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Century-old Afro-Brazilian religion under threat

By Juliana Barbassa

Rosa Cardoso has practiced the Afro-Brazilian religion of Umbanda almost all of her 89 years, yet she hasn’t stopped hiding her faith from the rest of the world.

The door to the temple she runs in a middle-class neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro sits behind a plain, dilapidated door and has no sign out front announcing its presence. Inside, worshippers pay homage to images of African-descended gods, the Orixas, but the figures are stored discreetly behind a wooden lattice beneath an altar adorned with a nearly life-sized image of Jesus flanked by St. Barbara and the Virgin Mary.

Although an estimated 400,000 Brazilians such as Cardoso follow the religion, they also continue to face prejudices that clash with the country’s public image of racial and religious harmony.

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