Founded by freed slaves in the early nineteenth century, the candomblé temple Casa Branca in Salvador, Bahia, was the first Afro-Brazilian place of worship in Brazil. But despite its religious and historic significance, the story of Casa Branca’s origins has remained the stuff of oral traditions until the recent discovery of written documents by Fellow Lisa Earl Castillo. Castillo is working on a new book which situates the temple and its founders within the greater social history of Brazil and as a place that offers special insight into the lives of freed and enslaved individuals on either side of the Atlantic.
In this podcast, Castillo maps out the process of reconstructing the life histories of nineteenth-century Yoruba- and Gbe-speaking freed people who are remembered today as the founders of the oldest Afro-Brazilian temples. She pays special attention to their legendary return voyages to Africa, where they were not necessarily welcomed “home,” but treated as outsiders. Her work illuminates how Casa Branca is not only an extraordinary story of mobility by freed Africans during the nineteenth century, but also of oral traditions as historical texts.