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Pomba gira as Alabê in Quimbanda

Pomba gira as Alabê in Quimbanda

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Published by: David Cavalcante on Jun 12, 2010
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Marc M. Gidal1
 Pomba gira
in Quimbanda:Ritual Change, Musical Innovation, and Challenging Social Hierarchies in Southern Brazil
Marc M. Gidal, Harvard UniversityPrepared for delivery at the 2009 Meeting of the Latin American Studies Association, Rio deJaneiro, Brazil June 11-14, 2009.
Marc M. Gidal2 O sino da igrejinha fazer le blem blom The chapel bell rings ding, ding, dongDa meia noite o galo ja cantou At midnight the rooster has already sungSeu tranca rua é o dono da gira Thee Blocker of the Street is the lord of themediums’ ringO corre gira que Ogum mandou. The spinning ring that Ogum ordered.Attendees of Umbanda ceremonies in metropolitan Porto Alegre before 1970 would havesung or heard this sung prayer, or 
 ponto cantado
, just before the malevolent spirits, called
 pomba giras
or simply the “spirits of the street,” began “incorporating” some of the spiritmediums in the circle mentioned in the prayer. The spirits would arrive grunting, drink a smallcup of Brazilian rum called cachaça, clear negative energy from the participants and the house,and leave the mediums to conclude the service. This veneration of ancestral spirits of mal intenttypically occupied the last five to fifteen minutes of Umbanda rituals. Returning to the sameworship house around 1990, one could hear the same
 ponto cantado
, but this time it would besung at the beginning of the ceremony. Instead of distinguishing the section for 
from theother Umbanda spirits, it now establishes the objective for the entire ceremony and sets the tonefor the evening. Instead of calling this ritual Umbanda, many participants would distinguish theveneration of the “spirits of the street” as “Quimbanda.” The performance of Quimbanda ritualsdeveloped during the 1970s and 80s as they became more public and less restricted, though muchof the underlying theology would remain the same. The
 pomba giras
now comprise thecentral focus of an entire evening that can last all night.
 pomba giras
used to walk hunched over with contorted postures and hand gestures. They grunted and shouted but did notspeak. Nowadays
 pomba giras
stand upright, dance, sing, and converse with each other and congregants more than other types of spirits in Umbanda. During Umbanda ceremoniesspirit-mediums still wear white gowns or medical aprons, but for Quimbanda the mediums wear lavish and often expensive outfits – such as ball gowns, suits, fancy hats, and capes. After incorporated by the spirits, they drink hard liquor, sweet wine, Champaign, and beer, and smokecigars and cigarettes throughout the night (Teixeira 2005; Batalla and Barreto 2008).During the resurgence of Quimbanda starting in the 1970s, rituals changed dramaticallyand increased in popularity. Scholars have interpreted some of the transformations in connectionwith the black-consciousness and women’s movements of the 1970s and as responses to theeconomic crisis and antagonisms from Neo-Pentecostalism in the 1980s, as will be discussed.Beginning in the 1970s, the wardrobe and behavior of the spirits
changed in Umbanda, newcompositions proliferated, new drum patterns emerged, and song-leading and accompanimentduties were shared among participants other than the musical leaders, including the possessedspirit-mediums. These musical innovations have in turn challenged social boundaries.My research shows that changes in musical participation, new compositions, andrhythmic innovations created tensions with the musical leadership of religious houses over authority and authorship. These power conflicts continue today, extending from the domain of religious ceremonies to the music recording industry. This paper argues that an increasinglyegalitarian approach to musical practice and the proliferation of new liturgy in Quimbanda bolstered other anti-hierarchical contestations within the Afro-Brazilian religious community of Porto Alegre on theological and social levels. These efforts drew on the existing theology of spiritual evolution, the trend in race politics of “re-Africanization” (Prandi 1991), and changing
Marc M. Gidal3gender roles. Despite these challenges, however, musical leaders maintain their authority withinan inherently hierarchical religion.
Batuque, Umbanda, and Quimbanda in Southernmost Brazil 
In metropolitan Porto Alegre, the capital city of the southernmost Brazilian state of RioGrande do Sul, a majority of the religious houses dedicated to Afro-Brazilian religion practicewhat is variously called “Afro-Gaucho religion” or “Afro-Umbandism,” a combination of threereligious lines: Batuque, Umbanda, and Quimbanda (Corrêa [1992] 2006; Brites 1993; Rodolpho1994; Polvora 1994; de Assis de Almeida 2002; Teixeira 2005; Anjos 2006; Braga 2003).Batuque, also called “Nação” and “Africanismo,” is one of the more orthodox, African religionsin Brazil, along with those from the northeast such as Candomblé from Bahia, Xangô fromPernambuco, and Tambor de Mina from Maranhão. It has been practiced in southern Brazil atleast since the mid-eighteenth century (Bastide [1960] 1978: 206 ff.; Corrêa 1992). In theBatuque feasts, or celebrations, reverence and thanks are paid to the divinities, called by theYoruba term “
,” through prayers and sacrificial offerings. The orixás, in turn, “manifest”themselves, as batuqueiros say, in the bodies of disciples, to bless congregants by passing tothem sacred vital energy called “
.”Umbanda and its close relative Quimbanda are twentieth-century Brazilian hybrids, oftencalled “syncretic” religions. Umbanda is believed to have begun in 1908, but was codified in1920s Rio de Janeiro by a group of Spiritists. They combined aspects of several older spirit-mediumship religions: French Spiritism, Afro-Brazilian Macumba, Folk Catholicism, andAmerindian Shamanism. During Umbanda ceremonies, mediums “incorporate” a diverseassortment of ancestral spirits. The spirits then cleanse congregants and consult with individualsseeking assistance and guidance, usually regarding problems of health, family, work, or finances.Starting in the late 1960s Umbandistas all over Brazil began reclaiming Quimbanda, and itstheology and ceremonies began to change.Quimbanda, originally a pejorative term for Macumba and “black magic,” now refers tothe veneration and incorporation of the so-called “spirits of the street.” These include spirits of vagrants, hustlers, prostitutes, and graveyard attendants as well as certain
who commandthese spirits, principally Ogum Medê. Unlike the benevolent spirits of Umbanda, these ancestralspirits can cause both harm
good. They are grouped under the categories of 
 pomba giras
, and
. The term
was borrowed from the Yoruba
, the messenger  between divinities and humans, the remover of obstacles, the so-called “trickster” divinity. InUmbanda theology
came to mean the male ancestral spirits of the street. Their femalecounterparts are called
pomba giras,
literally meaning “spinning pigeons” (Prandi 2005: 82f.;Trindade and Coelho 2006). Also notable are the spirits of Romani people from Spain andPortugal, called “
Both Batuque and Umbanda feature hierarchical religious communities, withrelationships between spirits and humans, and priests and devotees, based on loyalty, patronage,and protection. Francisco de Assis de Almeida viewed the hierarchical religious familyrelationships of Batuque as both reflective of the divine family of its theology and nineteenth-century rural settlements of Rio Grande do Sul (2002). In a similar vein, Diana DeG. Brown presented Umbanda practices in Rio de Janeiro during the 1960s and 70s as reflecting thehierarchy and bureaucratic interactions associated with Brazil’s military dictatorship ([1986]1994). The Afro-gaucho religion features social relationships of Batuque more so than those of the Umbanda community that Brown studied in 1960s Rio de Janeiro, thereby reflecting what

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