Manipulating the Sacred
Yorùbá Art, Ritual, and Resistance in Brazilian Candomblé
Mikelle S. Omari-Tunkara
African American Studies, Anthropology, Art History, Race and Ethnicity, Religion
Pages: 208 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 82 color photographs
The book is remarkable for its comprehensive field data, rigorous scholarship, and rare insights—all reflecting the author's unique status as a scholar/initiate privy to ritual information seldom accessible to most researchers. It is a major contribution to the literature on African diaspora art and religion.
— Babatunde Lawal
At a time when the art of the African diaspora has aroused much general interest for its multicultural dimensions, Mikelle Smith Omari-Tunkara contributes strikingly rich insights as a participant/observer in the African-based religions of Brazil. She focuses on the symbolism and function of ritual objects and costumes used in the Brazilian Candomblé (miniature "African" environments or temples) of the Bahia region, which combine Yorùbá, Bantu/Angola, Caboclo, Roman Catholic, and/or Kardecist/Spiritist elements. An initiate herself with more than twenty years of study, the author is considered an insider, and has witnessed how practitioners manipulate the "sacred" to encode, in art and ritual, vital knowledge about meaning, values, epistemologies, and history. She demonstrates how this manipulation provides Brazilian descendents of slaves with a sense of agency—with a link to their African heritage and a locus for resistance to the dominant Euro-Brazilian culture.
Manipulating the Sacred is a necessary read for any scholar interested in not only candomblé in Brazil, but other Afro-Atlantic religions as well. It is a noteworthy text that can be used in courses that discuss Afro-Brazilian culture, African diaspora and religion, art history, visual arts, and agency. Omari-Tunkara adds another dimension through her meticulous analysis of the role of art and sacred object as carriers of agentic practices."
– H-Net Reviews
. . . an extraordinarily interesting descriptive study of the history, social context, and practice of the African-Brazilian religion, Candomblé, in Bahia, Brazil. . . . the author describes in detail the symbolism and function of sacred objects and costume in Candomblé and argues persuasively that Candomblé affords initiates a valued link with their African heritage and a locus for resistance to the dominant Euro-Brazilian culture. . . . Omari's study contains a rich body of information not accessible in English and largely unknown by non-initiates of Candomblé."
– Marion Jackson, Wayne State University
Manipulating the Sacred is a fascinating study of the interconnectedness of art, ritual, and politics in Brazilian Candomblé. The book is remarkable for its comprehensive field data, rigorous scholarship, and rare insights-all reflecting the author's unique status as a scholar/initiate privy to ritual information seldom accessible to most researchers. It is a major contribution to the literature on African diaspora art and religion."
– Babatunde Lawal, Virginia Commonwealth University, author of The Gelede Spectacle: Art, Gender, and Social Harmony in an African Culture
Manipulating the Sacred is the most focused, single-authored examination of sacred art in Bahian Camdomblé Nagô from as art historical perspective to date. With numerous images, both black-and-white and color, glossary of key terms and glossary of the orixás, in addition to the wealth of information presented in the chapters, Omari-Tunkara's book is a valuable historical tool. Through Manipulating the Sacred, the reader gains a better understanding of the role that choice has played in Candomblé Nagô over the centuries."
– African Arts