Colonial Hunts: South America

An excerpt from Secret History of the Witches
© 2000 Max Dashu
Subjected to killing conditions in American slave colonies, Africans faced religious and cultural
persecution as well. The Inquisition used charges of sorcery and devil-worship to imprison AfroCaribbeans, among them enslaved Blacks from the mines of Saragossa in Antioquía, Colombia. [Lea,
Inq] Even before the first auto da fé at Cartagena, the African-Colombian Juan Lorenzo was tried as a
“sorcerer”; he put an end to his torture by hanging himself in his cell—or so it was claimed.
[Contramaestre, 25]
Records show that the Inquisition sentenced Afro-Caribbean women to the stake and other penalties. In
1632 Elena de Vitoria and other Africans were victimized by a witch craze in Cartagena, Colombia. One
of them, Paula de Equiluz, escaped burning because of her great skill in medicine and healing. Her death
sentence was revoked and she was brought out to do public penance in an auto-da-fé of March 25,
1638. She received 200 lashes-the same penalty imposed on pagans and sorcerers in early medieval
Europe-and a sentence of life in prison. Her medical skills were so great that she ended up only serving
six years.
It seems that she enjoyed a high reputation as a physician and was allowed to leave the prison in the
practice of her profession, numbering among her patients even the Inquisitors and the bishop,
Cristóbal de Lazárraga... she earned much money and was charitable in relieving the necessities of
her fellow prisoners. [Lea, Inq in the Spanish Dependencies, 465]
In an auto-da-fé on March 16, 1622, they recorded "four negro witches reconciled [recanted], two negro
sorceresses punished" in the Cartagena area. In 1632, more women were tortured, and twenty-one of them
were flogged and exhibited to the public in a 1634 auto-da-fé. Ana de Avila, a mestiza widow, escaped
the whipping but she had already been severely tortured, and was fined a whopping 1000 pesos. Ana
Beltrán had been tortured to death and so could not appear at the public ceremony, but the judges read out
a sentence of absolution for her. [Lea 464-5] (But who would absolve them?)
An African named Juan was accused of being "a great bozabide, sorcerer and killer with herbs, and taught
the Indians much witchcraft..." The mayor, who belonged to an inquisitorial brotherhood, arrested this
man and had him brutally whipped. He had Juan stripped so he could see his wounds and "laughed a lot at
the lashes and punishment." The torture was so severe that it killed Juan.
The colonial officialss then swore out an elaborate document insisting that there had not been "even a
small sign of injury" from the flogging-only that it had "taken the hair off his head"-so it could not have
caused his death. They claimed instead that the prisoner had somehow gotten hold of some herbs and
killed himself "in despair over his imprisonment." [Contramaestre, 235-36] Such cases replicate the
European pattern of killing witches in custody, right down to the insinuations that the prisoners were
diabolically resistant to physical abuse by their captors, or that "devils" influenced them to commit
suicide. They also foreshadow the continuing pattern of excusing “deaths in custody.”
In El Tocuyo, Venezuela, church officials tried Francisco, an African "herbalist or sorcerer," for magical
curing. Witnesses testified that he gazed into a water basin to see the causes and outcome of illness. Many

[330] The famous witch Maria Gonçalves was tried in 1591 for defying institutional church authority.”—the great chair from which priestesses presided over ceremonies. Brazilians performed Jewish and Moorish and gypsy dances." [Anita Novinsky. They added pagan European customs (such as sieve-divination) to the blend. Jewish and Moorish as well as catholic Portuguese. she also had a miter. cañutos. 223-30] This case repeats the European pattern of male shamans denouncing female ones before church tribunals. 239-40] BRAZILIAN PERSECUTIONS Many cultures contributed to the mix in colonial Brazil: West African.trials at Mérida show a strong African religious presence. Often they were skeptics who scoffed at church dogma." An Indian woman told a priest that Rumbos presided over offerings and ceremonies in the dark to summon spirits of the living and the dead. or Africa]. just as they were in Europe. A sizeable number of these "Old Christians" were incompletely christianized. cachos. and if the bishop preached from the pulpit she also preached from the cadeira. they ritually punished statues of the saints. everyone ate and then went to sleep." José used bells. to coerce them into helping.) [Contramaestre. The free black Jose Francisco de Guzman testified "that he learned to cure from his fathers in the medicine of his homeland [Guinea. The authorities complained that they danced and formed conga lines during religious celebrations. Virgin. had called up the double of a local priest and demanded an answer: "Is Your Honor against us?" (It turned out that he was. Gonçalves was commonly known as Arde-lhe-o-rabo. Tupí and other Indian nations. Some got five years in the galleys. 101ff] A Roma woman was interrogated for denying that there was a day of judgment. [Freyre. just as the Spanish all learn medicine. he also staged theatrical accusations of an Indian woman as a "mohan witch" and enlisted church officials to get her arrested. The celebrants. in Mello.. 33. Violante Careira.." Much of her practice concerned sexual matters such as impotence and sterility. Or. She had said that "if the bishop had a miter. or even the basic prayers. 96-9] Inquisitorial visitations began in the late 1500s. They did not know catholic doctrine. totumas. [de Mello. or Jesus when misfortunes happened to them. rather than the Indian ritual implements. Both were held for questioning. She was accused of feeding the devil from a wound in her foot. However. but sometimes nearly undiluted. 289] From 1592 to 1595 there were ten autos da fé in Pernambuco and Bahía. since he became the principal witness against them before the Inquisition. Many Muslim and Jewish "New Christians" were forced to appear before the inquisitorial tribunal. The prisoners were whipped bloody and humiliated in the streets of Lisbon. the trial's outcome is not recorded. After the ritual. "Burn-tail. who . [de Mello. often mixed with indigenous and catholic ritual. TO] She made powders from herbs that she gathered in the forest. 296. [Contramaestre. such as what the trinity was. In 1746 the Inquisition of El Tocuyo arrested a freed black elder named Francisco Rumbos on charges of "idolatry. Persecution of African rites continued through the 18th century. 332. [124] Brazilians "lived in panic of inquisitorial inquests. the areas most prosecuted were "always those of greatest prosperity." [Mello. A fair number of people in this last category had been exiled to Brazil for practicing witchcraft or other heresies. fearing interference from the official clergy. 27.

His host explained that the blacks brought these divinatory rituals from their lands in Africa. giving rise to the modern religions of Candomblé and Umbanda. And they founded religious communities which performed the sacraments of Africa. placing jars of water. In the center of the room they set an image of a black god who had come "from the land of Coura" to make miracles in Paracatú. also known as the "game of Angola.denounced her to the Inquisition. [de Mello. 263-4] A record of 1734 says that Violante Coutinho "danced and did calundures" to the music of drums in her house. The same year an Angolan woman was accused of invoking demons in her calundus at Sabará. 121. The ancestors appeared to speak. An account from 1740 tells of leaping. [de Mello. chant. Captives were brought there in such numbers that communities formed according to African nationality: Yoruba. was herself soon arrested as a witch after being reported by an ex-lover. Nagôs. singing and dancing in ceremonies called calundus. the Africans celebrated the acotundá dance. they rose and spoke of what the ancestors had told them or shown them. in spite of their assimilation of Catholic elements. These ceremonies were everywhere. there were limits on how much cultural repression the settler state could impose. 322] In Paracatú. when Indian nations were still numerous. [de Mello. People invoked the ancestors with the drums. dynamic dances in which people cried out and fell as if dead. but the church urged them to crack down. In the 1700s the colonial church and state mounted a more concerted effort to suppress African religions. 239] CALUNDUREIRAS: AFRICAN PRIESTESSES The African presence was powerful in Brazil. Gêges. Some slaveholders allowed these gatherings. 102. [Mello. 265-66] In the 1600s. or Tunda. Often the enslaved greatly outnumbered the slaveholders. [Mello. Malês and others. dance and martial arts that is capoeira. Marques Pereira couldn't sleep at night because the drums and percussion was so loud. 300. The Inquisition arrested and tried a large number of African calundeiros. 94] A large contingent of Angolans evolved the fusion of African religion. warn and protect their enslaved kindred. heal. After lying entranced and motionless. Worshippers built an altar around him. cooked and raw herbs and other offerings." The African peoples syncretized their home traditions with a catholic overlay—they favored Our Lady of the Rosary and Santo Antonio—renaming Dahomeyan or Guinean deities as Catholic saints. They sang in . and breakaway African quilombos forged independent forest communities. Visiting a plantation in 1728.

Unmarried. his jailors . 265-6] The African institution of the akpalô -. 321] White men defined religion. trying to make her confess to a pact with the devil. where the inquisitors locked her down in the "secret cells" as a hard case. 267] Several people denounced this Angolan priestess to the Inquisition. African-Brazilians assimilated Catholic saints and symbols into their pouches." Colonial soldiers took members of this community prisoner in 1747. In 1750 the African Mateus Pereira Machado was arrested in Bahia for having bolsas de mandinga. sitting on her high thronelike cadeira. Luzia told one slavemaster that the reason his slave had stolen some money from him was that he was sleeping with her without giving her anything. he feared he would go mad. They arrested her in 1742 and sent her to Lisbon. [Mello. "said she was god. Mae Luzía danced as two Angolan women sang and drummers played for hours. He was arrested in 1730 for making and wearing bolsas de mandinga (medicine bags). She also gave emetic drinks to people who wanted to get rid of sorceries. A slave prosecuted as a "sorcerer" in 1756 kept an altar to his African god in the roof of his house (this would have been the safest place to hide prohibited sacraments) and made offerings to it. They tortured her as she called on Santo Antonio. and counseled people about their misfortunes. They channeled deities: Caetana.old women storytellers-. Conditions were so terrible. successfully divining a way to get gold. 210] The enslaved Jose Francisco Pereira was well known among Lisbon's Africans as a mandinguero. She entered trance with great trembling. what was legitimate and what was prohibited. where he landed in the secret dungeons. she was about 50. Luzia Pinta had to appear in an auto-da-fé and was banished for 4 years. while still including talismans such as small bones. [Mello. dressed in Angolan garb and feathered headdress. the waters and stones. a Black priestess from Minas. Three years later the Inquisition deported him to its Portuguese prisons. she prophesied and answered questions. Worn mostly by men. tall and heavy. 268-9] The calundureira Luzia Pinta presided over divinatory dances. with tribal marks on her cheeks.Courá. He told the inquisitor that he used them with the understanding that they were "a thing of God. a language of the Sudan. One man. As he approached death. She untied a belt and whirled it in the air. He held calundus there. [de Mello. and supported himself rebuilding the streets of Lisbon." They earned a living through this profession. He was arrested in 1769 for holding these ceremonies and for curing with "witchcraft. The black leader Domingos Calandureiro hosted gatherings of Africans who danced and drummed in his house. After the Inquisitorial prisons were repaired.survived in Brazil. The akpalô "would go from plantation to plantation telling stories to other black women. 352-7] In 1753 we read that Maria Canga danced until a "wind" entered her head. 328] Some prisoners were driven insane. [Freyre. 342] The syncretistic "Mandinga bags" became popular among all classes and ethnic groups. these amulet pouches probably originated from the Sahelian custom of wearing protective writings—often Koranic verses. Machado was liberated from prison after the great 1755 earthquake. and as the "winds" entered her ears. roots and stones called pedras de ara. and performed divinations. who made heaven and earth. [Mello." The inquisitor countered with a comment that reveals much about the racist attitudes of the colonial church: "How could he understand that the mandinga was a thing of God if he saw that only the blacks used it?" [Mello." [Mello. [Mello. no more than skin and bones. Sometimes she carried a dagger in her hand and prescribed forest leaves to the sick. lost his mind. She laid people on the ground and leaped over them several times to cure them. he was re-imprisoned for seven years.

[Mello. followed by prison and perpetual wearing of penitential dress. because she had refused to have sex with him. to die in anonymity. torture was used to get the witch hunt confessions of painful and pleasureless sex with the devil. The slave Joana was accused of bewitching an Indian slave allied with the slaveholders.. compares this enslaved man's ordeal with that of "the Galician witch La Solina" who was forced to recount anal rape by the devil. Francisco told the family that only Luzia could lift the spell. consulted by the Carvalhos about the mistress's illness. but said that a sudden pain in her arm prevented her from opening the door. Released prisoners could barely be recognized by their friends and relatives. many "deceivers" claimed to be witches.. she claimed. most often in religious contexts. then sentenced to be lashed until the blood flowed. [Mello. 321] Fearing that their captives used self-protective or retaliatory magic.] Inquisitorial trials of Africans targeted them not only for practicing their religion as a group. [208] In Minas many slaves took scrapings from the soles of masters' shoes to prevent being beaten. by boiling herbs—and her arm hurt whenever she ordered her to be punished. and ultimately blamed for the death of her mistress. Senhora Carvalhos went to Luzia's cabin to punish her. the inquisitor wanted to know more every time. painfully raped so that the blood flowed. 208-10] The case of Luzia da Silva Soares shows the brutal atrocities slaveholders committed in the belief—or on the pretext—that they were being sorcerized. As in Europe. of giving blood to the demon as a brown goat and cat. slavemasters often tortured people they suspected of casting spells over them. The slave Francisco. The scrapings also figured in a mixture buried under the master's doorway to make him sell away an enemy. Her protestations and denials were useless. live goats and corn cakes." [265] A cleric writing to the Inquistor of Lisbon declared that in the colonies. The African Antonia Luzia called together "black and brown women to adore dances" and sought the ancestors' help in "dominating the masters' wills. demanding details. He was tortured several times until a "confession" was obtained. They buried bundles under thresholds where the masters would walk over them." [Mello. then turned her over to the Inquisition. [Mello. trying to frame it as witchcraft was in Portugal. for otherwise they would continue practicing. "Povolide saw the event as a sabbat. death in the inquisitorial prisons was not unusual. They tortured and beat her. offerings of chickens' blood. Joana put a piece of cipo picão root under her tongue when she had to talk to the mistress. 291] The Inquisition took exactly this approach of interpreting African religious gatherings as diabolist cabals. [Mello. "usually Blacks and Indians. After that. on and on: "." He advised that they should be flogged. The enslaved Josefa put water she had used to wash between her legs in the masters' food. 206-9] Resistance was also practiced collectively. to protect herself. They accused the slave Manuel de Piedade of attending sabbats. but for individual acts of resistance. she got terrible headaches whenever she saw Luzia—who caused them. 319-20. Luzia retorted that he betrayed her to the masters out of spite.dumped him at a hospital. [315-6] Here too.. Luzia later explained that the mistress hated her because she suspected her husband of having sex with her. De Mello identifies them as precursors of candomblé meetings. Because of the horrific conditions.. told them that Luzia had bewitched her. the monks made their African prisoners recite detailed accounts of being sodomized by the devil's cold member. 329] The count of Povolide reported outdoor ceremonies of Africans along the Mina coast in 1780. or put things in their food and drink." [Mello. . Enslaved people resorted to spiritual self-defense against the endemic violence against them. with images on an altar.

114] INDIGENOUS TRADITIONS AND INFLUENCES The Indigenous cultures of eastern Brazil are the most obscured. Nearly unconscious and in agony. Luzia yielded up the confession of diabolical pact they demanded. They pierced her tongue with a needle. herbalism and healing had immeasurable impact on the meld of cultures that emerged in the 1600s and 1700s. they sang at the feet of the sick person. accusing her of a pact with the devil. The colonials refer to catimbos. 345-52] Yet such torture by slave-holders was not unusual: other sources mention eyes gouged out. [Mello. and endured it. the Carvalhos men resumed the torture. The Carvalhos turned her over to the Inquisition with their accusations of sorcery and devil-pact. singing and shaking the sacred rattles. Since the mistress had not improved. The movement of African Christians she founde became known as the Antoniados. Still unsated. Luzia survived in a disabled state. Luzia's "confession" was no help to her. They exacted more confessions: of putting roots and white powders around the house. the masters had Luzia severely flogged. leaving wounds everywhere. a succor that risked castigation. were known as great healers. or moon. faces burned and breasts cut off. burying sorcerous boxes. [Mello. [de Mello. They fired huge irons to red-hot incandescence. poured boiling wax on her genitals. not the living. for compassion's sake. 271] Angela Micaela of Marajo island had mysterious visitors who appeared by night to speak with her from a tree. teeth kicked in. The Tupinamba pajés "blow on the painful spot. It would be better to adore the sun." [de Mello. Indian and mestizos. stripped their captive and burned her flesh. "because only they should be adored as lords of the living. indigenous gatherings where people danced. and infusing its cure. 351] Violations of this degree were not extraordinary in Brazil. the roof shook. 168] Most Brazilian curandeira/os (healers) were African. ceremonial. An account from Grão-Pará around 1765 refers to people speaking with souls during night rituals of this kind. killing the mistress' daughter with magic. She said that the Christian god only had to do with the dead. sucking and spitting out the evil. they ripped her head with a thin cord." [Mello. put thorns under her nails. or Time. Her health destroyed for life.Senhora Carvalho's father and husband tortured Luzia terribly. then tied to the ground where flies and insects swarmed over her wounds. broke and dislocated her bones. 134] Native Brazilian languages. and a voice . The voices of the Tupí and Tapajós and Gê were drowned out in the furious slaughter and land seizures of the 1500s and every century that followed. As the curandeira/o entered trance. [Freyre. shaking rattles. It was against this background that the Kongo prophetess Kimpa Vita exhorted Africans not to venerate the cross "because it was the instrument of Christ's death. with their incomparable knowledge of the medicinal rainforest plants. No matter: with implacable hatred. and gouged out one of her eyes with a sharpened stick. Luzia da Silva would have died if other slaves had not come and washed her wounds. or in any of the American slave states. and released her. tied her to a ladder and put fire to her feet. Africans contributed their own extensive knowledge and shamanic traditions to the mix. Even the inquisitors were horrified at how the Carvalhos had mutilated Luzia. The Tupinamba. Wearing feather headdresses. after their veneration of the Black saint San Antonio." an emblem of oppression and torture.

herbs. and how to invoke a certain insect and smoke her genitals with its resin. [309] The Portuguese Ludovina Ferreira learned to do magical cures from the Indians. The African mestiza Luzia Sebastiana taught her an Indian chant with blowing and spitting. She was apprenticed to the Indian healer Antonio around 1735. She cured trembling with white. then a razor fastened to a ball of yarn. invoking the spirits to make man come to her door. she gave him a drink that put a stop to it. [Mello. [Mello. 271] Most accounts assume that these rituals were based on fraud. by mixing them in with tobacco she gave them. A voice greeted the participants and asked the woman how she was. then served it to the man she wanted. a violent wind was heard shaking the the roof of the house. learned prayers from the Indians. sucking harmful substances from her patients' heads and toes. When he stopped.answered questions. the Angolan calundureira Luzia Pinta found out what ailed sick people by sniffing and blowing on them. The slave José healed many people by sucking and smudging them with herbs while saying unknown words. The enslaved Marcelina Maria cooked an egg and slept with it between her legs. and charms invoking the jabotí and the gaivota. The enslaved curandeiro João worked with water. and a stone from a fish head. The Church ordered him flogged with 60 lashes in the main street. Domingos Alvares healed numerous diseases that doctors could not: paralysis. This witchcraft served her well. Leonor Francisca practiced Brazilian healing methods in Lisbon. 236-7] Maria Joana also learned love magic: how to make a rinse with the supora-mirim herb. 166. 169-70] Many healing rituals were described as expulsions of sorceries. [Mello. The patient got up completely recovered. the free black Domingos Marinho told authorities that he went to the curandeira Maria Cardosa for treatment of various illnesses. cankers on the cheek. They ridiculed Gomes' healing methods and forced her to forswear them. [Mello. 270] In the mid-1700s. who would be inspired by the deities invoked. [Mello. and performed a ritual of binding black and white cords around the sickbed. [Mello. The enslaved Bernardo Pereira Brasil cured by sucking things from patients' bodies and spitting them out. and black roses and prayer. 236-8] Isabel Maria de Oliveira put perfumed roots in her intended's clothes and chewed alcaçuz roots to fill him with passion. He asked for lights out to consult his pajés about what was wrong with her and then started singing in his language. She used leaves of the caãxixo tree and the urubu giriá to attract men. had people bury roots under their doorway. then repeat a charm at a crossroads at midnight. gave drinks of chopped herbs that caused them to throw up impurities. 270] Another European. [Mello. 177] In Minas in 1763. 239-40] . 71] Inquisitors accused the Indian Domingas Gomes de Ressureicão of dealing with the devil. when the man she lived with brought another woman into the house as his lover. sometimes adapting Portuguese formulas to them. coughs. Ludovina is described chanting songs in a native language and blowing smoke on a patient from an herbal cigar. red. Florencia de Bomsucesso took coals to crossroads and threw them on the road. The Afro-Brazilian healer Domingos João used powders. The Indian healer Antonio gave the sick Antonia Jeronima a brew of grated barks and tree roots to drink. Another spell called for the woman to wet a finger with her sexual juices and make crosses over her lover's eyes so he would not leave her. but overlook the probability that people expected these voices on the roof to belong to participants in the ritual. Maria Joana. She and her 16-year-old godson Antonio said prayers over him "in their tongue" and ran a stone along his body. [Mello. [Mello. This voice assured her that god would heal her through Antonio.

189. 196] A new Afro-Brazilian religion. prostitutes. the ancestor of Candomblé and Umbanda. She was famous among the prisoners for her sorceries. Maria Barbosa had already been exiled to Angola for witchcraft. 335-8. (She had once accurately predicted the future for the governor of Angola. South American witch persecutions were imposed on populations with living traditions of priestesshood. Their numbers exceed those of the Salem hunts. The inquisitors' attempts to stamp it out were in vain. bringing her lovers around in front of her husband and eventually throwing him out of the house. She was sent to Lisbon for trial but her ship was captured by pirates." Her banishment did not go into immediate effect because Maria had powerful men on her side. She lived the life of a libertine. [Mello. Temple communities headed by babalawos and maes de santo ("mothers of the holy") created sanctuary in the midst of slavery and dispossession. Maria Barbosa gave her husband a brew that made him sleep for three days straight. An African sorcerer came to her cell to supply her with herbs.This female witchcraft thrived among poor women. and women of all races. Historians have generally ignored the colonial persecutions of Indian and African priest/esses and healers. (One wonders how that came to pass. and with them. Unlike the New England "witches. her powders and herbs. Other witches and wantons moved in with her. hope and strength. arose during these centuries.) She ended up in Gibraltar and eventually went through an auto da fé in Lisbon. They belonged to a culture of resistance that defied hierarchies imposed by their oppressors.) Maria ended up in the inquisitorial prison." these women really did practice shamanic arts and religious traditions. keeping alive the gods of Dahomey. . but are eclipsed by them in the popular mind. In 1610 she was arrested again in Bahia on charges of witchcraft and having "destroyed many men.

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