Circling With/In The Saint: Ceremonial Sambas and Critical Kinetics of Afro-Bahian Candomblé

Mika Lior
World Arts and Cultures/Dance
UC Los Angeles

This dissertation examines how practitioners of Candomblé, an Afro-Atlantic religious complex born in Bahia, Brazil, deploy ritual choreographies to produce alternative models of black female authority. Although Candomblé encompasses a range of aesthetic and healing practices, its signature dynamic involves the use of dance for invocation and to signal the arrival of a deity. With its primarily Afro-descendent participation, traditionally matriarchal structures and percussive performances of spirit possession that challenge binary conceptions of sexuality, Candomblé was seen as insurrectionary and continues to be targeted by police invasions. Instead of prioritizing its West African influences, as many scholars have, this project examines choreographies of Candomblé’s Bahian personnages – such as Caboclos, identified with indigenous historicities and New World masculinities. The project uses ethnography and performance analysis at public festivals and private offerings to analyze Candomblé’s counterhegemonic kinetic principles in relation to dominant identity configurations. The project consults archival materials including articles and photographs from the post-Independence era (after 1823) through the early twentieth century, to situate Candomblé’s embodied principles in dialogue with pre- and post-abolition models of black femininity. This dissertation argues that practitioners mobilize Candomblé’s ontologies of the body to assert their agency within and outside of the religious community’s socio-political hierarchies.