Abstract

From the 1980s onward, Candomblé leaders successfully adapted cultural heritage laws to protect historic temples and gain select rights in the construction of a Brazilian democracy. State technicians and anthropologists in dialogue with religious leaders defined African territoriality in Brazilian cultural heritage policies through sometimes conflicting principles of race, gender, and history. Black priestesses were fundamental to this process, leading their communities toward greater public respect, representation, and protection through political negotiation. This article argues that the adaptation of cultural heritage status to historic temples defined Black women’s leadership as a central feature of African heritage in Brazil, while leaving the widespread issues of land insecurity and religious and environmental racism unexamined in the implementation of democratic policies. The Candomblé religion depends on healthy and sustainable material relationships to the land and community. Religious racism, land speculation, economic precarity, and environmental destruction continue to marginalize Candomblé temples and their leaders in Brazil despite nominal celebration by the state.

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