chapter  3
17 Pages

“So Much Superstition Among These People!”: Candomblé and the Dilemmas of Afro-Bahian Intellectuals, 1864—1871

On 23 June 1870, a short article appeared in the Bahian newspaper, O Alabama, describing plans for a gathering that Wednesday evening to pay homage to a “great priest of fetishism” known as Chico-Papae. A wellknown leader of a terreiro, a house devoted to the Afro-Bahian religion known as Candomble, Chico-Papae had died five years earlier. The author claimed that Chico-Papae’s followers believed that the priest’s spirit would appear in an open field exactly at midnight. Those present to observe this event would include creole Afro-Brazilians and some “refined folk.” Fur­ thermore, the article pointed out that in recent days strange episodes at other terreiros had been witnessed by numerous “ignorant” inhabitants of the city who had been misled by a “blind faith” in Candomble. Affirming the pres­ ence of “spiritism among whites, [and] spiritism among blacks,” the author lamented the existence of “so much superstition among these people” of Salvador.1 Using descriptions of Candomble from the pages of O Alabama, this

chapter focuses on intellectual responses to Afro-Bahian religious and cul­ tural expression. It also seeks to shed light on the rich social history of Afro-Bahians in the second half of the nineteenth century. Given their often emotional, sensationalistic approach, some of the writings in O Alabama provide more insight into the biases of its journalists than clear analysis of the social practices and conditions of Afro-Bahians. Nevertheless, a careful reading of the essays, poems, editorials, and other articles offers helpful

perspectives on Afro-Bahian cultural expression. Events and rituals, which often occurred at night and in hidden locations around Salvador, come to light on the yellowing pages of O Alabama, whose articles reveal the wide­ spread appeal of Candomble in Bahian society and hint at its growing organization. The critical tone of most articles about Candomble reflects the biases of

the newspaper and its editor and contributors. Well known in Salvador as a journalist, the Afro-Bahian Aristides Ricardo de Santana became editor-inchief of O Alabama soon after the founding of the newspaper in 1863.2 Named after a Confederate warship that had visited Salvador before being sunk off the coast of France, O Alabama declared in its first issue that the newspaper was not “a thief: it is a committed enemy of thieves!” Under the masthead of a steamship, an anonymous writer proclaimed that the sunken ship had begun an overland journey and warned all malefactors to beware.3 In its quest to be a “critical and humorous newspaper,” O Alabama ad­ dressed serious issues facing Bahian society. Several articles in O Alabama condemned harsh treatment of slaves, racial discrimination, and the conser­ vative values prevalent in Bahian society. The newspaper supported an end to slavery by means of the emancipation societies that appeared in Salvador in the late 1860s. O Alabama quickly gained the attention of high-ranking officials. In private correspondence, the president of Bahia described it as one of the “most contemptible” publications in the province, part of a politi­ cal “opposition” determined to “create embarrassment for all members of the government and administration.”4 In addition to upsetting government officials with his advocacy of what

were actually rather moderate reforms, Aristides faced public hostility. In 1872, a medical doctor named Eloi Martins de Sousa and his son Braulio physically attacked Aristides on a Saturday night in retribution for critical comments published in O Alabama. In the court case that followed, Aristides claimed that the young Braulio had called him an “orangutan” and that Dr. Martins denounced him as the “black who has been writing against [the interests of] white men.” Although the judge nullified the case on the grounds of insufficient evidence, this confrontation illustrated the rancor provoked by Aristides as a result of his involvement with O Alabama.5 The court record provides evidence that influential members of the light-skinned elite of Bahia viewed Aristides as an Afro-Bahian whose words and actions had gone beyond certain unspoken racial boundaries. Not surprisingly, Aristides often depicted Candomble in negative terms

in the pages of the newspaper. At a time when Brazil’s small elite and middle class struggled to present a modem visage to international observ­ ers, Candomble exemplified the Africa from which they sought to distance

Figure 3.1 Masthead of O Alabama, 1869

In* VU.