Umbanda Altars and Offerings Found in Niteroi


As a result of this lesson, students will be able to:


Discussion Question(s)
  • In what ways can Umbanda altars left on the beach in Niteroi also be considered art?
  • Which elements and principles of art do they use?

Materials Needed


Related material also on this website

Set Up and Introduction

  • Locate Africa, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, and Niteroi on World Map.

  1. Show the Power Point presentation and/or distribute copies of the slides for “Umbanda Altars and Offerings Found in Niteroi.”
  2. Students should study the pictures for several minutes without speaking. They should mentally note as many details as they can keep in their mind’s eye.
  3. After two minutes, ask the students these open ended questions as they continue to sit quietly. These could be listed on the board or a poster for reference during this silent period and for the discussion later in the lesson.
    1. What do you think might be the purpose of each offering? (Answers vary.)
    2. Are the colors in the altars significant?  (Yes, in the lesson “Orixás Spirits,” students will learn that different orixás have different colors associated with them.)
    3. Are there elements in the picture that are familiar to you? (Answers vary.)
    4. Elements you have never seen before? (Answers vary.)
    5. How are these offerings different, or similar, to other offerings you have seen in other religions such as Catholicism, Hinduism, etc.? (Food, flowers, candles, water or the sea are found in many altars of different faiths.)
    6. Do you notice symmetry and order in the offerings? (Many of the altars are arranged in a mandala, having radial symmetry.)
    7. What are some elements that seem to be repeated in different altars? (Many of the altars have flowers, candles, food, cigars, and the names of the orixá written on a piece of paper.)
    8. Why do you think these altars are on the beach? (Answers vary.)
    9. Who do you think put them there? (Answers vary.)
    10. What impact do they have on the environment? (Items included in the altar are washed out to sea.  Ones that are biodegradable have no impact, but many plastic items are being carried away by the tide each day.  These cause major problems for the ocean and environment.)
  4. Explain to the students that we can view the offerings as works of art, in addition to being religious tools. Many religious traditions create offerings that are artistically pleasing.  What might some of these other religious traditions be and what do their offerings look like?  (Some of the elements and form, line, shape, color, texture, space, value; emphasis, balance, harmony, variety, movement, rhythm, proportion, unity.) Do Catholicism, Hinduism, Jewdeism, Wicca, etc. have offerings that have an artistic aesthetic? (Yes)
  5. Ask students to identify reoccurring elements in the offering that are similar to other religions (Catholicism, Hinduism, Wicca).  (Food, flowers, candles, water or the sea.)  Look up the word “mandala” and determine which offerings could be considered mandalas.  How is a circle different from a mandala?  (Mandalas are circular in shape, but are more complex in design and represent spiritual truths.)
  6. Ask students to identify which of the elements and principles of art can be found in the Umbandan altars. (The elements and principles of art are:  form, line, shape, color, texture, space, value; emphasis, balance, harmony, variety, movement, rhythm, proportion, and unity.)
  7. Do you think using repetition and pattern elevate these offerings in the same way that repetition and pattern elevates prose to verse? (Answers vary.)
  8. Explain to students that each evening and morning garbage crews clean the garbage off the beach and load it into huge trucks.  How could eco-friendly altars be made to drastically reduce pollution? (They would reduce pollution in a couple of ways.  First, plastics and other non-biodegradable items would not be washed out to sea with the tide.  Also, those items that could damage the environment would not end up in the trash, landfills, or the ocean.)
  9. Use the four steps of art criticism to better understand the Umbanda offerings as works of art.
  • Describe - What are the elements of the altar? (A list can be compiled on the board.  Elements include food, flowers, cigars, bowl to hold the food, a place setting complete with a placemat, different colors to honor each spirit, and candles that are also in different colors to represent to spirit they are honoring.)
  • Analyze - How are the elements of line, shape, form, texture, color, space, and value used?  How are the principles of unity pattern, rhythm, variety, balance, emphasis, and proportion used?  (All of these elements and principles together form a piece of work that is cohesive and communicates its ideas clearly.  For instance, anyone coming upon one of the altars on the beach can see that each element is carefully arranged, ordered, and communicates a sense of hospitality to the spirit they are honoring.)
  • Interpret - What is the artist/religious practitioner trying to say to the Umbandan spirits? What is going on in the “composition” or the artwork/offering? (The person making the offering is acting as an artist in trying to communicate ideas to the spirit.  The spirit, receiving the artwork, is in the role of the audience.  So, the artist used the elements and principles of art to make a piece of art that conveys his/her ideas of harmony, order, and beauty.)
  • Decide - What do I think about this altar/artwork? Does it resonate artistically with me? Why or why not? Does an altar have to be artistically pleasing to be an altar?  Why or why not?  (Answers vary.)

Extending the lesson: 

  • Put the pictures on a bulletin board so that students can continue to look at and analyze the artistic elements and principles used.
  • Continue with the other related lessons.



Assessment and Wrap Up


Option 1.  After seeing the Power Point presentation and/or copies of the slides of “Umbanda Altars and Offerings Found in Niteroi,” was the student able to meet the objective listed at the beginning of the lesson?

Option 2:  If further assessment is desired, students explain their impressions of the photographs in writing.  They should include at least two of the four levels of art criticism.