The most deeply felt African influence in Salvador is Candomblé, the worshiping of the ancestral spirits or orixá's (or deities, for want of a more appropriate word) in ceremonies that take place in over 1600 terreiros (or places of worship) through the city of Salvador. the most African of Brazilian cities, indeed the most African in the western Hemisphere.
A Candomblé terreiro is often known as a roça, a small farmstead. At the time of the repression of the practicing of the religion, the babalorixá's and ialorixá's (priests and priestesses) moved to outlying areas to establish their terreiros away from the eyes of the authorities. Most of these terreiros have now been engulfed by the expansion of the city and continue their activities in urban surroundings instead of what would have originally been a rural setting
Candomblé worships and honours the orixá 's of the religion´s extensive pantheon. An orixá is a deified ancestor who, when alive, established links which guaranteed him or her control over certain natural forces, e.g. thunder, the winds, or the sea; or which allowed him or her the possibility to exercise certain activities such as hunting, working with metals or powers over the elements, or somebody who learnt the properties of plants and their powers. This force or power (or axé, pronounced ah-shay) of the ancestral orixá would have, after death, the power to incarnate itself in one of his or her descendants through the sacred rhythms, dances and songs of the Candomblé used to invoke the deified spirits.
A popular greeting in Bahia is Axé!, a kind of "may the force be with you!" and this Axé is the driving force of Salvador and Bahia.
Originally the practice of the Candomblé was permitted by the slave masters. The masters thought that the dances and songs of the Candomblé were nothing more than entertainment, nostalgia almost, as the slaves remembered their ancestors. They were allowed to gather in batuques playing the drums and the sacred songs of the orixá's. When the slave masters began to distrust these gatherings as possible means of organizing revolts they decided to prohibit these meetings. The slaves, who often accompanied the masters to church, began to choose different Catholic saints to represent the deities from Africa. It was at this point that the phenomenon of syncretism, the blending of Catholicism and Candomblé appeared in Brazil.
Syncretism There were always tangible connections between the Catholic saints chosen and the orixá represented. In Bahia, Saint George, who slew the dragon, was adopted to represent Oxossi, the orixá of the forest and the hunt. Saint Anthony, who was given an honorary rank in the Portuguese army, was chosen to represent Ogum, the orixá of iron and anybody who used this metal as part of their work. Saint Barbara, a rebellious saint, was chosen to represent Yansã, the orixá of winds, storms and fires and these connections continue on through the pantheon.