OBJECTIVE: To understand the concept of health and the source of psychological distress among followers of a traditional African-Brazilian religion. METHODOLOGICAL PROCEDURES: Qualitative study performed in a community of followers of a traditional African-Brazilian religion, in the city of Porto Alegre, Southern Brazil, between 2007 and 2008. The priest/Babalorixá and six followers of this community participated in the study. Open interviews, which were recorded and subsequently transcribed, were conducted to collect data and construct the corpus of analysis. Report categorization, based on the complex systemic approach, enabled the construction of two main themes: 1) religious community and concept of health, and 2) origin of psychological distress and cultural identity. ANALYSIS OF RESULTS: In this religious community, traditional health therapies, such as the use of herbs, baths, diets and/or initiation rites, were associated with conventional therapies proposed by the Sistema Único de Saúde (SUS - Unified Health System). Bonds with and belonging to a territory, the relationships among individuals, and the relationship among their spiritual, psychological and physical dimensions are considered in their concepts of psychological distress and health. CONCLUSIONS: The way to understand and act in the world, as experienced in this community, with its myths, rites, beliefs and values, constitutes a set of legitimate types of knowledge in its context, which oftentimes opposes and goes beyond professionals' technical-scientific knowledge and truths. This community is a space marked by welcoming, counseling and treatment of followers, where the physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions are integrated in these practices. As regards the black population health, psychological distress results from their having been uprooted from African black cultures.
Religion and Psychology; Primary Health Care; Health Knowledge; Qualitative Research; Community of Followers of African-Brazilian Traditional Religion