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sentence was revoked and she was brought out to do public penance in an auto-da-fé of March 25,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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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