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sentence was revoked and she was brought out to do public penance in an auto-da-fé of March 25,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

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

or Tunda. 102.denounced her to the Inquisition. Often the enslaved greatly outnumbered the slaveholders. the Africans celebrated the acotundá dance. The same year an Angolan woman was accused of invoking demons in her calundus at Sabará. giving rise to the modern religions of Candomblé and Umbanda. And they founded religious communities which performed the sacraments of Africa. 300. 239] CALUNDUREIRAS: AFRICAN PRIESTESSES The African presence was powerful in Brazil. but the church urged them to crack down. 263-4] A record of 1734 says that Violante Coutinho "danced and did calundures" to the music of drums in her house. when Indian nations were still numerous. [Mello. dance and martial arts that is capoeira. People invoked the ancestors with the drums. 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. heal. [de Mello. warn and protect their enslaved kindred. 265-66] In the 1600s. chant. 322] In Paracatú. Malês and others. singing and dancing in ceremonies called calundus. These ceremonies were everywhere. they rose and spoke of what the ancestors had told them or shown them. His host explained that the blacks brought these divinatory rituals from their lands in Africa. 94] A large contingent of Angolans evolved the fusion of African religion. An account from 1740 tells of leaping. The ancestors appeared to speak. [Mello. cooked and raw herbs and other offerings. [de Mello. placing jars of water. Gêges. Nagôs. Some slaveholders allowed these gatherings. dynamic dances in which people cried out and fell as if dead. They sang in . Worshippers built an altar around him. 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. The Inquisition arrested and tried a large number of African calundeiros." 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. Captives were brought there in such numbers that communities formed according to African nationality: Yoruba. Visiting a plantation in 1728. 121. [de Mello. also known as the "game of Angola. After lying entranced and motionless. was herself soon arrested as a witch after being reported by an ex-lover. in spite of their assimilation of Catholic elements. and breakaway African quilombos forged independent forest communities. there were limits on how much cultural repression the settler state could impose.

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

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

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

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

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

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