Sacred Groves & Secret Parks: Orisha Landscapes in Brazil and West Africa


Thursday, October 3, 2019, 9:00am to 4:00pm

Repeats every day until Fri Oct 04 2019


Graduate School of Design, Gund Hall Gund 112 Stubbins

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.

For more information, click here.  

This colloquium and exhibition hosted by the Department of Landscape Architecture in collaboration with the:

Afro-Latin American Research Institute
Brazil Studies Program, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies
Center for African Studies
Center for the Study of World Religions
Frances Loeb Design Library
Provost’s Fund for Interfaculty Collaboration
Weatherhead Center for International Affairs