Some Brazilian Vocabulary

Here are some terms that might be useful should you ever show up here in Salvador (or wherever in Brazil). The pronunciations are of course approximate. A lot of vowel sounds in Portuguese are different from those in English…for example the initial “O” in “Oxossi” isn’t “oh” as it would be in English. It’s more of something between that “oh” and an “aw”, leaning towards “aw”. And the “a” at the end of “chula” is clearly pronounced, which is why I (in my amateurish way) orthograph it as “ah”. English speakers tend to diminish the vowels in unaccented syllables to an indistinct schwa sound, which if done in Portuguese makes the word indistinct if not outright unintelligible.

Something else very common in Portuguese and (unlike some other Portuguese-language characteristics) easy for English speakers to imitate is the “ã”. That “~” represents what was in the past an “n” following the “a”. It became nasalized to what kids use when they stick out their tongues and go with that irritatingly musical “Na na na na na!” It’s like it should be “Nã nã nã nã nã!” Now use that in “não” (no)…it’s literally “now” nasalized. And with this you’ll know what to say when confronted by an irritating tout!

There’s a whole lot more to the differences in pronunciation but I’ll leave that to the linguists.

Afoxé (ah-faw-SHEH): An event where music of candomblé — most often ijexá — is performed outside of a house of candomblé, generally at a festa (Carnival, for instance).

Babalorixá (ba-ba-law-ree-SHAH): A pai-de-santo, or head priest in a house of candomblé.

Baiana (bah-ee-AH-nah): A woman from Bahia, the old spelling being “Bahiana”.

Baiano (bah-ee-AH-no): A man from Bahia, the old spelling being “Bahiano”.

Bamba (BAHM-bah): Literally, in Portuguese, “weak-legged”. In Angola, a term of respect. The word dovetailed perfectly in Brazil with a term of respect for sambistas (because of their crazy-legged dancing style).

Barraca (bah-HAH-kah): A stand (serving drink and/or food) or tent.

Barraco (bah-HAH-ko): A shack or shanty house, usually made up of hollow clay bricks these days.

Birita (bee-REE-tah): General term for a strong alcoholic drink.

Biriteiro (bee-ree-TAY-ro): Somebody fond of strong alcoholic drinks.

Bloco (BLAW-ko): A Carnival group in general.

Bloco Afro: A Carnival group marching and dancing to music based in candomblé. Modern blocos afros began with Ilê Aiyê from the Salvador neighborhood of Curuzu, a subsection of the neighborhood of Liberdade

Buteco (boo-TEH-ko): A small, informal bar.

Caboclo(a) (kah-BO-klo(klah): A person of mixed Indigenous/African or Indigenous/European ancestry, with the emphasis in houses of candomblé on the former (Wikipedia seems to think otherwise).

Carurú (kah-rue-RUE): A thick stew made from okra, or a plate including this stew. Also, a festa of family and friends where this dish is served.

Cerveja (sehr-VEH-jah): Beer.

Chopp (SHAW-pee): Draft beer.

Chula (CHOO-lah): Broadly speaking, Bahian “proto-samba”, more specifically, the sung (or yelled) parts of Bahian samba, particularly (per tradition) when the dancers pause. Bahian samba in which the dancers don’t pause for the singing is called “samba corrido”, or “running samba”.

Cuíca (KWEE-kah): A “drum” played not by beating but by rubbing a bamboo stick attached at one end to the inside of the drum head (while with the other hand varying pressure on the outside of the drum head in order to vary the pitch of the sound being generated), creating a rhythmic crying, moaning sound typical of samba in Rio de Janeiro.

Dendé (den-DEH): Palm oil derived from the dendé palm; a common ingredient in Bahian cuisine.

Engenho (en-ZHEN-yo: A sugarcane-grinding mill. The name is attached to a couple of Salvador’s neighborhoods — Engenho Velho de Brotas and Engenho Velho de Federação.

Exú (eh-SHOO): One of the orixás, first to be called upon in Candomblé ceremonies because it is he who opens the “pathway” so that the other orixás may descend. It is common to see offerings to Exú placed (in clay bowls) at crossroads in Bahia. In that one of his aspects is that of fecundity, Exú is often represented with an oversized manhood.

Fantasia (fahn-tah-ZEE-ah): Carnival costume.

Farra (FAH-hah): Carousing.

Forró (faw-HAW): An umbrella term for several musical styles native to the interior of Brazil’s nordeste (Northeast), and traditionally played with an 8-button acordeon, a triangle, and a zabumba (a kind of drum).

Gafieira (gah-fee-EY-rah): Rio dancehall-style samba of the 1930s, now undergoing a revival. “Gafieira” can refer to the dancehall (as it originally did), the dance, and/or the music.

Ialorixá (ee-ah-law-ree-SHAH): A mãe-de-santo, or head priestess in a house of candomblé. Alternatively spelled “yalorixá”.

Igreja (ee-GREH-jah): Church.

Ladeira (lah-DARE-ah): A sloping street, often incorporated into a street’s proper name (e.g. Ladeira do Pelourinho, and Ladeira da Barra).

Lavagem (lah-VAH-zheng): Literally “washing”, usually used in the sense of a ritual washing of the steps of a Catholic church by Candomblé adepts in honor of the orixá syncretized with the saint the church is named for.

Mãe-de-Santo (mãee djee SAHN-to): Head priestess in a house of candomblé.

Micareta (mee-kah-REH-tah): An out-of-season “carnival” taking place in a town other than Salvador.

Nagô (nah-GO): A subgroup of the Yoruba people of West Africa.

Nkisi (n-KEE-see): The general name for a candomblé divinity in the Bantu tradition (from Angola/Congo).

Omolu (aw-maw-LOO): The orixá associated with sickness and health.

Orixá (aw-ree-SHAH): The general name for a candomblé divinity in the Ketu tradition (from modern-day Nigeria).

Oxalá (aw-shah-LAH): The patriarch, father to most of the other orixás in the pantheon.

Oxossi (aw-SHAW-see): The Candomblé divinity associated with the hunt. His symbol is the bow and arrow.

Partido Alto (pahr-TEE-do AHL-to): A samba style from Rio de Janeiro in which improvised lyrics are used.

Praia (PRY-ah): Beach.

Quilombo (kee-LAWM-bo): A village or collection of villages founded by runaway slaves.

Quilombola: A resident of a quilombo.

Recôncavo (heh-KAWN-kah-vo): The concave-shaped area around the Baia de Todos os Santos (Bay of All Saints), where Bahia’s sugarcane plantations were/are concentrated.

Samba de Roda (SAHM-bah djee HAW-dah): Bahian samba of Bantu origin wherein one or two people dance inside a circle of singing, clapping people, the dancers generally — upon leaving the middle of the circle — choosing the next participant(s). Also a style of music which has been developed to accompany the dance.

Sambadeira (sahm-bah-DARE-ah): A woman who plays and/or dances samba; usually associated with rural samba styles.

Sambador (sahm-bah-DOHR): A man who plays and/or dances samba; usually associated with rural samba styles. Sambadores often wear black fedoras.

Sambista: A person who plays and/or dances samba; usually associated with urban samba styles.

Senzala (sen-ZAH-lah): Slave compound.

Sertão (sehr-TÃO): Backlands.

Terreiro (teh-HEH-ro): Literally, an open area of ground; but in Brazil generally used to mean the grounds and buildings of a “house” of candomblé. An exception would be the “Terreiro de Jesus”, a public square located in Salvador’s neighborhood of Pelourinho and named for what was a Jesuit church (now the Catedral Basílica) situated there.

Vodun (vaw-DOOHN): The general name for a candomblé divinity in the Gêge/Jêje tradition (from modern-day Benin).

Yalorixá (ee-ah-law-ree-SHAH): A mãe-de-santo, or head priestess in a house of candomblé. Alternatively spelled “ialorixá”.

Ya ya: An archaic Afro-Brazilian term of respect for a woman, now mostly heard in samba lyrics.

Yo yo: An archaic Afro-Brazilian term of respect for a man, now mostly heard in samba lyrics.