Social Life of Spirits, 5-6



Macumba Spirits and Stories in the Crossroads of Rio de Janeiro

Va^nia Zika`n Cardoso


p. 247, n. 5:2 dissertation on Makumba

"it [Makumba] is the object of a longer discussion in my dissertation (Cardoso 2004), where a more complete bibliography ... is available."

Cardoso 2004 = Va^nia Zika`n Cardoso : Working with Spirits : Enigmatic Signs of Black Sociality. PhD diss, Univ of TX.

p. 93 & 95 & 97 povo da rua in Makumba

p. 93

"Spirits of the povo da rua ("people of the streets") respond to the call of ritual songs and the sound of drums of come dance, eat, and drink, to give counsel ... to ... those who seek their help in solving the mundane and the extraordinary problems of everyday life. Spirits of prostitutes, known as pomba-giras, and of malandros, trickster-like social characters who occupied the streets of Rio [de Janeiro] in the early decades of the twentieth century, ... Known for their power to appear where they desire, and for their cap;acity to interfere in the everyday in unexpected ... ways, the povo da rua are the subjects of a large part of the rituals of macumba aimed at ... claiming their intervention to open one's path toward the solution of difficult problems. ...

p. 95

When one of these spiritual entities manifests its presence on the body of a filho de santo, an initiate in the religious practices, that person is deemed to be trabalhando com o santo ("working with a spirit"). ... To follow the movement of the povo da rua ... is to weave the ethnographic narrative through the meandering multitude of stories that, akin to verses of incantation, continually bring the spirits ... here ... . ...

p. 97

Many of the deeds of the spirits are done within the confines of the spiritual world where they dwell, even if the effects of such acts present themselves in the world of the living. The povo da rua often perform their "work" that way."

p. 97 a man overshadowed by a male of the povo da rua

"a young man who used to work with -- that is, incorporate -- a malandro spirit called Ze` Pilintra, told me that the spirit was always with him as he went around town taking care of his daily business.

"Sometimes, when I'm in doubt about what to do, I hear this voice in my ear. ... He just points me in a direction, or turns me away from something. ..."".

{This sort of advice is similar with that which Sokrates used to receive from his daimon, which he certainly did not regard as the ghost of any dead person.}

{Just as a living person would be incapable of providing such advice, so would the same person when dead remain incapable of such. The divinities who rendre such advice are not dead persons, but are independent otherworldly entities, akin to fairies and to elves -- or, for that matter, to crews of flying saucers. Christian theology is very false in denying existence of independent otherworldly entities; and may be deceitful in ascribing praeternatural powers to the dead.}

p. 98 a woman possessed by a female of the povo da rua

"had been silently calling on the people of the streets to protect her. Her calling must have been so strong that all of a sudden her pomba-gira, a spirit called Dona Maria, took over her body. Dona Maria jumped up from the seat, landing in the middle of the bus aisle, bent knees on the floor, her shoulders swinging with

the unmistakable lascivious laughter of the pomba-giras.

{Women who are prostitutes may laugh artificially, in order to indicate that they are inviting customers.}

... the laughing woman, knees spread on the floor, defiantly telling him to come and get the money from between her breasts, and that was enough ... to be let off ... . Dona Maria departed, leaving [the thitherto-possessed woman] disoriented and surprised".

{Possessing-spirits are always deities, never ghosts of dead persons. Female deities generally admire women who are prostitutes, and therefore (in order to encourage women to continue practicing prostitution) often claim to be veritable prostitutes (including dead ones) themselves.}

pp. 99-100 pomba-gira "making out" with a man while she is occupying the body of a female spirit-medium

p. 99

"Cacurucaia, a well-known pomba-gira, rescued a man ... . Having been called to carry out some spiritual deed or other, Cacurucaia had kept ... the macumba house where she gave weekly consultations ... . ...

p. 100

"... I just stood there, in front of him {the man, a filho de santo, whom she thus "rescued"}, like we were a couple making out against the wall," she told us with obvious joy at the surprise of the filho de santo ... . ... She ordered the filho de santo quickly into his house and commanded him not to say a thing".

pp. 102-3 colloquy between two pomba-giras possessing women

p. 102

"Take a night of counseling, when the pomba-gira Cacurucaia had been presiding over the presence of several other povo da rua -- all performing some form of work or other for the people who sought them that evening. ...

p. 103

Cacurucaia sat back while Maria Mulambo, or Ragged Mary, the other pomba-gira, incorporated ..., carried the young woman off ... . ... a very sarcastic exchange of sharp words unfolded between the two spirits. Cacurucaia spared no swear words, making continued explicit, derogatory references to the other pomba-gira's vagina, while praising her own sexual aptitudes."

p. 104 prostitutes who are her clients seek advice from a pomba-gira who is possessing a female medium

"the clients ..., like the pomba-gira once upon a time, were young black women who worked as prostitutes. Cacurucaia talked to all of them ... ... She had yelled at them, egged them on about things ... they could or should do, chastised them for bringing problems upon themselves, and advised them on number of things.

After talking to all the women, Cacurucaia ... demanded ... music to improve her mood. She flirted with the man who had come to play the drums for her that evening, as she waited for a filha de santo to remove the saftey pins Cacurucaia had secured into the skin of her own wrists ... .

Amid all the play, Cacurucaia told the people around her ... her ... offer to initiate that night's drummer in the pleasures of sex that only she could offer."

pp. 105-7 mysteriousness of the povo da rua as power to re-enchant sociality

p. 105

"The stories tell enough to assure the return of the audience (... nor does it exclude the spirits themselves), at the same time that they create an aura of secrecy that maintains the seductive power of the povo da rua's ambivalence. It is by remaining mysterious that the people of the streets can keep offering a story, that they can keep offering the counsel people seek. After all ..., "Counsel is ... a proposal concerning the continuation of a story which is just unfolding" ([Benjamin] 1968, 86). ...

p. 106

To partake in these stories ... is ... to burst ... out of the apparent ordinariness of everyday life, ... from ... from the familiarity of the mundane, investing in one's life the "strangeness" of the spirits. The narrative performances bring forth a crossroads -- the place of dwelling ...

p. 107

of the povo da rua --

{and (in Lukumi`) of the exu`-s}

where stories, subjects, places, and histories cut across each other ... . To resort to the counsel of the spirits, to request the help of the people of the streets is ... to reenchant the social by placing it in another path of relations."

Benjamin 1968 = Walter Benjamin : "Storyteller". In :- Hannah Arendt (editrix) : Illuminations. NY : Schocken Bks. pp. 83-109.



Enchanted Entities along the Amazon

Mark Harris


pp. 108-9 encantados and what they enjoy

p. 108

"the river ... is also the home of certain spiritual beings, encantados (especially the enchanted dolphin), who live there ... full of luxury and pleasure ... . ...

p. 109

Encantados, a kind of person, enjoy stories to be told about them, their cunning ... nature, and their enchantment."

p. 109 ritual objects -- not specified in timing nor in location?

"the "fetish" as a material object ... gains its potency from avoiding a positioning in a fixed time and place (Spyer 1998, 3)."

{Not really! Alike to all other consecrated ritual objects, it must be ritually fixed into the time and place sacred to the deity to whom it is consecrated.}

Spyer 1998 = Patricia Spyer (ed.) : Border Fetishisms : Material Objects in Unstable Places. London : Routledge.

p. 110 Portuguese colonization of the Amazon river-valley

"The Portuguese founded Bele`m in 1615 ... . ... The mission in Santare`m (then known as Tapajo`s) was started in 1661 by Jesuits. ...

Bettendorff's chronicle is a fascinating and sprawling narrative offering much value to ethnohistorians."

[p. 248, n. 6:2 : "There is an excellent biography of Bettendorff by Karl-Heinz Arenz (2010).]

Arenz 2010 = Karl-Heinz Arenz : De l'Alzette a l'Amazon : Jean-Philippe Bettendorff et les je'suites en Amazonie portugaise, 1661-1693. Paris : Editions Universitaires Europe'ennes.

p. 111 worshipped mummies of deities

"there were several mummies in existence in the Santare`m area at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century ... . ... Since the earliest times these bodies were worshipped, each with their own invocation :

god of maize, god of manioc, god of rain, and so on (Leite 1943, 305).

{Perhaps these mummies were of famous shamans who had experienced dreams indicating that they were incarnations of such deities.}

Even at late as 1742, ... discovered sixteen ... mummies (said to be the first ever people on earth) and painted stones. ... (Daniel 2003, 1:323)"

Leite 1943 = Serafim Leite : Histo`ria da Companhia de Jesus no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro : Instituto Nacional do Livro.

Daniel 2003 = Joa~o Daniel : O Tesouro Descoberto no Ma`ximo Rio Amazonas. Rio de Janeiro : Editoro Contrapunto.

p. 111 Christian aequivalents to AmerIndian mummies

"We could say that the place of the mummy has been appropriated by the Christian icon".

{Wrong! The true Christian aequivalents to AmerIndian mummies are not eikones, but rather the mummified corpses (so-called "relics") of defunct past bishops (and past archbishops) on display (within glass display-cases : "reliquaries") in cathedrals throughout Catholic Europe and Catholic Latin America.} {The "Christian icon" is, instead, more nearly aequivalent to the AmerIndian "painted stones" (which are, however, more exactly paralleled in Europe by the Mesolithic painted stones found at Mas d'Azil).}

{In Catholic Europe praeparation of corpses of bishops by "Mummification was often kept secret to present the preserved bodies as the strongest evidence of God's grace and power" ("MSNCL", p. 133). Therefore, AmerIndian disclosure of the fact that they were using special methods for praeserving corpses as mummies was considered the Catholic governments as a means whereby persons (proponents of the Renaissance, or even Protestant Christians) exposing Catholic "pious" fraud could potentially subvert the Church; for that reason, AmerIndian mummies were promptly destroyed whenever discovered by Portuguese (in Brazil) or by Spaniards (in Peru`).}

"MSNCL" = ACTA MED-HIST ADRIAT 10 (2012).1:131-40.

pp. 113-5 the visible and the invisible

p. 113

"The old world of benign gods has become "an invisible universe ..." ... (Cravalho 1993). Instead of mummies and stones {sacred in PraeColumbian Peru`}, ribeirinhos are surrounded by encantados, enchanted spirits, ghosts ... .

It is as though ... sacred objects became immaterial, while maintaining their power and value. ... .

{The power and value of "sacred objects" was, of course, always based on their spiritual connection (through dreamings) with immaterial Otherworld-deities.}

... the entities ... have replaced the idols and stones in a much more vigorous way. ...

{The deities ("entities") were already in PraeColumbian times deemed more vigorous and efficacious than are mere idols.}

A curious combination was produced for these riverine peasants at the end of the colonial period ... : a natural world that was seen as enchanted (mysterious and unknowable) and a political and social life that was seen as disenchanted".

{These distinctions had always existed throughout the PraeColumbian Americas and, indeed, abundantly elsewhere.}

"Contemporary ribeirinhos often say that the world is divided into two : the invisible and visible (see Lima 1992 ...). This double construction is not an impermeable barrier ... . It is crossed by all sorts entities, including ... shamans, who travel there to find out the cause of an illness. ...

p. 114

According to my informants in the Lower Amazon, the invisible world ... is understood to have a timeless presence ..., for the beings do not live and die as humans do. ... These espi`ritos are of various kinds, ... encantados (enchanted magical forms), visagens (ghosts of dead people), bichos visagentos (demonic animals), and folkloric {legendary} animals (e.g., ... curupira). ...

Candace Slater (1993) ... very nicely brings alive these ... . ... Ribeirinhos do not conceive of an invisible world in terms of a stable cosmological order. ...

Instead it is only invoked when there is talk of strange and demonic entities."

Cravalho 1993 = Mark Cravalho : An Invisible Universe ... : Supernatural ... Experience among Amazonian Peasants. PhD diss, Univ of CA at San Diego.

Lima 1992 = Deborah Lima-Ayres : The Social Category Caboclo ... of an Amazonian Region. PhD diss, Univ of Cambridge.

Slater 1993 = Candace Slater : Dance of the Dolphin ... in the Amazonian Imagination. Univ of Chicago Pr.

pp. 119-22 underwater dominion of the encantados ['enchanteds'] (Slater 1993, pp. 203-6)

p. 119

"Prominent among the stories ... of the river is the encante, an underwater dominion of encantados.

{Among the Sonhay of Niger, sorcerers describe themselves as entring, in their dreams, an enchanted realm of deities located on the bottom of the Niger River. (FW, p. 85)}

There, all manner of modern luxuries and gold-plated goods can be found. ... Nothing goes wrong or rusts. Festivals are constantly held and the praying is very clear and resonant. ... Sometimes the festival music can be heard by those who ... travel at night on a river or lake.

The encante ... to this place the paje` (shaman) travels {in dreams?} when he wants to call on his spirit helpers (... companheiros or mestres ...) to cure evil {such as ailments} and to find answers to questions from patients. ... The shaman can travel there {during dreams?} in spirit {dream-body?} form, so long as he remembers to come back ... . Ordinary visitors can also be taken there by guides,

but they should not eat any food or else they will never return. ...

{This is told in the myth of Perse-phone.}

Nobody needs to work for a living and still there is no poverty."

"there are some references to an encante-type place in one chronicle by the Jesuit missionary Joa~o Daniel ... in the Portuguese ... Amazon from 1741 to 1757 ... . His two

p. 120

volumes, which address ... the beliefs of, Indians, are among the most evocative writings from the colonial period ... . In the Tapajo`s mission ... an Indian headman told ... when suddenly out of the water came a line of men, women, and children. They were laughing and singing ... in an unknown language. ... Soon enough the apparitions returned to the water".

"earlier colonial commentaries ... wrote of

the ipupiara,

{"Ipupiara ... translates to “Fresh Water Dolphin" ("ShFS").}

a water demon spirit, which was known to take people down the river's depths

{in their dreams : [CI"I"] "the world is as you dream it."}

(see Cunha 1999, 157; and see also Spix and Martius 1981, 146)."

p. 121

[quoted from Bates 1863, p. 264 :] "a {female} Bouto {i.e., Bouta} once once had the habit of assuming the shape of a beautiful woman, with hair hanging loose to her heels, and walking ashore at night in the streets of Ega ["nowadays Tefe`"],

to entice the young men down to the water."

{Into "the river (or lake) Ascanias ... Nymphs ... lured him ..., to give him immortality." (DCM, s.v. "Hylas", p. 219b)}

"The {male} dolphin seduces women and is the father of many children. ... He appears at the dances and courts the girls ... . Before dawn, he jumps in the water and returns to being a dolphin. These encounters ... frequently result in ... requiring shamanic intervention (see also Ca[^]mara Cascudo 2002)."

There are, among Mundurucu` on the Tapajos, accounts of "freshwater porpoises that swim by night and at night can be

p. 122

transformed into handsome men or beautiful women

who dress in white clothes and

{this is a merely hearsay description : in more accurate, eyewitness reports, the bodies of such deities are luminous -- and because I have seen a luminous deity in a dream myself, I can vouch for the other eyewitnesses}

travel in land" ([Murphy] 1958, 17)."

{cf. the California "Inland Whale"}

FW = Paul Stoller : Fusion of the Worlds. Univ of Chicago Pr, 1989.

"ShFS" = Llyn Roberts : "Ipupiara – Shaman From the Stars". EARTH STAR MAGAZINE, 2002.

CI"I" = Paul Robear : "Ipupiara".

Cunha 1999 = Anto^nio Geraldo da Cunha : Dicciona`rio Histo`rico das Palavras Portuguesas de Origem Tupi. Sa~o Paulo : Melhoramentos.

Spix & Martius 1981 = Johann Baptist von Spix & Karl Martius : Viagem Pelo Brasil, 1817-1820. Belo Horizonte : Editora Itatiaia.

Bates 1863 = Henry Walter Bates : The Naturalist on the River Amazons. 2 voll. London : Murray.

DCM = Pierre Grimal (transl. by Maxwell-Hyslop) : The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Blackwell Publ, Oxford, 1986.

Ca^mara-Cascudo 2002 = L. da Ca^mara-Cascudo : Geografia dos Mitos Brasileiros. Sa~o Paulo : Global.

Murphy 1958 = Robert Francis Murphy : Mundurucu` Religion. UNIV OF CA PUBL IN AMER ARCHAEOLOGY & ETHNOLOGY, vol. 49, no. 1. Berkeley.

Theodora Kracaw Brown Kroeber : The Inland Whale. Bloomington : IN Univ Pr, 1959.


Ruy Blanes & Diana Espi`rito Santo (edd.) : The Social Life of Spirits. Univ of Chicago Pr, 2014.