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sentence was revoked and she was brought out to do public penance in an auto-da-fé of March 25,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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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