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sentence was revoked and she was brought out to do public penance in an auto-da-fé of March 25,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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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