturation/formal acculturation.20

This opposition between mosaic syncretism and fusional syncretism calls to

mind another opposition—developed in Bastide’s 1960 study—between reli-
gious syncretism and magical syncretism. According to Bastide, religion must

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350 S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370

be distinguished from magic when we start dealing with the domain of collec-
tive representations: ‘The law of religious thought is the law of symbolism,
based on mystic analogies or correspondences; the law of magic thought is
the law of accumulation, intensification, and addition’ (1978 [1960]: 277).
Religious syncretism thus operates through correspondence whereas magical
syncretism works through addition. In the first case, the principle of compart-
mentalization can be activated, whereas in the second case, mixing prevents
any symbolic order.
Yet for Bastide, Brazilian blacks were characterized by differing relation-
ships to religion and magic. In his 1960 text, he writes that ‘the Bantu assign
a more important place to magic in the activities of the Candomblé than do
the Yoruba’ (ibid.: 280). Among the Bantu, syncretism brings about a true
change in mentality (ibid.). The dichotomy between mosaic syncretism and
fusional syncretism thus recovers another dichotomy: between a culture that
keeps its strength thanks to the principle of compartmentalization (‘Nagô’ in
Brazil or ‘Lucumí’ in Cuba) and one that is characterized by ‘its assimilative
powers, its propensity toward syncretism and the fusion of civilizations’ (the
‘Bantu’ culture).21
This idea is reaffirmed in his 1967 essay on ‘black Americas’ when Bastide
refers to the laws of syncretism in Catholic America, among them ‘the ethnic
law’. According to this law, syncretism is more pronounced ‘when we turn
from the Dahomeans to the Yoruba, and from them to the Bantu’ considered
as ‘the most susceptible of all to external influences’ (Bastide 1971 [1967]:
154). The different elements of the belief systems of the most conservative
ethnic groups, within which one finds mosaic syncretism, constitute for Bas-
tide objects of ‘solid, unalterable nature’ (des solides indéformables) (ibid.) that
do not lead to identification and are even less likely to produce fusion. Thus,
in contrast to what he was writing in 1954 on the subject of Afro-Catholic
syncretism in which the sincerity of Candomblé initiates, who were also fer-
vent Catholics, could not be questioned, in 1967 Bastide wrote: ‘Even today,
the priests and priestesses of Brazil recognise that syncretism is simply a white
mask superimposed upon black gods’ (Bastide 1996c [1967]: 161). Where the
mosaic syncretism is at work, there is therefore no confusion, and no mixing.
Bastide also distinguishes two environments in which African American
cultures were born: the Catholic milieu and the Protestant milieu. In the lat-
ter, mixing has not taken a syncretic form but instead the form of a process
which Herskovits called ‘reinterpretation’.22 The slave thus created ‘a Negro
(rather than an African) brand of Christianity’ in which the principle of com-
partmentalization no longer operated. On the other hand, in Catholic Ame-
rica, one can observe the laws governing the formation of syncretism (Bastide

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1971 [1967]: 153). We have seen that, for Bastide, syncretism is ‘ethnically
speaking’ more pronounced depending on whether one moves from the
Dahomeans to the Yoruba and the Bantu, the latter being considered as ‘more
responsive than most to foreign influences’ (ibid.: 106). But from this perspec-
tive there are also different syncretisms depending on the level examined: one
goes from the ‘morphological plane’ (mosaic syncretism which excludes mix-
ing) to the ‘institutional’ (among other things, the system of correspondences
between African gods and Catholic saints), and thence to the ‘plane of events
dependent on collective awareness [conscience collective] (the facts of reinter-
pretation)’ (ibid.: 154). One finds here again the idea of classes that fit together
and allow for the coexistence of different elements without leading to fusion
or mixing: ‘Spatial syncretism has one highly characteristic feature. On account
of the solid, unalterable nature of those objects which come within its orbit, it
cannot achieve true fusion, but remains on the plane of coexistence between
disparate objects. This is what I earlier described as “mosaic syncretism”, and
it is just as likely to be found in a broad context as in a restricted one’ (ibid.:
From this idea of syncretism without mixing, Bastide develops his theory of
the mask which will turn out to be central to the claim of ritual ‘purity’ made
by ‘guardians of African traditions’. The mosaic formation makes possible a
reconsideration of Afro-Catholic syncretism: ‘Moments in time, like objects
in space, can form solid, clearly delimited points, unchanging in the nature of
their syncretism. The Christian moment remains Christian, the African moment
African; they come into juxtaposition solely as masses in space’ (ibid.: 159).

Between Africanitude and Négritude

A few years later, Bastide would devote a part of his book Le prochain et le
lointain (1970a) to the analysis of formal acculturation and material accul-
turation. In this analysis, one finds echoes of his original distinction between
two types of syncretism—a distinction that is now rethought in accordance
with the psychology of the form. For Bastide, material acculturation is about
the diffusion of a cultural feature, the change of a ritual, the propagation of a
myth. Formal acculturation, on the other hand, is the acculturation of intel-
lect and affect, the ‘acculturation of the psyche’ all the way to ‘the transformations
or the metamorphoses of sentiment and conscious apprehension’ (ibid.: 139).
Formal acculturation allowed Bastide to replace the term reinterpretation
used by his North American colleague, Melville J. Herskovits: ‘The term rein-
terpretation can be taken to mean two things; one can think of the reinterpre-

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352 S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370

tation of African realities in western terms but one can just as well think of the
reinterpretation of western realities in African terms’ (ibid.). According to Bas-
tide, Herskovits was only interested in this second aspect when he analyzed
the ‘double households’ (double ménage) as the reinterpretation of African
polygamy (ibid.):

Why this predilection? One might think that this man, however resolutely antiracist,
seems to unconsciously perpetuate a white ideology ascribing to black people an
inability to think like Westerners; he would thus perpetuate Nina Rodrigues by add-
ing to the illusion of catechesis the illusion of assimilation; this is what would explain
why Herskovits’s opponents are found mostly among black sociologists, who, like
Frazier, denounce in The Myth of the Negro Past a contemporary form of white preju-
dice’ (ibid.).

Bastide’s critique of the notion of reinterpretation was aimed straight at North

American cultural theories and at Herskovits’s work.23 But Bastide falls back
into the culturalist trap when he starts valorizing not culture in general or
‘cultural traits’ in particular, but religion in relation to global society. One
finds in his writings the idea, previously elaborated by DuBois (1903) and
Herskovits (1941), of religion as the African ‘cultural core’. This ongoing con-
frontation with his great rival at the time led Bastide to accuse Herskovits of
perpetuating a white ideology according to which blacks were incapable of
thinking like westerners. Yet, who more than Bastide has insisted on the
difference of mental structures between blacks and whites, and particularly
between blacks of a ‘different nature’? And when he accuses Herskovits of
believing in the ‘double indissolubility’ (double indissolubilité) of mentalities,
black as well as western, is he not critiquing his own theory of the mask and
his principle of compartmentalization?24
To escape this ambiguity generated by his own use of the term ‘reinterpreta-
tion’, Bastide (1970a: 140) suggested the use of the term ‘formal acculturation’
which he thought was more neutral. The expression ‘formal acculturation’ had
been conjured up by Bastide’s encounter with future African administrators
who had been trained in European universities at the time of decolonization.
In Bastide’s opinion, these Africans had experienced profound transforma-
tions in their ‘perceptive, logical, and affective structures’. Bastide accused
them of being ‘Europeanized intellectuals’ who celebrate an ‘exotic’ Africa,
and above all, a ‘white man’s Africa’. Speaking of Aimé Césaire, the Martinican
advocate of négritude, he underscores the divorce that is now finalized between
the real Africa and the image that remains of it in what he calls ‘the myth of
Négritude’: ‘. . . the poet’s Africa inevitably emerged as a product of imagina-
tion . . ., put together from books by ethnologists, who do not, unfortunately,

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always give a very precise picture of the facts. His négritude is thus more of a
quasi-political manifestation than a return to the only genuine Africa, so faith-
fully preserved by the African American lower orders’ (1971 [1967]: 220).
The transformation of Africa from ‘a physical reality’ safeguarded in Amer-
ica to a set of ambiguous, contradictory images, ‘ideologies for the intellectu-
als, messianism for the masses, and more politics than mysticism’ (ibid.: 222)
is for Bastide the unavoidable consequence of industrialization and moder-
nity: ‘. . . (at least in the capital cities) industrialization has intensified competi-
tion on the labor market, and the Negro has been forced to abandon Africa
and become a citizen-at-large like anyone else’ (ibid.: 214). Thus, while the
slavery system led to marronage, the competitive system produces ‘its own
ideological version of marronage—the négritude myth’:

At the very moment when, faced by white refusal to accept him on an equal footing, the
Negro abandons Africa in order to achieve fuller integration, he finds himself driven
back to the continent of his ancestors. But since in culture there is no ‘collective uncon-
scious’ [inconscient collectif ] or hereditary factor, but only what is inherited by appren-
ticeship, this Africa can be no more than an imaginary concept floating in the
void—unless, that is (as we shall have occasions to observe) it becomes a subtle form of
betrayal (Bastide 1996c: 219).

Bastide thus sides with the ‘true’ négritude in opposition to this ideology that
serves as a vehicle for a ‘de-Africanized Africa’. The négritude of African or
African American intellectuals turns out to be nothing more than an ‘aware-
ness of Africa by de-Africanized sensibilities and intellects’ and, if négritude
failed, it is because it did not seek inspiration from initiates of religions of
African origin in America:

Which is what leads to a set of strange paradoxes, the Africa of négritude is an ‘exotic’
Africa and one that is not organically rooted in the soul of those who celebrate it; it is
a system of mystical participations, in the manner in which Lévy-Bruhl described
primitive mentality, to the point where I would be tempted to define négritude in the
following way: it agrees with the vision which the West has of Africa, and marks it
with a positive sign, whereas the Westerner marks it with a negative sign; but there is
only a simple change of values, it remains a white man’s Africa. . . . Which means that
négritude is the first and most typical example that one can provide to show what
formal acculturation is’ (Bastide 1970a: 141).

The only blacks that are still ‘African’ are thus the adepts of traditional reli-
gions preserved behind the mask of syncretism. They, and they only, can
become the genuine leaders in the revival of African culture. This is what Bas-
tide (1971 [1967]: 218) calls ‘Africanitude’ in opposition to the term ‘Négri-
tude’. Only initiates are really able to understand Afro-Brazilian culture since

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354 S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370

it is they who manifest the true négritude, ‘not that which is nothing but a
political ideology’ but that which is a true ‘existential affirmation’:

. . . it was obvious that, even by entering Candomblé as a ‘member’ rather than as a

simple observer, the law of secrecy which governs any initiatory religion still kept me
too much as an outsider for me to be able to provide anything but an introduction to
a certain Negro vision of the world. Only a priest occupying a high rank in the cult
hierarchy could have given us the work I expected. This shows how much importance
I attach to the work of Deoscóredes M. Dos Santos, West African Sacred Art and Ritual
in Brazil (1967) and to that of his wife, Juana Elbein dos Santos, Le Nagô et la
Mort (1972) or to their collaborative writings such as Esu Bara Laroyé’ (Bastide 1996a:

Brazil, and especially the ‘black and traditional’ Brazil of Bahia, thus becomes
a true model for African elites, for there religion constitutes the ‘cultural core’
of African tradition. To re-Africanize the African elites therefore requires a
renewal of the spirituality that had been preserved in the diaspora. Most para-
doxically, colonialism ‘acculturates’ and produces western mentalities in Afri-
can bodies while slavery preserves African tradition within religious practices.
Africans are thus forced to find their traditions in religious communities that
have preserved Africa in Brazil thanks to a cultural and social encystment.

Cultural encystment, or the return to roots

With the principle of compartmentalization, Bastide paves the way for the
process of re-Africanization or what we could call the purification and legiti-
mization of traditions. The principle of compartmentalization and the con-
cept of cultural encystment, which leads one to accept the unreality of
syncretism and the theory of the mask, lay down the theoretical bases of cur-
rent struggles against syncretism and of re-Africanization movements. ‘Tradi-
tional’ Candomblé, that is, the Candomblé Nagô of whom the Axé Opô
Afonjá is the most prestigious representative, constitutes for Bastide a closed
society where there is no desegregating influence from a ‘class society’. ‘Tradi-
tional’ terreiros thus represent ‘axiological communities’ that reproduce the
religious values and norms of conduct associated with African tradition. And
it is around the maintenance of religious values, or what Bastide calls the ‘res-
toration of African civilization’, that the differentiation between sacrality and
ideology is negotiated: the facts of acculturation and the desegregating impact
of modernity promote the distortion of sacred values into ideologies. Put
differently, they link these values to the interests of differentiated groups.

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Umbanda and Macumba embody that which Bastide defines as ideology.

On the other hand, ‘traditional’ Candomblé as community niche becomes
the symbol of cultural encystment in the face of a dominating society: ‘. . . the
more closely integration adheres to the community type, or the greater
the social or cultural encystment within which it occurs, the less profound the
syncretism’ (1978 [1960]: 283). However, this cultural encystment does not
prevent the social integration of the members of these ‘axiological communi-
ties’ because the principle of compartmentalization allows them to live ‘in two
separate value systems without being aware of their opposition and without
having to make a choice’ (ibid.: 385-6).
Bastide had already taken up this notion—the principle of compartmental-
ization—to implement his interpretation of the ‘philosophy of the cosmos’ of
Candomblé Nagô (Bastide 1958: 237). Now, in his 1960 formulation, the
principle of compartmentalization is not limited to the organization of the
‘subtle metaphysics’ of Candomblé, but relates also to the relations that Can-
domblé entertains with the dominant society. It becomes therefore an ‘instinc-
tive and automatic reaction, a defensive posture against anything that might
disturb one’s peace of mind’ (Bastide 1978 [1960]: 386). But this capacity to
live in two worlds without experiencing contradictions turns out to be the
monopoly of the great ‘traditional’ cult groups of the Candomble Nagô,
whereas, in the southeast of Brazil, class struggles, the degradation of religious
practices and racism prevent the survival of what should be one of the charac-
teristics of African thought.
In reality, religious changes, determined by the need to adapt to new con-
tingencies, are at work in ‘traditional’ Candomblé as much as in the ‘sects’
considered to be syncretic. But, according to Bastide, in those cult houses that
have managed to preserve African traditions, mutations take place that follow
rules of transformation within a certain Gestalt: ‘Changes that can affect reli-
gious systems are nothing . . . but processes of adaptation and rebalancing in
relation to a reality that is not religious in nature. They are phenomena of
“return”, “repercussion” or “chain reaction within a Gestalt”’ (Bastide 1969: 9).
To justify the emergence of new elements that previously existed in the
Gestalt of ‘traditional’ religion, Bastide utilizes Maurice Halbwachs’s notion of
collective memory, a memory that is inscribed in a determined space and
linked to a particular social group. For Halbwachs, the immemorial past can-
not be revived in its totality by collective memory because the present plays
the role of a ‘memory filter’, letting through only that which can adapt to new
circumstances. Tradition survives, or is invoked, only insofar as it can take
root in individual or group praxis.26 But for memory to be preserved, it must
be inscribed in matter, in space. Now, Bastide substantially modifies the idea

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356 S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370

of collective memory inscribed in space because, from his perspective, Halb-

wachs cannot part with the idea of an external collective conscience that tran-
scends individuals. For Bastide, collective memory is like the brain when it is
taken as a well-defined organization of cells and networks. When one speaks
of collective memory, what matters is not the group as such but its organiza-
tion, its structure, for the group is nothing but a system of interpersonal rela-
tions. In Brazil, oblivion thus follows from the impossibility of finding all the
complementary actors in one single place: in such contexts, collective memory
becomes an interrelated system of individual memories.
But the ‘holes (trous) in collective memory’ (Bastide 1970b) can always be
filled by drawing from the roots of African tradition. These ‘holes’ are for Bas-
tide configurations that are at the same time empty and full; they are empty
because they can no longer be filled by collective memory and full because
they are not really an absence, but a ‘feeling of loss’ (ibid.: 95). By recreating
bonds with an original culture, it becomes possible to reconstitute the past. It
is a matter of filling the void left by the uprooting provoked by slavery and the
structure of the secret—that is at the base of African American religions—
something that is done by fighting against the progressive disappearance of
African collective memory.
Bastide translates this selection of ‘revived’ memories into another opposi-
tion that distinguishes ‘traditional’ Candomblé from ‘syncretized sects’. The
latter chooses to purge, that is, to eliminate, from the ancestral heritage, ‘what-
ever is too incompatible with modern society, whatever shocks people by
reminding them too brutally of barbarism’. On the other hand, ‘traditional’
Candomblé opts to purify, a process that ‘necessarily takes the form of a return
to the true original tradition behind these decadent forms—to the primal
source’ (Bastide 1978 [1960]: 340). ‘This “return to Africa”, to use the expres-
sion of Couto Ferraz, has been translated into action by uniting all the tradi-
tional sects into one federation, which then excommunicates “syncretized”
sects. Today a movement is under way to purify the candomblés in reaction
against the debasement of the macumba and to deepen the religious faith of
their members’ (ibid.: 169).
This movement back to Africa, long present in Candomblé and which is
also at work in North American orisha-voodoo (Capone 2005), exemplifies
the moment of a symbolic rather than actual re-enactment of ‘pure’ tradition
that must be reconstructed on American soil. The journey to the sources of
tradition plays an ever more important role in this strengthening of roots; it
now takes the form of a search for re-Africanization at all costs, a process that
is accomplished in Brazil or the United States through courses on Yoruba lan-
guage and civilization, or training in Ifá divinatory practices.

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Afro-African syncretism or ‘ritual panafricanism’

We have seen that, according to the theory of the mask, among ‘traditional’
blacks syncretism was never effective. The accommodation to a dominant
culture was in reality a ‘counter-acculturative’ strategy to better preserve Afri-
can culture and traditions. The return to origins and the re-Africanization
movement are thus nothing but new facets of this negated, artificial syncre-
tism. At least for one category of black, those ‘traditional’ blacks of Bahia or
the keepers of Afro-Cuban traditions, there was never any mixing, which is
what makes possible today this return to a ‘purity’ of religious practices through
a resistance against syncretism. This fake, ‘counter-acculturative’ syncretism
belongs to the domain of material acculturation: ‘As long as accumulation has
not penetrated the mentality, or as long as the principle of compartmentaliza-
tion confines the change of mentality to the domains of politics and econom-
ics and excludes it from the domain of religion, reinterpretation always occurs
in terms of the African values, norms, and ideals’ (Bastide 1978 [1960]: 536).
The principle of compartmentalization thus carries within itself the possibility
of the erasure of syncretism. It shows the artificiality of the phenomenon, for
syncretism is but a mask which, to borrow A. Mary’s (2000) felicitous expres-
sion, has not triumphed over the face.
This questioning of the reality of syncretism enables us to rethink the basic
unity of African culture in America. The movement of return to origins which
characterizes Brazilian Candomblé as much as North American orisha-voodoo
is a reactivation, more symbolic than actual, of an ‘African’ tradition that must
be reconstructed in the ‘diaspora’. In both contexts, one finds the same ten-
dency to identify two types of syncretism that bear different connotations: an
‘Afro-African’ syncretism which precedes slavery and out of which originated
the belief in a basic unity of African culture, and an ‘Afro-western’ syncretism
that must be resisted.27 These two types of syncretism raise two visions of the
past and of African collective memory, one that refers to the continuity
between African and African American cultures, the other that marks the dis-
continuity produced by slavery and by the loss of connections, real or sym-
bolic, with one’s native land. ‘Afro-African’ syncretism thus represents ‘good’
syncretism that sets the stage for endogenous varieties, in opposition to ‘bad’
syncretism, the Afro-Catholic syncretism, that is constituted by exogenous
varieties. ‘Afro-African’ syncretism is the only ‘positive’ syncretism, a true sym-
bol of the unity between ‘sister religions’.
This idea of a link between religious systems of African origins is what led
to the creation, in 1987, of the National Institute of Afro-Brazilian Tradition
and Culture (INTECAB) by a group of Bastide’s disciples, most notably Juana
Elbein dos Santos and Marco Aurélio Luz, but also Deoscóredes M. Dos

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358 S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370

Santos, descendant of a long lineage of Candomblé initiates. This institute,

which has representatives in numerous Brazilian states, aims to present the
‘different traditions that carry on the heritage of African ancestors in the New
World’ while preserving ‘the spiritual heritage of African ancestors that consti-
tutes the heart of Afro-Brazilian identity and existence’. According to INTE-
CAB, this identity is based on tradition ‘understood as a continuous and
dynamic renewal of the inaugural principles of the black civilizing process.’28
Now, to affirm the existence of a ‘black civilizing process’, one must assume
the basic unity of the black world as well as the continuity between African
and Afro-Brazilian religions. Marco Aurélio Luz thus classifies black religions
according to their ‘mission’ to concretize their African origins in Brazil, thereby
perpetuating the ‘black civilizing process’. This mission can only be accom-
plished in religious communities that have most strictly preserved the ‘sym-
bolic and ritual systems that they have inherited’, that is, the ‘traditional’
terreiros of Candomblé Nagô in Bahia. As for other terreiros, the closer they are
to ‘traditional’ worship centers, the more the ‘complexity of the original reli-
gious system is preserved in its entirety: few gaps, and therefore little or no
symbolic or ritual variations that are exogenous to the original context’ (Luz
1983: 31). Traditional Nagô terreiros are thus the centers of excellence where a
new culture of resistance takes shape; as such, they are true symbols of the
construction of an ‘Afro’ identity and the locus of Bastidian Africanitude.
Black people thus become once again the protagonists of their own history,
capable of setting in place the strategies that have enabled them to ‘act within
the interstices of the system’. Far from being a simple cover for blacks under
slavery, conversion to Catholicism becomes a strategic means of playing with
the system’s ambiguities: ‘Afro-Brazilian culture emerged either from original
structures, or from the void created by the limits of the reigning ideology’
(Sodré 1988: 124). Or else, to underscore the oppositional character of this
apparent adaptation: ‘Black originality means having lived a double structure,
having played with the ambiguities of power, and thereby having successfully
introduced parallel institutions’ (ibid.: 132).29 Therefore if blacks have suc-
ceeded in exploiting the system politically, syncretism must necessarily change
appearances: it becomes a ‘dialectical answer to a long process of resistance-
adaptation’ (Santos 1977: 23).
But to posit a continuity between African religion and Afro-Brazilian reli-
gion, one must also emphasize the elements common to the different religious
practices of African origin in Brazil, that is, the ‘analogy of their structural
content and the continuity—with jumps and gaps—of a system that has
renewed the essential elements of an ancestral mystical heritage’ (ibid.: 24).
From this perspective, syncretisms are nothing but ‘mechanisms responding to

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S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370 359

variations’, expressions of the continuity and expansion of the ‘black civilizing

process’. Now, this process is focused on religion which plays a ‘historic role’
in the creation of groups of communitarian nature that constitute themselves
as ‘organizing centers of cultural resistance’ (ibid.). Here one finds an echo of
Bastide’s theories according to which there are only two possible reactions to
the exploitation of one ‘race’ by another: rebellion or acceptance. In the first
case, resistance usually crystallized around ‘African priests’; in the second case,
there is an acceptance, at least on a level of appearances, of Christianization
(1978 [1960]: 396).
We have seen that for Bastide (1996a), true négritude implies an ‘existential
affirmation’ and the ‘expression of the black community’s ethos’. The essential
values of this négritude, concretized as they are in religion, have survived all
kinds of pressure thanks to the ‘dialectic process of resistance-accommodation’
that has given rise to different forms of worship. This is what Bastide (1996b)
calls ‘discontinuity within continuity’. With that, even syncretism becomes a
form of resistance for it carries within its diversity a basic unity of black cul-
ture. This idea of ‘discontinuity within continuity’ was developed by Bastide
during a colloquium organized by the Committee on Afro-American Cultures
and Societies of the Social Science Research Council in 1970 in Jamaica. With
it, Bastide had taken up George Gurvitch’s notion of ‘discontinued continuity’
or ‘continued discontinuity’:

But G. Gurvitch simply noted the existence of a double dialectical movement between
continuity and discontinuity; we would like to go further and see if the African Amer-
ican example could not help us discover an explanatory model (rather than simply a
descriptive one) of this interpenetration of continuity in ruptures as well as of discon-
tinuity within what appears to be pure preservation of the past (Bastide 1996b: 77).

Even though Bastide stresses the ideological dimension of this ‘continuity’30 and
its nature as a cultural construction,31 he asserts nonetheless the existence of
‘cultural conservations’ (conserves culturelles)—the Candomblé Nagô cult houses—
that preserve a cultural continuity in the face of social discontinuity. Some
twenty years later, this idea of ‘discontinuity within continuity’ would
be echoed in INTECAB’s motto: ‘Unity in diversity’. Different Afro-Brazilian
religions thus become simple variations on account of the ‘resistance-accom-
modation’ strategies of a ‘basic cultural complex’. The difference between
Candomblé and Umbanda is thereby reduced to the variables that these reli-
gions have incorporated: homogeneous variables that have spawned an ‘inter-
tribal syncretism’ for Candomblé; heterogeneous variables originating in other
cultural complexes for Umbanda. To recover the ‘black civilizing process’

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360 S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370

common to the different religious practices that claim an African origin, reli-
gions like Umbanda must therefore re-Africanize their practices by taking
Candomblé Nagô as a model:

Umbanda cults profess a deep and true respect for the terreiros that perpetuate tradi-
tional forms of worship. Despite liturgical differences, variations and elements coming
from other cultural systems, by their structure and their way of life, Umbanda cults
fundamentally participate in and directly derive from an African heritage (Santos and
Santos 1993: 162-3).

Practices like Umbanda that are most distantly related to the ‘basic cultural
complex’ must align themselves with ‘more African’ practices in order to ‘for-
tify themselves’. So even the syncretism between Umbanda and Candomblé,
designated by the deprecating term umbandomblé, is transforming itself into a
resistance strategy: ‘In this way, Umbanda seeks to strengthen itself through
the cosmogony of “sister religions” that participate in the same Afro-Brazilian
civilizing process in Brazil’ (Luz 1993: 106). If syncretism with Catholicism is
nothing but the expression of a mestizo ideology, and for this reason, must be
denounced, syncretism between ‘sister religions’ is the pathway to the redis-
covery of Africa in America.
A desire to revitalize African traditions and find a basic unity of African
culture is also what prompted the foundation of Oyotunji Village in South
Carolina (USA) and the creation by Oseijeman Adefunmi of a new modality
of religious practice, orisha-voodoo. It is Adefunmi who, for the first time in
the US, stressed the heritage common to all modes of worship of ‘African
religion’, something which has spawned what I have called a ‘ritual panafri-
canism’ (Capone 2005). Former militants of North American black national-
ism, Maluana Karenga, Medahochi K.O. Zannu, and Oseijeman Adefunmi
(the former ‘king of Yoruba in the US’) were instrumental in generating this
religious and cultural panafricanism. In his book New Afrikan Vodun, Meda-
hochi thus insists that African Americans must find ‘unity in diversity’.

What exactly is the spiritual foundation of Afrikan people in the diaspora? A people
composed of at least 100 different ethnic groups stolen from the motherland, are
you going to tell me that ‘doing work’ strictly from one Afrikan spiritual tradition is
the only way to activate the healing, transformation, and ascension of the Afrikan-
American spirit? . . . There are certain aspects of the traditions that must be protected,
respected, and upheld with the highest integrity. But there is room for creativity,
expansion, and evolution (http://members.tripod.com/~Vodunsi/forstate.html).

According to Medahochi, tradition has always been parceled out: there were
always several ways of dealing with African reality and these are all equally

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S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370 361

valid. The idea of a ‘New Afrikan’ cultural and religious approach was born in
1968 during a meeting of black nationalists in Detroit.32 The ‘New Afrikan’
approach acknowledged the importance of all African systems of belief. African
Americans had long ceased to be organized on the basis of tribalism and this
new interpretation made it possible to integrate American experiences in ‘neo-
African’ spirituality. But for this ‘ritual panafricanism’ to be operational, Afri-
can Americans must find ‘unity in diversity’, that is to say, the points of
commonality that make it possible to bring together ritual practices of different
African belief systems, such as Yoruba, Kongo, Ewe/Fon and Akan religions.
‘Neo-Africans’ must also venerate their ancestors, their ‘genetic ancestry’, as
well as West African divinities that ‘run in the blood’ of African Americans.
An African American who is initiated in Akan religion will thus be able to
worship the orisha without being perceived as breaking with tradition (Guedj
2006). A plurality of initiation thereby becomes the symbol of this cultural
and religious panafricanism that has produced African American society, a
compelling sign of the basic unity of the ‘African culture’.
The emergence of orisha-voodoo in the 1960s exemplifies clearly this
idea of ‘ritual panafricanism’. The name itself symbolizes the intersection of
different African religious practices since, to express the needs of African
Americans issued from different African ethnicities, one had to mix elements
from these various cultures while at the same time preserve the Yoruba model
that supposedly predominated in African American religions. The unity of
‘Africans from Africa and the diaspora’ had to be proved through the
identification of a dominant cultural model able to demonstrate the lost great-
ness of the African people. Since the foundation of the Yoruba Temple in
Harlem, Adefunmi (1962) was thus reproducing Herskovits’s theses, which
assumed a basic unity of Yoruba and Dahomean cultures, expressed by a reli-
gious syncretism prior to the slave trade.33 The members of Oyotunji Village,
founded in 1970, have thus ‘revitalized’ Yoruba customs as well as other Daho-
mean traditions since orisha-voodoo constitutes, in the opinion of its found-
ers, a ‘pan-African ritual system where all authentically African divinities are
equally recognized’ (Capone 2005: 171). Without its ritual panafricanism and
its use of Yoruba symbols and identity as signs of a re-conquered ‘Africanity’,
orisha religion would not have experienced the expansion it is currently expe-
riencing among African Americans (cf. Clarke 2004).
This ‘ritual panafricanism’ is not limited to exchanges between African
religions but involves also a quest for all the religious practices that have been
lost in African American religions. So repeated contacts with traditional
Bahian Candomblé cult houses contribute substantially to the process of re-
Africanization in the US by deploying the same logic and the same strategies:

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362 S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370

on the one hand, the progressive condemnation of any syncretic practice that
sets the scene for ‘exogenous varieties’ such as Afro-Catholic syncretism; on the
other hand, the emphasis on an ‘ethnic’ supposedly ‘purer’, more ‘traditional’,
origin, the Yoruba origin. Salvador de Bahia, with its houses of Nagô Can-
domblé, is seen as one of the main centers of preservation of African traditions
in the ‘diaspora’ and as a possible source of legitimation for African Americans
who are initiated in orisha religion. But Brazil is also the locus of a rediscovery
of forgotten ritual practices.
Thanks to trips back and forth between the US and Brazil, some Cuban
American initiates have reintroduced the worship of divinities that had disap-
peared in Cuba, such as Oxumarê and Lugunedé, as well as the borí ceremony
with the consecration of the ibá orí, the material representation of the head
(orí). Among these borrowings between religions that claim Yoruba origins, the
ceremonies held to create individual Candomblé altars have been adapted to
the practices of Lucumí religion (also known as Santería or Regla de Ocha) initi-
ates. Brazilian orixás were ‘lucumized’ when they were submitted to lavatorio
and paritorio rituals.34 The same holds for the preparation of dilogún (cowries
for divination that are present on every Lucumí altar). These innovations are
currently responsible for the diffusion within the community of Afro-Cuban
practitioners of ritual practices imported from a ‘sister religion’: Candomblé.
In the last few years, these exchanges have not been limited to Salvador but
have included also the larger metropolises of southeastern Brazil: Rio de
Janeiro and São Paulo. The influence of Cuban babalaos (diviners) in Rio has
already left its imprint on several Candomblé cult houses that have adopted
Afro-Cuban divination practices; Cuban babalaos have replaced Nigerian
babalawo who had reintroduced the practices of odù divination in Brazil (cf.
Capone 1999: 277-84). In addition, World Conferences on Orisha Culture
and Tradition (COMTOC) carry the very idea of the basic unity of African
religions across the world (cf. Capone 2005: 283-97). Once a link is estab-
lished that underpins religions as different as Brazilian Candomblé, Cuban
Santería or Trinidadian Shangó—a link that is symbolized by their Yoruba
component—it becomes possible to work toward their unification. Regardless
of their real origins, these religions all become facets of ‘Yoruba religion’ and
they can thus contribute to the creation of an ‘orisha religion’ that concretizes
once again the former Brazilian dream of ‘unity in diversity’.


In this search for ‘lost foundations’, a vision of syncretism reemerges that is

not necessarily negative. As in Roger Bastide’s theories, we are confronted with

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S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370 363

a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ syncretism: the former makes it possible to recreate a ritual
and philosophical unity that was lost in the Middle Passage, the latter under-
mines forever the foundations of ‘African culture’.
The quest for roots which characterizes Candomblé as much as North
American orisha-voodoo is thus the re-enactment, more symbolic than real,
of a ‘pure’ tradition that must be reconstructed in the ‘diaspora’. In their
discourse, Candomblé and Santería practitioners have since the beginning
emphasized the preservation of a cultural and ritual heritage. But this dis-
course cannot conceal the ongoing salvaging of all that has been lost, a prac-
tice that inevitably produces the mutation of that which should ideally
remained unchanged. This tendency to retain ancestral knowledge and to
compensate for ritual loss is what fuels African American religions. Any geo-
graphical displacement, any travel to the centers of African traditions is there-
after perceived as a temporal regression towards that which was lost, towards
‘true’ African tradition. Fragments of this tradition have been preserved in
Cuba, Brazil and Nigeria, where ‘pockets of cultural resistance’ remain. The
reconstitution of this lost unity, similar to what I have called ‘ritual panafri-
canism’ (Capone 2005), is not a corruption of traditional practices but an
attempt to find a common past and a shared tradition, both of which are
indispensable to the creation of a community of practitioners of orisha reli-
gion. The dialectic of discontinued continuity and continued discontinuity so
dear to Bastide thus seems to reside at the very center of the African American
world. A rare case where, well after his death, a scholar’s theories continue to
live in the practices of those he studied, in a never-ending dialogue linking
different centers of African tradition on American soil.

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Foreword on line: http://members.tripod.com/~Vodunsi/forstate.html

1. The metaphor of the dialogue has been extensively used in anthropological studies on
‘African diaspora’ (cf. Gilroy 1987 and 1993; Yelvington 2006). A discussion of this issue is
beyond the purview of this article (cf. Capone 2006).
2. The notion of ‘principe de coupure’ was translated in the American edition of Bastide’s
work African Religions of Brazil (1978 [1960]) as ‘principle of compartmentalization’, while
in the American edition of his African Civilizations in the New World (1971 [1967]) it
had been translated as ‘principle of dissociation’ (ibid.: 25). We chose to use the first trans-
lation as being closer to the original meaning. In what follows, we have re-translated a few

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quotations from the original French texts, since the published English translations at times
come close to distorting Bastide’s thought.
3. There have been multiple criticisms of this approach. During the International
Congress of Americanists held in Paris in 1976, William Bascom (1976: 592) asserted in
reference to the predominance of studies on African survivals in the New World that Afro-
American cultures should be studied ‘regardless of any questions of origins or of how much
of African culture they have retained’. In his opinion, the study of Africanisms was never-
theless required to show the cultural contribution from blacks, to North American society
in particular, and thus to counter racial prejudices that denied the existence of an Afro-
American culture. More recently, Stephan Palmié (2002: 160) also criticized the tendency
to attribute an African ethnic origin (that can rarely be justified by historical evidence) to
certain ‘features’ of Afro-American cultures by using the metaphor of the ‘theme park
4. A book based on this trip was published in Brazil in 1945. In it, there are many
noticeable errors in the terminology of Candomblé and in the transcription of orixás
(divinities) names. As well, the famous pai-de-santo (chief priest) Joãozinho da Goméia,
Bastide’s primary informant at the time, becomes João da Gávea (Bastide 1995: 63). More-
over, this book was not published in France until after Bastide’s death, with the consent of
his widow.
5. The Brazilian word orixá (Candomblé divinity) corresponds to the Cuban word
oricha and to the Yoruba word òrìșà. In the United States, the English spelling of the word
orisha is used but the pronunciation is the same as that of its corresponding Yoruba and
Brazilian words.
6. With Verger, Bastide initiated the valorization of this Candomblé terreiro beyond
Brazilian borders, becoming the defender of the model of ‘African’ tradition perpetuated
within the religious group which he considered himself part of (cf. Capone 1999). Regard-
ing the ceremony of the ‘cleansing of the beads’ see Bastide 1953.
7. For more on Pierre Verger’s itinerary between Brazil and Africa, see Métraux and
Verger 1994.
8. In his 1982 book of photographs, Verger writes: ‘Ataoja, king of Oshogbo, whose
dynasty was related to the worship of Oshun, was delighted to know that this divinity was
worshiped fervently in Brazil and through me, he sent Senhora copper bracelets and river
pebbles that came from Oshun’s altar’. (Verger 1982: 258).
9. The xeré and the edu ara brought back from Nigeria are attributes of the Yoruba god
Shangó (or Xangô according to Brazilian orthography). The former is the ritual bell and the
latter the consecrated stone used in worship.
10. The Aláàfin of Oyo is seen as the descendant of Shangó. According to oral tradition,
Shangó was the third king (Oba) of this town who had thereafter transformed himself
into an orisha. The worship of Xangô in Brazil reflects the worship of the ancestor of the
royal dynasty of Oyo. The close relation between the Aláàfin (king of Oyo) and the Ìyá
Nasó (the priestess of Shangó) is underscored by the obligation to carry out a series of ritual
killings, among them that of the Ìyá Nasó, at the death of the king ( Johnson 1921; Abra-
ham 1958: 19).
11. Early on in his career, Verger felt no calling for anthropological work as he himself
declared: ‘I was doing this research for myself and my friends from Bahia. The idea of pub-
lishing the results for a wider public had not occurred to me. It was Monod who pushed
me to write’ (Verger 1982: 257). Théodore Monod, who in the 1950s was director of IFAN
(Institut Français d’Afrique Noire), had invited Verger to publish a study on religions in

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368 S. Capone / Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007) 336-370

Brazil and Africa. The book, which was published in 1957, had the ‘effect of a bomb’
according to Bastide (1996a): in a milieu where all the experts focused on questions of
‘acculturation’, ‘syncretism’, and social and cultural ‘change’, Candomblé was becoming an
‘African’ religion at last. Verger became a member of the CNRS (Centre National de la
Recherche Scientifique) in 1962 and was made directeur de recherches (senior scientist) in
1972. From 1963 to 1966, he worked as an associate researcher at the Institute of African
Studies of the University of Ibadan (Nigeria).
12. Bastide had already traveled to Africa, but only to attend colloquia or conferences
during which he made far more contacts with Africanists than with Africans (Verger 2002:
39). On the 1958 trip, see Bastide’s writings published in Lühning (2002).
13. Bastide maintained a very close relationship with Gurvitch ever since the latter
spent a year in São Paulo in 1947. It was also Gurvitch who pushed him to complete his
Doctorat d’État after his return to France. Gurvitch left his mark on Bastide’s work, in his
theory on syncretism and on ‘Negro-African collective memory’ in particular.
14. It is interesting to note that, after Bastide arrived in Brazil, he became not only the
first French ‘Brazilianist’—since Lévi-Strauss never wanted to become a scholar of Brazilian
society—but also an ‘Africanist’, a term used by his Brazilian colleagues to designate spe-
cialists of Afro-Brazilian cultures and religions (cf. Oliveira 1976). He was an ‘Africanist’
who until 1958 did not know Africa, a situation which could have generated tension with
his French Africanist colleagues. Like Nina Rodrigues who did not know Africa except
through the books of Colonel Ellis (Ramos 1950), Bastide learned about Africa through
the mediation of Pierre Verger.
15. While Nina Rodrigues never uses the term ‘syncretism’, he often utilizes equivalent
expressions such as ‘duality of beliefs’, ‘juxtaposition of religious ideas’, ‘association’, ‘equiv-
alence of divinities’ and ‘illusion of catechesis’ to designate Afro-Brazilian practices. It is
among mestizos and Creole blacks that Nina Rodrigues finds a loss of ‘purity’ and a ‘bas-
tardization’ of religious practices with the reinterpretation of Catholic beliefs from an ‘Afri-
can’ and ‘fetishist’ perspective: ‘With the creole black and the mestizo, who have not been
directly influenced by the education of African parents from whom they have distanced
themselves because they do not speak the language and have grown closer to other mem-
bers of the mixed and heterogeneous population of the State [of Bahia], fetishist practices
and African mythology are starting to degenerate from their original state of purity. They
are gradually forgotten and bastardized while the fetishist adoration that was once directed
at the orixás is now transferred to Catholic saints’ (Nina Rodrigues 1935: 170).
16. A reflection on the wrenching experience of black people who are forced to live in
two incompatible worlds was already present in the writings of W.E.B. DuBois, in particu-
lar in his theory of ‘the Veil’ that marks the frontier between Afro-American culture and
white culture (DuBois 1903). The notion of ‘double consciousness’ and the use, in DuBois’s
work, of psychological concepts to capture the duality of the Afro-American experience
resonate with the Bastidian principle of compartmentalization. However, the only refer-
ence to W.E.B. DuBois’s work (so well known in the US) in Bastide’s writings alludes to his
role in the ‘Niagara Movement’ (Bastide 1971 [1967]: 215).
17. Arthur Ramos was the first Brazilian author to analyze syncretism from a culturalist
perspective. According to him, the phenomenon of cultural juxtaposition among so-called
‘African’ blacks and the cultural fusion among Creoles or mulattos were two steps of
the acculturation process, that is, two levels of syncretism. For Ramos (1942), syncretism
was the ‘harmonious result’ of any contact between cultures—a ‘cultural mosaic without
conflict’. Where there was reaction to contact, there was also counter-acculturation,

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something which would allow for the maintenance of original cultural traits in their ‘rela-
tively pure’ form (Ramos 1979 [1937]). The use of the term syncretism in the writings of
Ramos also influenced Herskovits’s writings (1958: xxxvi).
18. Before Bastide’s arrival, Arthur Ramos had already published an Introduction to
Social Psychology in 1936.
19. In reality, Bastide concedes that it is difficult to make a clear distinction between the
Candomblé de Caboclo, Macumba and Umbanda: ‘What in fact distinguishes these vari-
ous religious manifestations one from the other, we might argue, is the relative extent and
development among them of syncretism. Generally speaking, in the first of the three we
find a clear division between African and Indian ritual, with each enjoying complete auton-
omy; whereas in the latter two they tend to coalesce—though by no means always in the
same manner, it is true’ (ibid.: 86).
20. See also Fry 1984 and Capone 2000.
21. Roberto Motta (1994: 170) provocatively asserts that Bastide was ‘above all a unify-
ing force and an organizer. His works on Afro-Brazilian religions are essentially based on
secondary sources, that is, on the work of his predecessors, most of them Brazilian’. While
this is partly true, given Bastide’s limited fieldwork experience and his obvious debt to the
studies of Brazilian ‘Africanists’, one cannot limit these influences, as Motta (ibid.: 174)
does, to the work of Gilberto Freyre, René Ribeiro and Edison Carneiro. As a matter of
fact, Roger Bastide took much further the interpretation of religious phenomena of African
origin (already prevalent when he arrived in Brazil) that opposed ‘traditional’ blacks to
‘syncretized’ blacks. No Brazilian author brought such complexity to their analyses of syn-
cretism and acculturation processes.
22. The phenomenon of reinterpretation is present also in Nina Rodrigues’s analysis but
there it refers to the Africanization of European elements, in particular the adaptation of
Catholicism to ‘fetishistic’ beliefs. In his study of formal acculturation, Bastide (1970a:
138) wrote that Nina Rodrigues’s illusion of catechesis had been the ‘prelude to the theory
of reinterpretation’ formulated by Herskovits.
23. Paradoxically, in 1960 Bastide called the concept of reinterpretation the most
important of the notions formulated by cultural anthropology ‘in the study of civilizational
encounters’ without alluding at all to the work of Herskovits.
24. In that same 1970 text, Bastide wrote: ‘I am a great admirer of African traditional
civilizations; but the praise I gave them in front of African students [in France] earned me
the following critique: ‘You are a colonialist, you do not want us to make progress, on the
contrary you want us to remain always at an inferior stage’ (1970a: 32).
25. Juana Elbein dos Santos is an Argentine anthropologist, married to Deoscóredes
M. dos Santos, son of Mãe Senhora and leading worshiper of Egungun (deified ancestors)
in Brazil. She was a student of Bastide who supervised the doctoral thesis she defended at
the Sorbonne in Paris in the early 1970s.
26. J. Lorand Matory (2005: 282) justifiably criticizes the absence of the notion of
agency in Bastide’s conception of ‘collective memory’. For him, cultural reproduction must
be understood as a ‘struggle for the possession of the sign’ rather than as a simple form of
‘preservation’ since the commemoration of the past is always ‘strategic in its selection,
exclusions, and interpretations’ (ibid.: 283).
27. Melville J. Herskovits was among the first to posit the existence of a ‘cultural gram-
mar’ that was shared by the different peoples of West Africa. According to Herskovits, this
‘cultural grammar’ enabled the formation of an Afro-American culture whose main refer-
ences must be traced to Yoruba and Fon cultures. This idea of an enduring African substra-

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tum in which religion played a central role is also present in the ‘creolization’ model
proposed by Mintz and Price (1976). See also Apter (2004).
28. All these citations are extracted from pamphlets edited by INTECAB. Except for
the obvious influence of Bastidian writings on the founding group of INTECAB, one
should not underestimate the impact of anthropological theories on practitioners of Afro-
Brazilian religions as has been demonstrated by René Ribeiro (1952) for Recife and by
Arthur Ramos (2001 [1934]) for Rio de Janeiro. See also Capone 1999.
29. This double structure clearly recalls Bastide’s principle of compartmentalization. It
is worth mentioning that Bastide trained an entire generation of intellectuals in Brazil,
among them Juana E. Dos Santos, the main ideologue of INTECAB. The claims of a de-
syncretization process, as well as of a hegemonic mission of Candomblé nagô, are clearly
inspired by the Bastidian theory of the separation of African and western worlds, in the
pockets of resistance of traditional Candomblé (cf. Capone 1999).
30. ‘Indeed it is sometimes the case . . . that “continuity” does not really exist, that it is
but a simple ideology, either of the white class (aiming to better distinguish itself from
colored people) or of the black class (attempting to better assert its originality), whereas
what really exists, underneath, in the domain of facts, is on the contrary discontinuity—a
pure and simple rupture with tradition. . . . In any case, in every moment of rupture and
everywhere discontinuity surfaces in the facts, a compensatory ideology emerges at the
same time that valorizes rootedness in the past’ (Bastide 1996a: 78).
31. ‘Ideologies aimed at demonstrating the continuity that links today’s Afro-American
culture to the Afro-American culture of the past only highlight ruptures and discontinuities
(Afro-American culture is a construction, not a “sequence” or a “continuity”, and as such,
it goes as far as betrayal, thereby accentuating all the more, for Africanists, the element of
discontinuity which these ideologies reveal even as they aim to conceal it)’ (ibid.: 85).
32. It is at this meeting that the provisional Government of the Republic of New Africa
(RNA) was created, a government whose co-ministers of Culture were Maluana Karenga,
Oseijeman Adefunmi and LeRoi Jones who, at the time, had already changed his name to
Amiri Baraka (Capone 2005: 200).
33. Herskovits’s influence on the constitution of Yoruba-centered practices in the United
States is obvious in Adefunmi’s writings. But one also finds Bastide’s influence in books that
are largely read by religious practitioners in the US, such as Joseph Murphy’s (1988: 122)
study of santería.
34. These two rituals are intended to ‘give birth’ to practitioners’ divinities. During the
lavatorio (cleansing), omiero (plants macerated in water to which are added certain elements
that are specific to each divinity) is prepared and different parts of the individual altar are
washed in it. The paritorio (deliverance) ritual marks the filiation relation between the ori-
sha that ‘is born’ and the one who ‘engenders’ it.

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