Fellow Since 1988
Egbé Orun Aiye(Soc. Afro Am de Est Teol e Filos Cult Negra)
This profile was prepared when Jayro Pereira de Jesus was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1988.
The New Idea
Brazil's population is chiefly an amalgam of two major immigrant cultures: African and European. Helping the first of these two cultures emerge from the shadows of centuries of attack and self-doubt is central to the growth of consciousness and confidence among the typically poor, lower class Brazilians who draw upon it most. Such new confidence would encourage new exploration and experimentation, and this new vitality would in turn build increased confidence and make a broader Brazilian cultural evolution possible.More simply, de Jesus wants to ensure full freedom of religion to all Brazilians -- especially the followers of the Afro-Brazilian Candomble and Umbanda schools. These schools should be recognized as valid, popular religions and respected parts of the nation's culture. However, de Jesus does not believe that will happen until the practitioners of these religions come together and insist on such respect.To accomplish these goals, de Jesus has been climbing Rio's hillsides day after day. He has been building bridges among Rio's dispersed, isolated, and often clandestine communidades-terreiro (community Candomble and Umbanda centers). He is approaching the point where a working federation will emerge.De Jesus hopes that this local organization will grow, that other areas will follow, and that eventually he will be able to help create state and national associations of his co-religionists. This organization would plan and mount a systematic defense against attacks on Afro-Brazilian religious groups and believers. Some of these attacks are subtle, others -- typically by extremist Christian groups who view the Afro-Brazilian centers as Satanic -- very direct, even violent.By helping the leadership come together, Jayro hopes to build an even more effective defense: an intellectual rebirth. He is starting with neighborhood encounters and, collaborating with a number of sister organizations, is working on a regional encounter. de Jesus wants these meetings not only to deal with immediate shared problems, but also to explore the philosophical African framework that underlies these religions. For example, this tradition has a less either/or perception of good and evil than some of the traditional Christian views it encountered across the South Atlantic.In the process of this work, de Jesus also hopes to help bridge the chasm that separates the new young Black leaders -- commonly radical and often political -- from the religious, traditional, older, more cautious leaders of the communidades-terreiro. The intellectual vision he is championing engages them both because it is important to both. de Jesus's patient diplomacy also helps.