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sentence was revoked and she was brought out to do public penance in an auto-da-fé of March 25,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

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

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

these amulet pouches probably originated from the Sahelian custom of wearing protective writings—often Koranic verses." Colonial soldiers took members of this community prisoner in 1747. 321] White men defined religion. The akpalô "would go from plantation to plantation telling stories to other black women. "said she was god. 268-9] The calundureira Luzia Pinta presided over divinatory dances. [Mello. They tortured her as she called on Santo Antonio. lost his mind. a language of the Sudan. She also gave emetic drinks to people who wanted to get rid of sorceries. Mae Luzía danced as two Angolan women sang and drummers played for hours. Luzia Pinta had to appear in an auto-da-fé and was banished for 4 years. They channeled deities: Caetana. the waters and stones. After the Inquisitorial prisons were repaired. tall and heavy. 328] Some prisoners were driven insane. 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. Unmarried. [de Mello. She laid people on the ground and leaped over them several times to cure them. [Mello. He was arrested in 1730 for making and wearing bolsas de mandinga (medicine bags).old women storytellers-. He was arrested in 1769 for holding these ceremonies and for curing with "witchcraft. They arrested her in 1742 and sent her to Lisbon. where the inquisitors locked her down in the "secret cells" as a hard case. 267] Several people denounced this Angolan priestess to the Inquisition. with tribal marks on her cheeks. successfully divining a way to get gold. [Mello. what was legitimate and what was prohibited. He told the inquisitor that he used them with the understanding that they were "a thing of God. she was about 50. where he landed in the secret dungeons. she prophesied and answered questions. sitting on her high thronelike cadeira. [Freyre. and counseled people about their misfortunes. and as the "winds" entered her ears. African-Brazilians assimilated Catholic saints and symbols into their pouches. Three years later the Inquisition deported him to its Portuguese prisons. Worn mostly by men.Courá. dressed in Angolan garb and feathered headdress." [Mello. a Black priestess from Minas. while still including talismans such as small bones. 352-7] In 1753 we read that Maria Canga danced until a "wind" entered her head. who made heaven and earth." They earned a living through this profession. Conditions were so terrible. trying to make her confess to a pact with the devil. and performed divinations. As he approached death. She entered trance with great trembling. he feared he would go mad. Machado was liberated from prison after the great 1755 earthquake.survived in Brazil. The black leader Domingos Calandureiro hosted gatherings of Africans who danced and drummed in his house. and supported himself rebuilding the streets of Lisbon. 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 was re-imprisoned for seven years. his jailors ." 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. One man. Sometimes she carried a dagger in her hand and prescribed forest leaves to the sick. In 1750 the African Mateus Pereira Machado was arrested in Bahia for having bolsas de mandinga. He held calundus there. 210] The enslaved Jose Francisco Pereira was well known among Lisbon's Africans as a mandinguero. She untied a belt and whirled it in the air. roots and stones called pedras de ara. [Mello. 265-6] The African institution of the akpalô -. 342] The syncretistic "Mandinga bags" became popular among all classes and ethnic groups. no more than skin and bones.

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

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

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

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