Spiritual Flora of Brazil’s African Diaspora
Ethnobotanical Conversations in the Black Atlantic
Keywords:Columbian exchange, ethnobotany, plant transfer, African diaspora, Candomblé, Brazil
Candomblé was introduced to Brazil by enslaved and free West Africans in the early nineteenth century. One dimension of the religion is a profound association between a pantheon of deities (the orixás) and a pharmacopoeia of magico-medicinal plants. This article explores the means by which the black diaspora was able to organize an African-inspired spiritual ethno-flora in the Americas. I argue that a cornucopia of esculent and medicinal plants had diffused back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean centuries before the arrival of most African slaves. Thus, while the primary rainforests of Africa and the Americas would have had little in common biologically, the increasing presence of exotic edible and medicinal cultivars and weeds contributed over time to their botanical similarity. This transatlantic ethnobotanical conversation greatly facilitated the ability of Brazil’s African diaspora to reconfigure their plant-based spiritual traditions in what was otherwise an alien floristic landscape.
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