Brazil and the Yoruba Race: A Historical Connection


brazilian worshipper

I recently watched a documentary that featured Afro-Brazilians, and was amazed to see them dolled up in Nigerian Yoruba traditional outfits (women in iro and buba and gele, and men wearing agbada and sokoto), and the best part of it all is that they were singing Yoruba songs and dancing owambe style, just the way we do it in Naija. So, I was moved to carry out a research on the historical connection between us (Nigerians) and them (Brazilians). You’d be amazed to learn what I discovered – read on.
Slave Trade and Migration
A long, long time ago (in the 17th century), over half a million Nigerians were forcefully taken into slavery to Brazil, and made to work manually in sugar-cane plantations. Most of them were Yorubas. Those people brought and shared their religion and culture with native Brazilians. As a result, the present Brazilian lifestyle has a ton of Nigerian influences and similarities– read on to find out more. And, as one would expect, along the way, inter-marriages happened, hence today you have many Brazilians with Nigerian ancestry, and vice-versa.

After the abolition of slavery in 1888, many Nigerians returned home and brought back some Brailianness with them.

Cultural Influence
brazilians practicing yoruba religionABOVE: Brazilians practicing the Yoruba religion

Being the second largest group of slaves brought into Brazil during the colonial period, the Yorubas and their religion, culture, customs, food and music had a strong, visible Nigerian influence on the people of Brazil.

Of course inter-marriage happened along the way, and so many Brazilians came to have a deep rooted Nigerian ancestry, and today you can find lots of similarities among the people of Brazil and Nigeria, such as:
• Language: In parts of Brazil, such as the state of Bahia, people still speak Yoruba, which is widely spoken in Nigeria.
• Strong religious ties: Traditional Yoruba religion is still practiced in Brazil, in Candomblé religion, where practitioners believe in the worship of the Yoruba orisha deity and sing and make incantations in the Yoruba language during worship sessions;
• Music Beats and Traditional Dance Style: Brazilian traditional music beats, pace and rhythm is very similar to Nigeria’s. It’s said that their samba music originated from Nigeria.
• Similar Traditional Outfits: Nigerians Yoruba fashion is widely worn by Brazilians. You can find women in Oro and Buba and Gele, and men wearing sokoto and agbada and fila.

Even Wikipedia documents the Brazilian-Nigerians (here) and the Nigerian-Brazilians (here).

Religion Influence

candomble religionAbove: Devotees of the Candomblé Yoruba Religion in Brazil

Brazil has strong religious ties to Nigeria – many of them openly practice the Yoruba spirituality, which they brought from Nigeria when they were forced into slavery. Many twists of the Yoruba religion exist in Brazil, from Candomblé/ Batuque, Macumba and Umbanda, where the Yoruba deities Orisa, Orunmila, Obatala and Oya goddesses, Yemoja, Osun, Ogun, Sango, Obatala and many more. Every year, devout Ifa religion practitioners take a pilgrimage to be part of the annual Osun Oshogbo Festival in Nigeria.

Because the Yoruba religion is widely practiced in Brazil, its influence spread to Brazilian music, dance, fashion and culture (by the way, dance and music are a huge part of worship in the Yoruba ancient religion).

Oh, and Babalawos are highly patronized in Brazil. To date, just like in Nigeria, Brazilians who practice the Yoruba religion, occasionally seek Ifa priests (aka ‘babalawos’ in Nigeria or medicine man) for divination and cure to ailments.

yoruba babalawoABOVE: Yoruba babalawo (left) and Brazillian Candomblé religion members (right)

Music and Dance Styles

Both Nigeria and Brazil have a vibrant music industry, with internationally-popular artists. The way Brazilians produce popular traditional music and merry dancing is similar to the way it is done in Nigerian, using drums and rich percussion rhythms. This could be due to the saying that Brazilian samba and “batuque” rhythms originated from Nigeria, as you can see in the video below.

ABOVE: Brazilians singing in Yoruba and dancing in the same cultural dance, wearing agbada and buba and sokoto – Yoruba traditional outfit.

Yoruba Institute for Art and Culture in Brazil

Because of the deep connection between Brazil and Nigeria, the Yoruba Institute of Art and Culture was set up in 2006 to cater to the increasing interest of descendants of former Brazilian slaves, who desire to find their roots, learn ancestral histories, as well as learning the Yoruba language. Today, the Yoruba culture and language in its curriculum is part of the curriculum at one of Brazil’s leading university, Universidade Federale de Minas Gerais,


So, now you know that some Brazilians are as much Nigerian as you and I. If you’re up for some adventure to see them for yourself, I invite you to take a trip to Brazil during this 2016 Rio Olympics. Oh, and be sure to come to the Nigeria Olympic Hospitality House if you want a guided tour.