SACRED GROVES / SECRET PARKS: Orisha Landscapes in Brazil and West Africa

Photos: Adolphus Opara, Osun Sacred Grove, Osogbo, Nigeria (left) and Leonardo Finotti, Terreiro Vodun Zo, Salvador da Bahia, Brazil (right)

Photos: Adolphus Opara, Osun Sacred Grove, Osogbo, Nigeria (left) and Leonardo Finotti, Terreiro Vodun Zo, Salvador da Bahia, Brazil (right)

The Sacred Groves and Secret Parks colloquium and exhibition will bring together insights on the materiality and spatiality of Afro-religious diasporic practices, decentering Western canons of knowledge and leading to new design possibilities for Brazilian and West African cities.

Landscapes of orisha devotion are often manifested as sacred groves, where devotees cultivate orishas—deities, or energies of nature, in Yoruba tradition that enable all forms of life—using combinations of botanical manipulation, animal sacrifice, music, and dance. In the process, Afro-diasporic memories, knowledge, and environmental understandings are made manifest and empowered.

A crucial feature of such spaces is that they often occupy a luscious green expanse, adjacent to urban settings and in some cases occupy areas larger than football fields. Once associated with every town in Yorubaland, the groves of West Africa are largely depleted. In contrast, orisha groves in Brazilian cities are plentiful but are often protected by the necessity for secrecy that stems from practicing African traditions within a wider national racist context. As significant urban green spaces, these landscapes inevitably have an impact on urban ecologies and create important social, cultural, environmental, and political relationships with their surrounding communities.

While scholarly interest on the African-diaspora and the so-called “Black Atlantic” have grown, relatively little attention has turned to the flows and interwoven perspectives about spatiality, environmental preservation, and landscape architecture. The colloquium will bring together experts from different fields to contribute to research projects intended to elucidate some of these relationships, providing arguments both for the necessary anti-racist struggles and the recognition of environmental preservation movements led by black diasporic communities.

Speakers will share knowledge regarding the materiality, conservation, design, and spatial forms manifest in landscapes of orisha devotion in Brazil and Nigeria. The colloquium will chart new territory in the spatial and material studies of groves, particularly those sacred groves—known in Nigeria as shrines and in Brazil as terreiros—moving from an understanding of what we do know to what we can know.

Click here to RSVP to the conference.



Thursday, 9­–10am


Gareth Doherty, Alejandro de la Fuente

Jacob Olupona,“Introduction to African Religious Traditions”


10am–12 noon

Panel 1, Materialities: The energies of nature (orishas) and their spatial relationships, including the mineral, botanical, and animal conditions required for rituals. 

  • Moisés Lino e Silva (Universidade Federal da Bahia), and Gareth Doherty (Harvard GSD), “The Terreiro of the Energy of the Rainbow, and the Snake”
  • Tao DuFour (Cornell University), “Tupinikim Chegou! A Phenomenological Ethnography of Space”
  • Vilson Caetano de Sousa Jr. (Universidade Federal da Bahia), “The Use of Plants in Afro-Brazilian Religions”
  • Erwan Dianteill (Sorbonne), “Where is Ifa? Building Sacred Places in Ifa Divination in Porto-Novo, Benin”

Moderated by Danielle Choi and Bruno Carvalho


Thursday, 2–4pm

Panel 2, Cases in Conservation: Sacred groves, shrines and landscapes of orisha devotion in West Africa and Latin America that have been conserved including the Osun Osogbo Grove (UNESCO), the Oyo Cultural Conservation project in Nigeria, and the Xango Stone in Salvador. The panel will address the future needs of sacred groves in light of pressures for redevelopment.

  • Paula Gomes (Cultural Ambassador of the Alaafin of Oyo), “Oyo Cultural Conservation Project”
  • Maria Alice Pereira da Silva (Universidade Federal da Bahia), “The Xango Stone”
  • Tunji Adejumo (University of Lagos), “Landscape Essence in the Restoration of Ile Oba Sacred Orisha Grove”
  • Dominique Juhé-Beaulaton (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris) “Urban Sacred Woods of the Vodu Area in Benin and Togo: Contemporary Social Dynamics and Conservation Perspectives”

Moderated by Susan Nigra Snyder and George E. Thomas


Thursday, 6–8pm

Exhibition opening at the Afro-Latin American Research Institute, 104 Mount Auburn Street, 3R, Cambridge MA 02138

An exhibition of photographs by Leonardo Finotti and Alophus Opara of landscapes of orisha devotion in Salvador da Bahia and Osogbo will be mounted in the Neil L. and Angelica Zander Rudenstine Gallery at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, and will open in October 3, 2019. These photographs, which will focus on different types of sacred groves, will help articulate the spatial conditions of the groves.


Friday, 9:30–11:30am

Panel 3, Designing Sacred Groves

Design processes for new sacred groves and for the redevelopment of others, including the Terreiro Tingongo Muendê and the Casa de Oxumarê in Salvador, and a discussion of their plans and aspirations.

  • Marcelo Ferraz (Brasil Arquitetura, São Paulo), “Casa de Oxumarê, Salvador”
  • Adriano Mascarenhas (Sotero Arquitetos, Salvador), “Lessons from Designing the New Terreiro Tingongo Muendê”
  • Vilma Patricia Santana Silva (Universidade Federal da Bahia), “Guiada Pelos Búzios Desenhado Para Os Órixas: O Respeito a Arquitetura Tradicional do Terreiro de Candomblé.”

Moderated by Gareth Doherty

—lunchtime recital at Leverett House 12–1:30pm—

Friday, 2–4pm

Panel 4, Urban Ecologies

What environmental role do sacred groves play and promise for their adjacent cities? What are the political forces mobilized through the public celebration of rituals? What are the political ecologies relating to environment, gender, race, and sexuality?

  • Samuel Lira Gordenstein, (Applied Earthworks, Inc., Los Angeles, CA), “Divinity Worship in Urban Quarters: A View from Late-Nineteenth Century Salvador, Brazil”
  • Fábio Velame (Universidade Federal da Bahia), “Candomblé Terreiros and City Architecture: Conflict and Resistance in Public Spaces in Bahia”
  • Princess Adedoyin Talabi Faniyi (Osogbo, Nigeria) “The Osun Sacred Grove”

Moderated by Moisés Lino e Silva



Tunji Adejumo (Lagos, Nigeria) is a landscape architect, natural resources planner, and senior lecturer in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Lagos. Dr. Adejumo’s research theorizes indigenous planning and its influence on rethinking the public realm as a place where culture and nature work together. Adejumo obtained his PhD from the University of Lagos; Master of Landscape Architecture from the State University of New York, Syracuse; and BSc in forestry from the University of Ibadan.


Gareth Doherty (Cambridge, MA) is Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Director of the Master in Landscape Architecture Programs at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Doherty’s research and teaching center on the relationship between people and the landscapes they inhabit, with a focus on how ethnographic fieldwork methods can inspire and inform design and planning innovations. Doherty’s Paradoxes of Green: Landscapes of a City-State was published in 2017 by the University of California Press.


Princess Adedoyin Talabi Faniyi (Osogbo, Nigeria) is a traditional priestess and the adopted daughter of Chief Susanne Wenger. Princess Doyin has a MA in African Studies from the University of Ibadan and has lectured at universities in Nigeria and in the USA. She continues to live in Susanne Wenger’s house and welcomes visitors, introducing them to the history of the sacred groves and Yoruba traditions. She is a key volunteer of The Adunni Olorisha Trust working to protect the Sacred Groves of Osogbo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Alejandro de la Fuente (Cambridge, MA) is the Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics and Professor of African and African American Studies and of History at Harvard University; and Director, Afro-Latin American Research Institute, Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. A historian of Latin America and the Caribbean who specializes in the study of comparative slavery and race relations, he joined Harvard University after holding faculty appointments at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of South Florida in Tampa, and the University of Havana.


Erwan Dianteill (Paris, France) is professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the Sorbonne (Paris Descartes University). Erwan Dianteill is presently completing this Afro-Atlantic research with a fieldwork in West Africa: he has been conducting a fieldwork since 2007 in Porto-Novo (Benin) on the transformation of the Fa/Ifá divination in a modern African city.


Tao DuFour (Ithaca, NY) explores the overlaps between architecture, anthropology, and philosophy, building on his doctoral research on the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. His current research concerns the question of architecture's embeddedness in global environmental histories, specifically in post-colonial and late socialist contexts, with a focus on Cuba. He is currently working on Husserl and Architecture: Toward a Phenomenological Ethnography of Space.


Paula Gomes (Oyo, Nigeria) was Cultural Ambassador of the Alaafin of Oyo and the Commissioner for Culture and Tourism for Oyo State during the World Sango Festival in 2016.


Samuel Lira Gordenstein (Los Angeles, CA) has an MA in historical archaeology from the University of Massachusetts, Boston and a PhD in anthropology from the Universidade Federal da Bahia in Salvador, Brazil. His current research in Bahia focuses on the urban experience of the Afro-Brazilian population during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Marcelo Ferraz (São Paulo, Brazil) is a co-founder of Brasil Arquitetura and professor of the Escola da Cidade in São Paulo. Ferraz graduated from the University of São Paulo and joined the faculty of USP in 1974. He began his internship with the architect Lina Bo Bardi in 1977. Francisco De Paiva Fanucci, Marcelo Suzuk, and he founded Brasil Arquitetura  in 1979. The firm has developed projects for museums, residential buildings, private houses, boutiques, restaurants, and community and cultural centers. Ferraz has received numerous awards for his architectural work, books on Rural Architecture in the Mountains and Lina Bo Bardi projects, as well as documentaries.


Moises Lino e Silva (Salvador, Brazil) is Assistant Professor of Anthropological Theory at the Universidade Federal da Bahia. He works within the field of political anthropology, specializing in the ethnographic study of freedom and authority as related to poverty, sexuality, and religion. His first field research was centered on issues of freedom as experienced by slum dwellers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Recently, he has been focusing on the cultivation of Afro-Brazilian power and the place of freedom in the aftermath of formal slavery, using ethnographic research to understand contemporary power dynamics between Latin America and West Africa. In 2013 Dr. Lino e Silva was a World Social Science Fellow (International Social Science Council, UNESCO).


Adriano Mascarenhas (Salvador, Brazil) graduated in 1999 from the Federal University of Bahia with experience as a lecturer at the same institution. He founded SOTERO Arquitetos, a Brazilian international design firm headquartered in Salvador, Bahia that specializes in architecture, urban planning, and interiors. The firm's extensive portfolio includes projects executed in real estate, health, education, institutional, commercial, residential, urban, and heritage areas, for both the private and public sectors.


Jacob Olupona (Cambridge, MA) is Professor of African Religious Traditions, and Professor of African and African American Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University. Professor Olupona holds a BA from the University of Nigeria as well as an MA and PhD from Boston University. Professor Olupona, who joined the Harvard Faculty of Divinity and Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 2006, is a noted scholar of indigenous African religions. His earlier research ranged across African spirituality and ritual practices, spirit possession, Pentecostalism, Yoruba festivals, animal symbolism, icons, phenomenology, and religious pluralism in Africa and the Americas.


Maria Alice Pereira da Silva (UFBA, Salvador, Brazil) is a graduate student at the Federal University of Bahia.


Vilma Patricia Santana Silva (Salvador, Brazil). Vilma is an architect and a Candomblé initiate.


Vilson Caetano de Sousa Jr., (Salvador, Brazil) is a professor of anthropology at the Federal University of Bahia.


Fábio Velame (Salvador, Brazil) is professor at the Faculdade de Arquitetura at UFBA. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture and urbanism from the Faculty of Architecture at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) and a doctorate in Architecture and Urbanism from UFBA in Conservation and Restoration. His research emphasizes Intangible Heritage, Cultural Manifestations and their relations with Architecture and the City; working topics including traditional territories and ethnic-African architecture as well as Afro-Brazilian slave housing, and quilombos.

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