'Congada' in Brazil mixes African roots, Christian rites

Pulsing drums reverberate through the streets of this central Brazilian city as thousands of people in colorful garb march, dance and shimmy their way toward Our Lady of the Rosary church.

The procession known as the "Congada" is an annual tradition that takes place on the second Sunday of October and combines elements of Roman Catholic and African traditions, a testament to the mixing of cultures, religions and races in Latin America's largest nation. It was initially performed by groups of black slaves brought to Brazil to work on plantations during Portuguese colonial rule.

Our Lady of the Rosary, the patron saint of the area, has historically been connected to Afro-Brazilian religious groups. And around the country, images of the Virgin Mary are associated with the African divinity "Yemanja," or Sea Mother.

During the "Congada" many groups dress and dance according to their role in specific reenactments, such as the coronation of the king of Congo. Men in turbans, white-clad children dressed as angels and dancers waving brightly colored ribbons make their way to the church to pay homage to the virgin.

After Mass the groups return to the streets, this time to visit people in their homes — a symbolic way of fulfilling promises, or vows, made to Our Lady of the Rosary. When night falls they make their way back to the church for another Mass, held outside.