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6 - Bafflement Politics: Possessions, Apparitions and the Really Real of Candomblé’s Miracle Productions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 January 2021

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Summary

I was giving a visiting colleague a tour of Salvador, and the ogã must have seen us coming, climbing the many steps leading to Casa Branca, one of the oldest and most reputed terreiros of Salvador. Undoubtedly, he had assumed that we were just another couple of curious tourists. We started chatting.

‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘There are a lot of tourists that visit here and they always ask a lot of questions. They always want to know about possession. Whether it is for real, and stuff like that.’

My colleague, missing out on what I took to be a veiled instruction not to ask questions about the cult, asked if it had happened that tourists would fall in trance during the ceremonies. He nodded.

‘Sure, it happens that tourists fall in trance. Every once in a while it happens. At one time, we even had visiting nuns falling in trance!’

The ogã seemed quite eager to serve us this little detail. There was pride in his voice, triumph in his laughing eyes when he countered my expression of disbelief.

‘Yeah! Nuns! Freiras!’

The image is, of course, quite commanding. One can almost see it happen: little blond backpacker girls – of the kind that swarm Salvador's historical center by the dozens – being invaded by the African Other they had come to gaze at. Rheumatic and pale nuns’ bodies surrendering to the sensual beating of the drums; their wimples and rosaries flapping around in the whirling movement of the dance. Tourist curiosity and catholic propriety being crushed under the sheer force of the spirits.

The ogã's story is instructive as to how people from Candomblé seek to counter the predicament that, in the public sphere of contemporary Salvador, any image of their cult ‘can mean absolutely anything else’. It is also an apt illustration as to how the allegorical imagination, discussed in the previous chapter, informs cultists how to go about this challenge.

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Ecstatic Encounters
Bahian Candomblé and the Quest for the Really Real
, pp. 183 - 214
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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