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sentence was revoked and she was brought out to do public penance in an auto-da-fé of March 25,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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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