Note from BW of Brazil: Religious intolerance and prejudice has existed in Brazil ever since the first descendants of African slaves began practicing their beliefs in the land that would come to be known as Brazil. Afro-Brazilian religions were banned during slavery era but even after attaining rights to practice their spiritual systems, practitioners continue to face persecution, negative stereotypes and and even murder. The meteoric rise in the popularity of the Evangelical movement in Brazil has not only challenged Catholic dominance in the country, it has added to this persecution as converts and long-time followers demonize and stigmatize followers of Afro-Brazilian faiths. The story below shows how increasingly difficult it is becoming to follow one’s spiritual beliefs under the constant threats of followers of “mainstream” religions, ironically some of whom are drug dealers.
Crime and prejudice: holy mothers and daughters are evicted from slums by evangelical drug traffickers
By Rafael Soares
White clothes on the clothesline was the only indication of the religion of a filha de santo (holy daughter), that until 2010 was living in the Morro do Amor, in the Complexo do Lins. Initiated in Candomblé in 2005, she soon learned that she should hide her faith: the drug traffickers in the favela (shantytown), evangelical church goers, would not tolerate “macumba”(1). Terreiros (spiritual temples), white clothes and ornaments that hinted at the belief had been banned since about five years ago, in the entire favela. So she left the favela path to her terreiro, in the West Zone of Rio, always wearing ordinary clothes. The white dress was in her bag. One day, by mistake, she left her “roupa de santo (Candomblé clothing)” on the clothesline. The following week, she left the favela, expelled from the drug dealers, never to return.
“I could no longer handle the threats. There, being in Candomblé is prohibited. There are no more terreiros and those who practice the religion, do some in a clandestine manner,” says the filha do santo, who moved to the West Zone.
The situation of women is not a point outside the curve: there are already records in the Associação de Proteção dos Amigos e Adeptos do Culto Afro Brasileiro e Espírita (Protection Association of Friends and Supporters of the Afro Brazilian Cult and Spiritist) by which least 40 pais and mães de santo (holy fathers and mothers) were evicted from slums in the Northern Zone by traffickers. In some places, like in Lins and Serrinha in Madureira, besides the closure of the terreiros there was also a ban on the use of African necklaces and white clothing. According to holy fathers interviewed by Extra, who went through the situation, the reason for the eviction is the same: the conversion of the drug kingpins into Evangelico denominations.
Atabaque drums prohibited in Pavuna
Religious intolerance is not exclusively a thing of criminal factions. 8 miles (13km) from Lins and occupied by a rival group, Parque Colúmbia in Pavuna, there is a coexistence with the same reality: the expulsion from terreiros, followed closely by the growth of evangelical churches. Uninformed about the “local rules”, a mãe de santo attempted to found a terreiro there. Soon, she received a visit from the president of the neighborhood association that warned: atabaque drums and rituals were banned there.
“I had to flee, because I tried to stay only doing the gatherings. They didn’t like it,” she says.
The situation is already known by at least one government agency, the Conselho Estadual de Direitos do Negro (Cedine or the State Council of Black Rights), inaugurated by the governor himself. The Chairman of the organization, Roberto dos Santos, admits that complaints have been sent to Cedine:
“We already have such information. But violent intolerance can be overcome only with the arrival of the state to these places, with the UPPs (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora or Police Pacification Unit).
State Representative Átila Nunes (of the PSL party) made a formal request last Friday, for the Secretaria de Segurança (Secretary of Security) to investigate the cases.
“We’re not dealing with a religious but rather an economic dispute. Evangelical leaders don’t want to lose part of their multitude to other religions, and this is in the minds of the gangs,” he claims.
In the slums, the “guerreiros de Deus (warriors of God)”
Fernando Gomes de Freitas, Fernandinho Guarabu, a drug boss in Morro do Dende, sports on his right forearm, a tattoo with the name of Jesus Christ. In his house there are Bibles everywhere. But in his dominion, prejudice reigns: while the walls of the slum were filled with biblical sayings, ten terreiros that functioned in the area ceased to exist.
Guarabu started attending the Assembleia de Deus Ministério Monte Sinai (Mount Sinai Assembly of God Ministry) in 2006 and was converted. From there, whoever walked around the favela in white was “asked to leave”. The holy fathers who still live locally don’t practice the religion anymore.
The situation was repeated in Serrinha, occupied by the same faction. Last December 22nd, at dawn gangsters began covering up Candomblé images on the walls of the favela. On the fresh paint now reads: “Only Jesus saves.”
The babalaô (spiritual advisor) Ivanir dos Santos, representative of the Comissão de Combate à Intolerância Religiosa (CCIR or Commission Against Religious Intolerance), created just after cases of intolerance against Afro-Brazilian religions in 2006, states that cases will be discussed by the group, which will pressure the government and prosecutors in order that security of the locations are guaranteed by the act and those responsible are punished. “These people are criminals and should be punished. Curtailing faith is a crime,” says the pai de santo.
Since November 2008, the Civil Police considers invasions and attacks on religious temples of any creed to be non-bailable crimes against the Lei Caó. Since then, Law 7.716/89 went into effect in state police stations that determines that crimes of religious intolerance be responded to in criminal courts and not in the Special Courts. Currently, the crime isn’t invalidated and the penalty goes from one to three years in prison.
A holy daughter, who was expelled from Lins: “I couldn’t bear pretending to be what I wasn’t anymore.”
“I was initiated in Candomblé in 2005. From my initiation, I started having problems with the traffickers from Complexo do Lins. When I arrived at the favela with my head shaved, on account of initiation, they turned their faces when I passed. Over time, the demonstrations of intolerance increased. When I left the favela dressed in white to go to the terreiro I frequent, they complained. One day one of them came to my house and said I was forbidden to circulate through the slum with those “clothes of the devil.” The threats came to the point of banning that I hung my white clothes on the line. If I disrespected this, I would be expelled from there. At the end of 2010, I’d had enough of it. I couldn’t bear pretending to be what I was not and I left.”
Holy mother of 30 years expelled from Pavuna: “They said that who ruled there was the ‘Exército de Jesus (Jesus’ Army)’.
“I bought in 2009, a piece of land in Parque Colúmbia in Pavuna. On this location, there was nothing. But I wanted to establish a terreiro there and started building. Earlier, it was only get together, I threw búzios (cowry shells) and received people. I didn’t have parties or meetings. I didn’t walk around in the streets dressed in white or playing atabaque drums in order not to draw attention. One day, the president of the neighborhood association went to the location and said that the trafficker had ordered me to stop with the “macumba”. Then, who was in charge at the time was the Acari faction. I had been a holy mother for more than 30 years ago holy and didn’t believe it. I went to the boca de fuma (drug house) to try to argue. I ran into several thugs with rifles, who said that there who commanded was the ‘Exército de Jesus (Jesus’ Army)’. I said that I had just bought the land and that I would not bother anyone. Days later, I arrived at the terreiro and saw a “Vende-se (For Sale)” sign written on the door – they took the land and put it up for sale. I couldn’t do anything. I sold the land as soon as possible for R$2000 (US$853) and I got another place.”
1. “Macumba” was the name used for all Bantu religious practices mainly by Afro-Brazilians in the northeastern state of Bahia in the 19th Century. The term “macumbeira” is a derogatory term used in reference to persons who are thought to practice “macumba”, and the “macumbeira”, is often used as a pejorative word meaning “black witchcraft”, although actual practitioners don’t view the term negatively. In some ways, it is equal to saying someone practices “Voodoo” or “Voudoon”, another misunderstood, negatively viewed religion practiced in Haiti. “Macumbeira” is a common used term to slight Afro-Brazilians whether they are actually practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions or not. See here for other examples.