In most of Brazil, Afroamerican religion is Candomblé, which is rooted in Yoruba traditional religion, with influences of Angola-Congo traditions. The main exception is the Northeastern state of Maranhão, were Daomeyan (Ewe) tradition (Vodum) dominates.

Now, Maranhão was settled by the French, before being conquered by the Portuguese (São Luís is, as it is said, "the only Brazilian capital city that wasn't founded by the Portuguese").

And if I look for other places where Vodum predominated over Candomblé, I find Haiti (Voudu) and Louisiana (Voodoo). In the rest of the Americas, either Afroamerican religions were completely eradicated, or they are predominantly influenced by Yoruba tradition (except, I think, for Guyana, where Fanti-Ashanti tradition is the main influence).

But both Louisiana and Haiti were French colonies, like Maranhão originally was. So my questions are, is this merely a coincidence, or is it somehow related? Would it have to do with different European metropoles controlling different regions in coastal West Africa, or different slave trade routes? Are there studies, books, papers, that deal with this issue? Or have the sources that could shed some light upon this destroyed, leaving the question unanswerable?

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    I believe this is the first question in my 4 years of participation here that I've liked enough to favorite.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 19:51
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    I will pose a counter-question though: Is there in fact a consistent doctrinal difference between the two? I'd always figured different names in the new world were just due to the different european languages, and the source of all of them was synthesization of the various West African practices with European Christianity. This is the first I've heard that there might be big differences due to which Niger-Congo region that area's slaves were taken from.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 20:00
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    @T.E.D. - This site, mamiwata.com/map6.html , contains a table correlating Yoruba orixas and Ewe voduns. Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 20:22
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    Another counter-question: were there significant slave movements between colonies of the same nation? The distribution could be because not of the region of origin, but because slaves were moved from one French colony to another (maybe specially after the sale of Lousiana) in numbers enough to prevent any colony from creating its own distinct religion.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 9:54
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    @SJuan76 - I suppose it is possible that there was a significant movement of slaves from Louisiana to Haiti. But Saint Louis in Maranhão was an earlier settlement than both Haiti and Louisiana; if there was any movement of slaves, it would have been from Saint Louis to these other colonies, not the other way round. But Vodun remained more influential than Candomblé in Maranhão, which I suppose points to many Africans remaining there after the Portuguese conquest in 1615. Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 10:19

1 Answer 1


It makes sense that colonies belonging to different European nations would preferentially buy from traders of the same nation, since under the prevailing mercantilist legal regimes the latter would automatically (or most easily) have the right to trade with said colonies. (And would know the language, which helps.) And, of course, it also makes sense that when colonists moved and took their slaves with them, or sold their slaves, it would be more likely for the destination to be another colony of the same mother country.

The problem in trying to make a simple conclusion like "traders from European country X always bought slaves of ethnic group Y from locale Z" is that:

  1. Different European countries operated in different areas of West Africa at different times;

  2. There were probably variations in the ethnicity of slaves that were available to European slave traders at different times based on local historical developments. E.g., if Dahomey lost a war, there might be more Fon- and Ewe-speaking slaves for sale from the victors.

  3. Some colonies imported slaves directly from Africa, while others did so indirectly (via transshipment points or regional markets in the Caribbean, for example).

  4. As you note, colonies sometimes changed hands, which could have some effect on the slave trade.

I suspect it may be possible to derive more information about this, but in many cases the records have not been investigated properly. A couple of decades ago, a researcher (Gwendolyn Midlo Hall) looking into 18th and 19th Century records in Lousiana discovered extensive notes about the particular ethnic origins of slaves, which the local archivists were unaware of: https://tracingafricanroots.wordpress.com/2015/09/25/louisiana-most-african-diversity-within-the-united-states/ . A relevant quote:

the complex colonial history of Louisiana, featuring periods of French, Spanish and American rule, has contributed to a possibly greater degree of African diversity than found anywhere else in the USA. Each timeperiod was characterized by its own distinct ethnic/regional pattern of slave imports.

(The downside is that records like these are probably rarer or missing for the 16th and 17th Centuries, so earlier aspects of the slave trade may not be as recoverable.)

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall later wrote a book called Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links, which I suspect might be relevant. (I haven't read it, but it seems to have gotten lots of positive scholarly reviews.)

As for "In the rest of the Americas, either Afroamerican religions were completely eradicated, or they are predominantly influenced by Yoruba tradition":

  • There are "Vodou" religions in places like Cuba and Puerto Rico, though these may be Haitian imports.

  • Obeah, practiced in the British Caribbean (especially Jamaica), is variously attributed to the Igbo, the Akan, and the Ashanti.

  • Palo in Cuba is thought to be derived from Kongo culture; its liturgical language is a mixture of Spanish and Bantu. (So Cuba is perhaps somewhat similar to the Brazilian case, in that you can have multiple religions from different origins in the same country, though as far as I know Cuba was always in Spanish hands.)

  • And Kumina in Jamaica is also thought to be derived from Kongo culture, but via post-emancipation immigrants (rather than slaves) from the Congo region.

  • Excellent answer! I wish I could add to the bounty.
    – MCW
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 13:23
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    @MarkC.Wallace - I think you can add your own.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 16:24
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    I did; the "bounty" button is hidden in a counter-intuitive location.
    – MCW
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 16:35
  • It is interesting that Congolese traditions seem to have survived everywhere, although apparently (always?) in a subordinate role. Ewe, Yoruba and Fanti-Ashanti (which I should have related to the British Caribbean as a whole, as you put it, not just to Guyana), on the other hand, seem to stand in a competitive way, with one of them taking the leading role in each region. Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 15:41
  • I have the impression that slaves from Kongo cultures were a later addition (more 18th and 19th Century). So it could be that the Fon-Ewe, Yoruba, etc. traditions were established first early on in different areas, setting up their local dominances, with the Kongo traditions showing up later. (Just a guess.) Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 16:41

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