CES Award for Young Portuguese-Speaking Social Scientists

Alexandre Marcussi wins the 10th edition of CES Award

July 2017

About the awarded work

«Cativeiro e Cura - Experiências religiosas da escravidão atlântica nos  calundus de Luzia Pinta, séculos XVII-XVIII» [Captivity and Healing - Religious Experiences of Atlantic Slavery in the calundus of Luzia Pinta, 17th and 18th centuries] by Alexandre Marcussi

The awarded work consists of an analysis of religious practices of African origin known as calundus, name given to ceremonies widely disseminated in Portuguese America between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, attended by Africans, Afro-descendants and whites. The calundus comprised eminently divinatory and therapeutic functions, and their cultural origins date back to the religious practices of the ambunda and baconga societies of West Central Africa. In the light of an analysis of the case of the Inquisition of Lisbon against Luzia Pinta, a Calundus follower of the region of Sabará, Minas Gerais, in the mid-eighteenth century, this research tries to clarify the social and symbolic meanings of this Afro-Portuguese-American therapeutic practice.

The case of Luzia Pinta is approached more vertically but is also compared to other incidences of calundus registered in the territories of Bahia and Minas Gerais between the 17th and 18th centuries, with the aim of putting together a more comprehensive analysis of this devotional practice. The morphological description of the calundus seeks to emphasize its formal heterogeneity and the fluidity of its borders in relation to other religious practices of the Luso-American cultural universe. The analysis of its underlying symbology shows that the cosmological category that underpinned this devotional practice was ancestry, insofar as the rite consisted of an attempt to re-establish the spiritual ties between Africans and their ancestors, broken by the dynamics of the slave trade.

The thesis also discusses the roles played by this religious practice in the Portuguese imperial society, addressing the relations that the calundus and its followers maintained with some of the main phenomena and institutions that structured Portuguese-American society, such as Catholic religion and slavery. The intention is to demonstrate how, between the 17th and 18th centuries, calundus codified a complex world view produced by Central Africans in America, through which they expressed their perspective on slavery and designed alternative political projects grounded in a utopian historical conscience. The African perspective on captivity, represented by the Calundus therapeutic, set up an important symbolic threat against the ideology that morally legitimated the existence of slavery in Portuguese America from a discourse constructed using the categories of Catholic theology.

The thesis aims to analyse the conflicts between Calunduzeiros and institutions of religious repression as aspects of a political, intellectual and ideological debate, locked in the language of the religion, related to the existence and the legitimacy of captivity in the Portuguese imperial world. 

Key-words: calundu; slavery; Afro-Brazilian religions; slave ideology; Inquisition