There is and always has been great diversity regarding culture and religious belief on the African continent. However, as Africans were taken from the continent to the New World a great intra-ethnic mixing began to take place. That is to say, due to intra-ethnic mixing during the Maafa, many of the enslaved encountered a number of other African languages and cultures they had never experienced before. As a result, involuntary African migrants began to blend into racial and geographic minorities rather than ethnic groups. Further, as these racial and geographic groups formed another type of diversity began to emerge, African people started to identify as African Americans, Jamaicans, Haitians, Cubans and so forth. Consequently, new types of diversity developed in the New World creating different manifestations of African religious traditions that were established outside the continent of Africa.
One tradition in particular seems to have dominated among the African Traditional Religions (ATR) that survived the middle passage: the Ifa’ tradition. Unfortunately, much of the narrative surrounding the Ifa’ tradition is centered around negative aspects of Voodoo and/or Hoodoo. Yet, the Ifa’ religious system is focused on the oneness of existence and the greatness of human harmony, without which the world would not be able to sustain itself. Moreover, Ifa’ Karade, author of The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts, argues that the only major difference between the practice and perception of the Ifa’ tradition in the Old World (Africa) and the New World is confusion regarding the concepts of mysticism and occultism. That is to say, mysticism is a concrete element of the Ifa’ tradition, but in the Americas the narrative of Ifa’/Vodun centered on the occult and its malicious intent. Still, a more open-minded perspective understands the Yoruba Ifa’ religion simply as part of a divine journey into the innerself or spirit.
This is not to say that other African religious traditions did not survive the Maafa because there is evidence of a number of African religious systems carving out their respective sacred space in the New World. However, this is to suggest that because of the expansive nature of the Yoruba people/culture on the continent of Africa and the malleability of the Ifa’ tradition, the Yoruba religion stands out as a spiritual system with widespread influence in the Americas. This is evidenced by a number of Yoruba words and expressions that appear through the Americas: what was once Vodun in medieval Yorubaland became Voodoo in New Orleans or Vodu in Haiti. As well, what was once Ase’ for the Ifa’ became Axe’ in Brazil in the povo do santo. Simply put, the Yoruba religion, as a survivor of the transatlantic trade, is the most pervasive African religion in the world.
To elaborate, outside of the continent of Africa, Brazil has the largest population of Africans anywhere on the planet. Further, within the populace there is the preservation of rich elements of African culture, from the practice of Capoeira to the preservation of African conjure traditions in the form of Candomble’ and Umbanda. These particular spiritual systems combine Yoruba Ifa’ and Portuguese Catholicism in a New World framework. In this context involuntary African migrants developed a powerful belief system that functions both as historical narrative and formidable pharmacopeia. Furthermore, in the Brazilian context, Africans developed entire communities centered on Ifa’ traditional belief, dances, and herbs rather than fully convert to Christianity.
To expound further, the two major religions of Brazil which feature traits of the Yoruba religion are Candomble’ and Umbanda. However, what distinguishes them from one another is that fact that Umbanda uses the Portuguese language in its worship structure, while Candomble’ uses the Yoruba language. These religious structures are not simply Africanisms, they are the Yoruba religion that has expanded as a result of involuntary migration. Obviously, there are differences between the practice of Candomble’/Umbanda and Ifa’ as they are separated by the Atlantic Ocean and centuries of interaction, nevertheless the practice of Ifa’ in Brazil in the forms of Candomble’ and Umbanda represent perhaps the most widespread examples of African religious practice in the Americas.
Candomble’ like the Ifa’ tradition is an oral tradition that does not rely on written scripture as Christianity and Islam does. The supreme creator or high god in Candomble’ is Oludumare, the same as the Yoruba religion. As well, Candomble’ practitioners, like those of Ifa’, are reliant on the Orisha to commune with Oludumare. Yet, it is with the Orisha that the differences start illuminating themselves between Yoruba Ifa’ and Brazilian Candomble’. Meaning, in order to keep the tradition in tact some of the names of the Orisha were substituted for Catholic Saints. For instance, Papa Legba is a powerful Loa who is master of the ethereal crossroads and a messenger that can move between the earthly plane and the realm of Oludumare. Through syncretism with Catholicism Legba is represented as Saint Peter because he guards the gates of Heaven, the crossroads between the earthly and heavenly planes.
Furthermore, the Catholic religion, despite its fixed veneer, is particularly conducive to syncretism with perceived polytheistic religions because Catholicism itself is somewhat polytheistic. Meaning, for the Catholic belief system there is the supreme God and underneath this primary deity is a host of male and female Saints who act as intermediaries for God. Consequently, it takes very little mental effort of substitute Saint Peter for Legba because of their respective positions in their pantheons. Similarly, Saint Mary, the mother of Jesus, also has a clear counterpart in Candomble’: Yemoja. Yemoja, like Mary, is the mother-figure, giving birth to a number of deities in the Ifa’ pantheon, as well she is the Saint of mothers, pregnant women and the Goddess of rivers and oceans.
Umbanda is very similar to Candomble’ save for the region it is practiced (southern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina) and the language used in worship (Portuguese). Despite the differences in the worship language, Umbanda, like Candomble’ uses Yoruba deities within its pantheon as syncretic subjects; for example, Xango (Shango, the God of Thunder) is John the Baptist and Oxala (Obatala, the creator of the Human form) is Jesus. Furthermore, while the belief system is centered on syncretism much like Candomble’, there is a strong belief in reincarnation within Umbanda that is not as prominent in Candomble’. Regardless of the similarities, both of these traditions have unique traits all their own, adding to the diverse religious landscape of Brazil.
Syncretism in Candomble’ and Umbanda is much more widespread that just two corresponding deities, however, the point here is to illuminate the intimate connection between Candomble’/Umbanda and Ifa’. Again, Africans in Brazil adapted their belief system to fit within the schema of European Catholicism for survival, physical survival as well as cultural survival. Many did convert, but many still simply camouflaged their belief, creating new religious systems by merely combining older ones. Candomble’ and Umbanda practitioners of Brazil are not unique in this process as syncretism is a widely observed phenomenon among Africans in the New World.
 Marimba Ani. Let the Circle Be Unbroken: The Implications of African Spirituality in the Diaspora. (Nkonimfo Publications, 2004). Maafa is a Swahili expression that means “great disaster”.
 Yvonne P. Chireau. Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Traditions. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).
 Ifa Karade. The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts. (Weiser Books, 1994), xi.
 Ibid., xii.
 Ibid., xii.
 Micheal Gomez. Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998).
 J. Lorand Matory. Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomble’. (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2005), 123.
 Ibid., 123. Candomble’ is mainly an oral religious tradition. However, Umbanda has centered itself as a written tradition developing what is known as the povo do santo.
 Robert A. Voeks. Sacred Leaves of Candomble’: African Magic, Medicine and Religion in Brazil. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997).
 Jim Wafer. The Taste of Blood: Spirit Possession in Brazilian Candomble’. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), 5.
 Ibid., 5.
 Joseph E. Holloway. Africanisms in American culture. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005).
 It is not clear if the Piscean persona of Jesus has anything to do with the Candomble’ connection between Yemoja and St. Mary, however it may be a possibility since they share so many other characteristics.
 Graham Dann. “Religion and Cultural Identity: The Case of Umbanda.” Sociological Analysis 30.3 (1979): 213.