EPISODE 3: the centennial heritage of the bate folha tample

With Carla Maria Ferreira Nogueira

English Translation

Our third episode features Carla Maria Ferreira Nogueira, a daughter-initiate of the Bate Folha Temple and a doctoral student at the Federal University of Bahia. We discuss the temple's centennial celebrations in 2016, when we collaborated with a team of students and professors on a documentary project to record the life histories of the temple's nearly 70 members. Carla highlights the ecological knowledge and ancestral wisdom of the community, the temple's relationship to the land and its surrounding neighborhoods, and the particular care offered by the multi-generational Black-African way of being in Brazil.

Jamie Welcome all to the Brazil Culture Connections podcast! Today I am here with Carla Maria Ferreira Nogueira. She is a daughter-initiate of the Terreiro Bate Folha, a Candomblé temple of Congo-Angola origin in Brazil that completed 100 years in 2016. As a Makota [female initiate] of the House, she shares with her fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers [of candomblé] the experience of belonging to that space. As a scholar of Afro-Brazilian and African history and culture, she began her research during her undergraduate education, when she looked to Portuguese-speaking African countries through the lens of literature. In her Master’s degree, she continued these studies, with an interest in analyzing the actions of Black women in the literary, political and historical field of Mozambique. She worked with the text Sangue Negro [Black Blood] by the poet Noémia de Sousa and now, in her doctorate, she continues with the perspective of observing the importance of Black women, this time, for the maintenance of Candomblé in Brasil, to dive deeper into her place of origin, her place of belonging, which is the Temple, to research the histories, narratives and informations surrounding the matriarch Nengua Guanguacesse, D. Olga Conceição Cruz.

Carla Maria Ferreira Nogueira

I had the privilege of meeting Carla during the Bate Folha Temple’s centennial. Together, we worked on a documentary of the centennial and I got to know the temple and its community during this historic moment. And I am very happy to be speaking with Carla again. A huge welcome to you!

Carla Thank you so much, Jamie. I thank you for the invitation and for the possibility of this reunion, even if virtual, right?

J Yes, in these times of the pandemic, with the noises at home, it’s all part of it, but… We have a very important conversation today about the Temple, the historical and ecological context of Candomblé, especially Bate Folha, which is a place of resistance, right? So I wanted to start with you introducing yourself to our audience and telling us about your personal and spiritual connection to the Bate Folha Temple, please.

C As you already presented in this mini-biography of me, I am Carla Nogueira. My connection to Bate Folha in the first instance is of a natural family order because my grandfather, my grandmother, and my mother were part of the temple. They all passed away. My father was even a contemporary of Mr. Bernardino, our founder. My grandmother comes next and my mother in consequence of this relationship. And I always lived and co-existed belonging to that place. In this way my contact with Candomblé came from my experience in the Bate Folha Temple, which occurred from my mother’s gestation until my adulthood. I was always there, during vacations, on the weekends, at the ritual obligations, ceremonies and parties. I grew up through these comings and goings because I live in another neighborhood. And after, at 36 years of age I was initiated, I was chosen by Dandalunda to take care of her under the permission of MBamburucema Nvula, the Patron deity of the House. I was confirmed in 2018 and I take on the function of Makota together with other sisters. From this natural family co-living comes the spiritual life that I developed ever since I was very young through to adolescence, I began to rationalize all of these experiences. What is everyday practice began to be also an element of strength and energy in symbiosis with the supernatural. I strengthen myself in faith to understand the complexity and at the same time the completeness of human beings in harmony with nature and the Nkisis [deities]. So, Carla is all of this. She is a mother, woman, Black woman, wife, worker, student, Makota, daughter-initiate, and I love belonging to this place.

J Yes, and you are also a teacher, right? A writer, activist… so many things.

C I try to reconcile all of this, because the relationship with these women, which is my research interest, moves me greatly towards these actions that I think are incredible in the day-to-day life of the temples. The women move through this space and take care of issues and situations that surround them through this care and protection, which is this notion of an amplified family that I learned in Bate Folha. Because everyone there are uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, cousins of a spiritual relation and not [only] consanguineous. So when the nuclear family dissolves (and we still maintain this perspective in the peripheries [poor urban outskirts]), which in my case I lose my grandfather, my grandmother, my mother. I have his whole Black-African support system, you know? This heritage that has been there since the times of slavery when they needed to reestabilish their dignity here in Brazil. So in Candomblé we have a lot of this, this notion of an amplified family, which is not just in nomenclature— “Oh, this is my brother, this is my sister” —no. It is in the care in the relationships.

"I have his whole Black-African support system, you know? This heritage that has been there since the times of slavery when they needed to reestablish their dignity here in Brazil."

Carla Nogueira

J This was all very clear during the interview process for the documentary with FACOM, the Federal University of Bahia’s College of Communications, where you are working on your doctorate and where I got my master’s. They formed a partnership with the temple to do these interviews to understand Bate Folha’s trajectory better, as well as the generations of family-initiates. And I wanted to go back to this moment that was so historical, and I wanted to know more from you about the importance of this moment, not just for Bate Folha’s community, but for candomblé’s temples in general and for the African heritage in Brazil.

C It’s really nice to look back on this moment because it was a fantastic confluence of energies. I came to do my doctorate in 2015, at the end of 2015 and in the beginning of 2016. I already came with this glimpse of the real need for the temple to do the centennial commemoration. And there is a representivity, a huge symbology for the history of survival, of struggle, of experience, of life that emits from a black institution like candomblé in Brazil, which you know we experience moments of intolerance, prejudice, and maintaining this structure for 100 years is incredibly significant. And Jamie, that moment was incredible, it was so great and it condensed a century of resistance. How many people live from there and pass through there, they survived from that energy, from that land. Many stories were reminisced of people who raised their sons and daughters from the fruits, the leaves that they sold at the markets and Bate Folha’s candomblé is a super important biome for the community of Mata Escura [the Black Forest neighborhood]. It possesses a powerful Black-African symbology of religious, cultural, human, and natural preservation. We don’t create damage, we take care, we protect. So commemorating 100 years was very interesting because it went through all of 2016, from the first ritual obligation in January to the last one in December, which was on the same day as the official document’s record. From the house deed on December 10, 2016, the centennial occurs—the obligation, right?—of MBamburucema Nvula occurs on December 10, 2016, but they were there thanking for everything that has been built, and we renewed the commitment to maintain it. So amid these religious obligations, we had space to open up to the community, to talk, to discuss the importance of that place, we held seminars, we held meetings, and we had a documentary. So for the first time in the history of Bate Folha, we had a record of the testimonies, of those people’s stories. So it was a movement from the inside out. The Bate Folha Temple has a very interesting distinctiveness. Those who attend, who live, who are from Bate Folha are common people. So they are laundrywomen, they are people who work at the bank, who work at the market, they are teachers. So, we don’t have artistic and political classes that attend Bate Folha. It is maintained and preserved by those people who live their daily lives, their day-to-day is the daily struggle, you know? And it was really special that we got together internally and externally, so people from outside of Bahia came, including from other states. We congregated with other nations: Ketu, Jeje, we had spiritualists, we had people from Umbanda. So, it was a very important moment for us in that we heard from the sons and daughters of the House what the importance of the temple was, and then stories from the most simple to the most difficult situation of connection with the supernatural with Nkisis emerged, you know? Stories of help, of partnerships, and that made us see what candomblé is really made up of, the candomblé of Bate Folha, I’m speaking specifically about this place, they are these links of brotherhood, of faith in what we don’t see. Because contact with the invisible is permanent. So, when we place our hands on the ground and touch our foreheads and the nape of our necks reverencing the ground, it is because we believe that that ground is alive, that there are energies there, that it welcomes us and takes care of our steps. So the centennial was symbolically and significantly important for all of us. We reminisced about our elders who have already passed on. We reminisced about moments of ritual obligations, celebrations that took place under the open sky. We reminisced about the changes, including changes in the physical structure, of which there aren’t many. Obviously we redid the paintings in the House that we call the great hall, and it shows, in terms of the structure of the House. So, it is an open heritage. So much of the settlements, the trees, the land, the ground. How much of the House’s main structure, the barracão [ceremonial hall], the Nkisis rooms, the closed spaces [are maintained]. So compiling all this into a single moment was...I wouldn’t call it magical, but it was magical because this formed part of our experience, we have this, this re-enchantment, you know, of the world from this spiritual relationship with our Nkisis.

"Because contact with the invisible is permanent. So, when we place our hands on the ground and touch our foreheads and the nape of our necks reverencing the ground, it is because we believe that that ground is alive, that there are energies there, that it welcomes us and takes care of our steps."

Carla Nogueira

J Everything flowed very well. I remember, I attended so many ceremonies both outside and inside the temple. And there was so much joy, I remember there was so much food, music, but also speeches and talks in the seminars. It was a political action at the same time as a celebration of victory, and the temple also. Could you talk a bit more about this Congo-Angolan origin? Because it is the most historic house from this nation still in existence, right?

Carla Nogueira, Makota (female-initiate) of the Bate Folha Temple

C Yes, yes, the Bate Folha Temple is well known for safeguarding both through historical time, this timeline of dates, and through the importance of our founder. Our founder Bernardino, Manuel Bernardino da Paixão. We even have Dr. Erivaldo Sales Nunes’s doctoral thesis, which talks about “O Bate Folha: The Trajectory and Memory of Bernardino’s Candomblé.” So our founder joined in the history of candomblé, a milestone, a very deep, founding history. And we survived this dialogue, this relationship with other candomblés Ketu, which are more well-known, Jeje as well. So our origin, is, we are Angola, Congo, by the lineage of our of founder, the great Manuel Bernardino, he is initiated by the Congo nation and by this relationship with the Bantu ethnolinguistic group, in our rituals, in our words, we carry the Kimbundu. So it is in this design of terminology that is there in popular speech, but it is also in our religious language, this inheritance that comes from this Congo and Angola territory. And we preserved it in our chants, we preserved it in our words, because when we mention certain terms and when we go to the dictionary, we find ourselves in the origin of Kimbundu. So our Nkisis have a very direct correlation with nature, with the greenery, with the waters, with the forest, with the earth, with fire, with the rain, with these energies that encompass all these natural elements.

J Yes, which are so present in Bate Folha’s territory. For those who don’t know, it is an Atlantic forest. One of the largest preserved areas in the city of Salvador is the Bate Folha Temple. I wanted to hear a little more about the importance of this territoriality inside the Mata Escura neighborhood, and during the interviews of the documentary, we saw many testimonies about this—how this has been transforming historically along with the temple. And also the importance of the ecological wisdom that is present in candomblé and this relationship with the Nkisis that helps us think about environmental preservation and the equilibrium between humans and nature. I wanted you to comment more about these topics.

C It’s another great wealth we have. We manage to have preserved it during all this time in the face of this real estate speculation, this growth—even disordered as here in Salvador—we have maintained the same measurement [of land] that we found in the deed in a popular neighborhood. So, Bate Folha is, it has a super important biome for that region both in the preservation of the forest and in the source of rivers. So, during one moment in the centennial, our elder women recalled when they would go to wash clothes, get water in the Fonte da Telha, the Fonte da Bica. So they were recollections of a not too recent past, but of a Salvador that was still rural. And Bate Folha, unlike many temples, which ended up losing their great extension and shrinking, kept this extensive area of trees, from a river that passes in front of this residential occupancy in a certain region that ended up...It became polluted, which is another operation that we’ve been undertaking for a while at the Public Ministry, requesting the preservation of our river sources. And Bate Folha welcomes, receives, maintains this space of fruit trees with leaves of knowledge, of ancient wisdom of how to heal with tea, and herbs, how, how to take care of wounds with certain leaves. So, we have this space that is preserved there. The centennial also comes with this important message of showing how we preserve without any institutional support. We are listed [as a cultural heritage site], but there is movement as well as an effort to preserve, which is natural for the people who are there. There wasn’t any training, we didn’t need any class, no. This is done by our elders, which is passed on to our youth who brought attention to what is planted, what is renewed. So there is this element that you bring, which you recall is very significant for candomblé, which we learn in candomblé without the forest, without water, without leaves. We can worship [without these things], but our Nkisis show us the completeness of life and deal with this relationship with the natural [world].

J Yes, this was very clear. In my experience living in Salvador and visiting the Bate Folha Temple, I saw that you all do what the public and private sectors can’t or don’t or aren’t interested in doing. Right? It’s not just preserving, but it’s having respect for nature, the space that is necessary for healthy environments. For this relationship with humans who need clear water, clear air. Water pollution in Salvador is not just sad, but it’s a very dangerous thing. So, I see that members of Candomblé care for the elderly and for the natural environment, which ends up benefiting not only those in the temple, but the whole neighborhood. All of this was very powerful to me.

C It was. This contact, this respect for the elders, this respect for nature. It is very significant to think about how it happens, because we have, we bring this legacy, this Black-African heritage (and I even demarcate “Black-African” to point out that the African continent has 54 countries and that this historical process [between Africa and Brazil] takes place in a certain region) and in the middle of the discussions and deliberations about the statute that speaks of respecting the elderly, of not leaving them, of not abandoning them, of not leaving them in a nursing home, of not disrespecting them, right? In Candomblé, and in Bate Folha, we realize that without them, we cannot continue on. It is having these living references that carry us into the future, we transform into the men and women who also will pass this legacy on. So, we have a very rich reality at Bate Folha. There are living people, 95, 90 and 80, 87, 70 years old, who have a dynamic, a memory and action that makes things happen there. You know? Our Nengua, who is the main figure, the person from my research for the doctorate, she is 95 years old. She’s been at Bate Folha for 71 years. And we have other women, other ladies who were initiated in the second Tata, the second Priest of the House, which is Tata Bandanguame, who are there and participate in the ritual obligations, who recalled stories, who orients us, who corrects us. You know? Who move their bodies so full of life because they are worshipping Nkisi. They are renewing their faith and their energy there, and we learn from seeing, from listening, and from taking notice of their movement. So, we have Nengua, as I said. Nengua Guanguacesse, 95 years old and initiated under the second, the successor of the first, of our founder, so Tata Bandanguame was the second Priest responsible for the house. So, Nengua Guanguacesse was initiated in it, we have Kotas Kixima, Nedembu, Tuandelê, Kianguiá, Molongá and Makota, we have my aunt Kiriuankê. We have these women who experienced, lived situations from the beginning of the 20th century. And they are there, you know? From the middle of the last century and they are there, age 90, full of life, life and memory of the past that connects us to the present and gives us courage to face the uncertainty of the future. So, all over the world we are going through the pandemic, in Brazil, we have this calamitous situation from the misgovernment that we are experiencing. And these women show us, and they went through moments that were so so difficult as this one—or worse—and continued on, continued in faith, continued in the day-to-day battle and are now teaching us. So just the names themselves, the names I said here are dijinas [ritual titles given at initiation]. So, it is the new names that we receive when we are initiated. So, added onto Carla Maria Ferreira Nogueira, today I am Makota Mukuá Muiji. So, just this naming, this term that we take on, this new name that we receive in the initiation process, it is very significant. It is connected to a past of strength and struggle and resistance and faith, which is what propels us and makes us live very closely with the spiritual. I usually say our goddesses are not far, they are here at our sides. We feel them in the goosebumps on our skin, we feel a tingle of excitement, we feel a redirection in our intuition, and that’s how we go on learning to take care and deal with the visible and the invisible. These women and this forest and this environmental preservation is what makes us realize in the touch and care that we are going on the right path. Meaning, the model there now of having hasn’t been working. The temples have shown us that the possible path is this one that they bring us, that this confluence of men, women, elderly ladies and gentlemen, children reliving all of this makes us continue on and realize that to have isn’t the main thing, it is being and living, it is the day-to-day.


J I got emotional listening to you speak. And also those experiences, reliving all this wisdom and autonomy.

C Yes! You mentioned autonomy. It’s very interesting because, well, I don’t know, so let me ask how your experience was, because you come from contact with a different reality in the United States, you came to Brazil and you had contact with the temples. So you were in this very interesting pathway of yours as well. It emerges from a...I don’t know if it emerges, you can correct me as well, but I am curious to know about your trajectory and your experience because I noticed you were very absorbed in that moment. So, it wasn’t a strangeness, it could have even been a detachment because it wasn’t part of your childhood or adolescent experience, but when you come across all that, you come across an opening and a participation...I already told you once that you were, you were one of the chosen ones. Because things at Bate Folha don’t happen openly, they aren’t projected, kind of random, no—this is why you were chosen. You participated throughout the beginning, middle, and end of this process. Even in the editing of the videos of these women’s stories. You made a clip, which even won a prize, so I’ll throw this question back at you, this question about how all this was when you arrived at Bate Folha.

J Great, thanks. No, I don’t think it could have been by chance that I came to do my research during the year of the centennial. Nothing [of this] was planned in my life. But I always say I follow open doors, and candomblé has this as well. It has closed doors and open doors, and I understood that you can’t keep knocking on closed doors, and it’s always good to orient your path toward whatever is already waiting for you. And I’ll never forget the first time I managed to come to Bate Folha, because it isn’t easy. You can’t just easily go on Google Maps for someone who doesn’t know Salvador very well because Salvador is huge. There are so many neighborhoods, and Mata Escura is a neighborhood I didn’t know. I went alone and I drove myself. And I had to stop and ask people on the street, “Could you point me in the right direction?” There were even evangelicals who looked at me, not wanting to help. But, I was persistent because I knew the temple’s story because of my research on Ruth Landes, in that period in the 1930s, with Edison Carneiro, there are records and ethnographies, but always like a place that is very difficult to enter into, to get to know. And I didn’t go because of that wishing, “Oh, I have to know what no one else knows.” It wasn’t because of that. Rather, it was the House’s grand opening, which was also a historic moment for you all to make connections even with the public sector, because I always identify myself as a researcher, linked to the university, but also to these debates about heritage, about preservation. So, I felt it was okay to come in that moment. And when I arrived, I remember I got into the parking lot. There was someone there who opened the gate for me. And someone, a Tata, I’m forgetting his name right now, but Tata looked at me and said, “how did you get here to Bate Folha?” But if I arrived, it was because I was meant to arrive, so I was very warmly welcomed, and I remember I was waiting in the waiting room outside of the kitchen and there was the team from FACOM. There were students there already negotiating the documentary, so I understood I could fit in because I already had experience with UFBA. I did my master’s there, so I already had this contact and I was a researcher, so I felt I could support the project and tag along doing these ethnographies.

Even though I already had become familiar with other temples, I felt mainly that Bate Folha’s territoriality was something I had never encountered before in my life. So you feel the Nkisis in the wind, whisking around the leaves, that tree for Tempo [the deity of air and time]. The celebration for Tempo, I think, was the first celebration I went to, which was for the centennial in August of 2016. And it is such a beautiful celebration that attracts people from the city, from the whole country really. So I felt this attraction to the House’s wisdom, to its history. I also felt that the House was ready to receive people this way. So, I think that everything fit together in this way, and I am still here trying to expand discourse not just about the place, but about the cultural politics, urban politics, about land rights, about urbanization in Salvador, these issues and how they affect the temples. This really interests me. Because I know very well now after that experience the value of these places, not just for those who are in them, but I think the outside world has a lot to learn about the care, the legacies, African history in the Americas, which isn’t told very well, it is manipulated and silenced due to racism. And also there’s hate and religious racism, all this. I think we need more action and discussion. And in English as well, which presents the story and these actions to new audiences. So, this podcast intends to amplify and translate all this for readers and listeners in a totally different context, because I carried out many projects and actions in Brazil, but this translation for a totally different context and language, it’s another type of work that I am committed to doing during this time I have as a postdoctoral scholar here in Pennsylvania right now. So, I’m continuing this work, but always recognizing the religious leaders and thinkers like you, like the Makotas, the Nenguas of Bate Folha and of other temples, and I am hoping to amplify these contexts and uplift these voices with this project.

Jamie Lee Andreson and Carla Nogueira at the Bate Folha Temple after the launch of Ruth Landes e a Cidade das Mulheres (Editora UFBA, 2019)

C How nice! Thank you for answering. And we are together in this endeavor. When I bring these debates into academia, it is precisely to bring in other epistemologies, other worldviews, even ways of being in the West. It’s very interesting, I notice myself and notice how my grandmother and my mother acted, how these women act. In the middle of the Western world, we have performances, ways of seeing and acting that escape from this box imposed by capitalism, neoliberalism, Western religions. So, there is a long-lasting attempt including dialogue, because when we assert that it is a very important discussion about syncretism, and when we embrace and open dialogue with other religions, it’s saying, look at the path, it’s this one, it’s the path of respect. It’s not just tolerating. It’s not just worrying about my garments, with my accessories and my faith. Because my faith and all these elements I carry, is care, not deforestation. So, when we have NGOs pressuring governments about environmental preservation in Brazil—in the world, in the United States—look at what happens in the Amazons, look at the accusations being made, so all this is always transforming [the Amazon rainforest] into pastures for profit. Studies, science prove that deforestation will kill us. So, we come from a contrary logic, of ancient knowledge that...even discusses this knowledge, this wisdom outside of academia. So, when I bring the importance of Nengua to the academic space, how she is politically, religiously, and socially active in the Mata Escura neighborhood in the Bate Folha Temple, which expands to other candomblé temples, because from there she relives stories from the past from other temples, from other houses, when she is in dialogue with other nations. And academia will enclose this complexity into the [nations] Yoruba, Congo-Angola, Jejê, and to make them stand out from each other, talk about purity, but the path is contrary. The people teach us all the time about the importance of the confluence [of African nations in Brazil]. So, this is the issue, it’s not just an issue, it is these teachings that I learned, Jamie, that I try to pass down to my daughter, that I want to record in the university, also so that other students can become interested in discussing people who are near, so they can realize and analyze these research elements, yes—those who pray, the relationships that are established in the periphery. During the time of the pandemic, we have been discussing the relationships—the zeal—the networks of solidarity that are being built. So, those who are in their castles and aim for profitability don’t change things. You know? This movement is often tied to a tax compensation, a reduction in taxes. But these networks of solidarity, which candomblé is part of, which includes, it was one of the first, one of the first religions to make a statement—we won’t open our temples, our homes due to risk of infection, risk of the deaths of our elders. We have a significant percentage of elderly people. So, we are against that. Those there, those who wreak havoc on us, even come to know us, even knowing what our measures are. So, we are together. I don’t know if the interview is finished but beforehand, I want to thank you for this moment of construction, it’s so good to talk with you. And you spoke about something very important, which is that candomblé has closed doors and opened doors. We have moments. I learned that we should open up our ears to the forest. It’s sharpening our perception, it’s noticing more than speaking. But everything in our connections which is outside of us more than it is inside. So that we can understand each other in the middle of all this. In the middle of a pandemic, what we have been discussing about mental health, about an emotional lack of control, we once again reinforce these connections that we have in candomblé with the invisible that gives us strength to not succumb, to not lose control to the point of it affecting our health. So, debating this heritage, both material and immaterial, what is human? It makes up part of this field of my interest.

J Yes, I think I learned so much more about how to listen and observe with my experiences at the temples, which I also see as a path, an antiracist practice, which is something I’m always strengthening not only in myself, but in my personal, family, and professional networks as well. And we are here strengthening these networks. And I’m so grateful. I think we need many more chats, to have another coffee, I’ll come back to Bate Folha after we get through this moment that is challenging all of us. But I have a lot of faith, a lot of respect and a lot of admiration for the networks of the temples’ solidarity. Sending hugs to you and to all at Bate Folha. Thank you so much.

C Thank you for this moment, I will share the podcast, yes. We remember you often, they ask about you and want to know if you’re well, how you’re doing. See you at our next meeting, our next face-to-face meeting in Bahia on the sacred grounds of the Bate Folha Temple. Thank you so much, Jamie.

J Thanks, Carla, and we’ll share this work with people from the temple as well as the academic and cultural networks, and we’ll expand these discussions. See you soon, hugs.

C See you, hugs.

J This episode was recorded between Jamie Lee Andreson in Pennsylvania and Carla Nogueira in Salvador, Bahia in February 2021. The audio editing was done by me. I thank the help of our team at Brazil Culture Connections, the interns from The Pennsylvania State University, Amanda Talbot, who translated most of this interview, Madeleine Tenny, who produces our promotional materials, and technical support from Jonatas Borges Campelo. The music is called “Baiano - Quando Eu Vim da Bahia” by Templo de Umbanda e Candomble Ilê Asé Ogúm-Méjì, with fair use.

Please follow us on our social media @brazilcultureconnections where you can find the documentary clip I edited and translated into English and don’t forget we have the complete transcriptions of the interviews along with the translations in English on our website, brazilcultureconnections.wordpress.com.

Thank you very much for the attention, support, and exposure! Muito obrigada!