Miguel Ramos
Florida International University

The presence of Africans in the Americas dates back to the arrival in 1492 of Christopher Columbus and his three ships of discovery. Soon after Bartolomé de las Casas’ sixteenth century defense of the indigenous populations of the Americas and simultaneous condemnation of Africans to slavery, the presence of enslaved Africans in the Americas increased until its eventual abolition in 1888 in Brazil, slavery’s last bastion.[1]

Very little is known about the daily lives of Africans in colonial Spanish and Portuguese America outside of themes associated with their forced captivity. Africans in the literature are most frequently studied in association with slavery and the trade. More recently, there is an upsurge in the number of investigations about African culture and religiosity in the Americas; however, the great majority of these studies deal with practices that are more current; from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and their survival through syncretism and transculturation.[2]

Unlike Native Americans who were only subject to civil and ecclesiastical authorities, Africans were considered an Old World population; as such, they were bound to Christian orthodoxy, and any infraction of that orthodoxy exposed them to possible Inquisitorial proceedings. This was no less influenced by the fact that in most areas of colonial Latin America Africans were often more numerous—or due to white insecurities, perceived as such—than Spaniards.[3] Nevertheless, the encounters between Africans and the Inquisition in the New World are possibly one of the best available tools to study the culture and history of transplanted Africans in the colonial era.

Brazilian historian Laura de Mello e Souza has stressed a similar idea in her remarkable study of colonial Brazilian sorcery and syncretism. Similar to this author’s argument for Brazil, I stress that knowing some of these “remarkable stories” about Africans tried by the Inquisition provides a fuller understanding of what the New World’s “social formation was all about.”[4]

There are other valuable sources, no doubt. Civil proceedings are probably just as copious as the Inquisition records. An excellent example is the extraordinary seventeenth-century proceeding brought against a group of Kongo and creole maroons in Cartagena, Colombia, who were accused of “sacrificing” a white overseer named Domingo Pérez, along with his son Juanillo, and two Indians, Clara and Juan. Their heads were severed, their torsos opened to expose their innards and remove their organs; and their bodies were left in an open field for the vultures to devour, denying them a “proper Christian burial.” The maroons were under the leadership of a woman, Queen Leonor, whom allegedly “drank the blood” of the victims.

Historian Kathryn Joy McKnight has written about this case. She assumed that the queen had probably been ordained into some form of Kongo religiosity. She wrote that the maroons residing in the palenque

“restored Kongo-Angola practices in the New World, creating through ritual violence a trans-Atlantic identity that resisted the supremacy of the master-colonizer and staged a display of power, effective in coercing unity of action among a tensely diverse African—and American-born palenque community.”[5]

Apparently, before the arrival of three Malembas—an ethnic group from the area generally referred to as the Kongo—the maroons lived in harmony with the local community. Soon after, though, the Malemba’s magic went to work. They

“put some devil in Leonor’s head, because from then on she began to command. And all obeyed her, even the captain and commander, because something happened to her in the head that made her walk as if crazy, falling down and hitting herself before she spoke. And when she came back to her senses, she made a thousand wild statements and in effect everyone feared her and obeyed her as queen.”

Undoubtedly, Kongo religiosity was feared. These Malembas allegedly bewitched Queen Leonor and their power intimidated not only the maroons, but also, as McKnight argued, the society at large. As a response to the slaughter, the local authorities hunted down the maroons and tried them. The maroons were hung, their heads severed and displayed in a cage at the entrance to the city, and their bodies quartered and left near the entrance of the maroons’ palenque so as to intimidate them with white “magic,” so to speak. The author referred to this as “a gruesome symmetry of violence.”[6]

Still, McKnight was not able to demonstrate convincingly that the Malembes were indeed practitioners of some form of Kongo religiosity. Based solely on the testimony in the civil proceedings, verifying that the Malembes and Queen Leonor were indeed ordained, and to which religious tradition, is almost impossible. Clearly, the colonial authorities were interested in setting an example, and not in investigating her possible religious practices. As such, this particular account can only reveal something about the brutality of the slave system against which Africans often rebelled, and the extremes that Africans were willing to go to in order to attain or maintain their freedom. Additionally, it tells us something about the nature of the Kongo slaves, reputed in some areas of the New World for having a very rebellious nature.[7] Finally, as McKnight pointed out, it highlights the intimidating exhibitions of power that the dominant class had to employ to coerce Africans—and Indians as well—to acquiesce and submit to their authority and control.

Heather Rachelle White wrote about a similar Inquisitional case in which a group of African women, also from Colombia, allegedly made a pact with the Devil. In one of their ceremonies, one witness claimed that the Devil instructed them to go in groups of

“twenty and twenty, divided in troupes according to different plantations, where [the devil] ordered them to do all the harm they could. And this [witness] and the rest of them killed little children, sucking the blood through the naval[;] and when they were adults, [the sucked the blood] through the nostrils.”[8]

Though the insurrection was almost certainly not incited by the Devil but by the devilish ways of slavery’s oppression and abuses, it is interesting to note here how many of the images that arose in these cases reflected ideas of savagery and barbarism: the senseless slaughter of whites, cannibalism, and drinking blood; themes that are so often associated with Africans and their religiosity. The renowned Cuban ethnographer Fernando Ortiz began his career with a study of Afro-Cuban criminality and its relationship with African religions, primarily the Kongos, and human sacrifice.[9]

In spite of this coercive machinery, African religiosity was often stronger than the masters’ oppression, as is evident in many Inquisition proceedings. Though Africans were forcibly baptized and made to convert to Christianity—at least as far as their Christian traders were concerned—most continued to believe in, and secretly practice their native religions. This is most evident when considering the great variety of African religions that survived slavery in Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad, Cuba, and Brazil, to name a few. It is undeniable that the only thing that the naked and enchained captive brought from Africa was culture. Religion was in all probability the most resilient element of that culture, for despite the oppression, pain, and destitution that they encountered in the Americas, Africans seldom gave up their traditional religions. In fact, they may have utilized these to transform, and subsequently adapt, the imposed religion of their captors.

A preliminary revision of Inquisition trials from Mexico, Perú and Brazil lend credence to this notion. Unfortunately, it appears that the considerable number of denunciations of Africans that were subsequently tried by the Inquisition has not received sufficient attention in the literature. In his pioneering study of Africans and Afro-Creoles in Colonial Mexico, Herman L. Bennett stressed that at least “50 percent of over 1,533 volumes of surviving inquisition tomes involve persons of African descent as the accused.”[10]

According to Peruvian scholar Teodoro Hampe-Martínez, most of the cases associated with witchcraft, palmistry and superstitious practices that were brought before the Inquisitor in Lima after 1600 were against people of color. During the course of over two centuries (1570-1820), witchcraft accusations in Perú made up a mere 12 percent of all the cases tried in Lima. Perú’s inquisitors tended to be relatively lenient with these cases, as they did not find them threatening nor worth the trouble of prosecuting or imposing harsh sentences.[11] The same seems to hold true for Mexico—and other areas.

Interestingly, many of the Mexican cases—as is probably the case in Perú as well—were associated with Kongolese people, generally reputed throughout the Americas for their religio-magico prowess.[12] Sources disagree as to the types of cases that dominated the Inquisition’s endeavors. Ruth Behar wrote that most of the proceedings in the eighteenth century were associated with healing or magical rites linked with love magic and sexual bewitchment.[13] This would be in line with the prevailing ideologies that link Kongolese people with powerful magico-religious practices and vast knowledge of traditional herblore stressed by other studies.[14] Behar also discussed the outcome of the encounter between Spaniards, Africans and the indigenous Mexican communities and their interchanges of magical expertise.[15] Laura de Mello e Souza has argued similarly for Brazil.[16]

Regardless of the Spaniard’s claim to religious purity, Iberian magic permeated the society, and no doubt influenced the African religions that survived slavery in the Americas.[17] A series of publications on magic and satanic pacts abounded in Spain since medieval times. Banned by the Inquisition, the most renowned of these books was probably El Libro de San Cipriano.[18]

McKnight, Javier Villa-Flores, and other scholars stray from Behar’s position. Villa-Flores proposed that throughout the colonial period, blasphemy constituted the most common crime for which Afro-Mexicans faced the Inquisition, with slaves representing the overwhelming majority of the accused.[19] Slaves, wrote Villa-Flores, became familiar with the Inquisition’s processes and learned to use them in their favor. A slave whose master was excessively abusive blasphemed God, the virgin, and the saints; hoping to be taken before the Inquisitor where he or she could plead for the court’s mercy and request to be sold to someone else.[20] McKnight stated that the trials for blasphemy became “stages on which Afro-Mexican slaves struggled to protect themselves from further punishment, criticize the oppression they suffered, and define themselves in opposition to the world of their oppressors.[21] But the courts were not always merciful, as often the Tribunal found itself in the midst of a legal bind. Villa-Flores wrote:

“The obvious difficulty of meeting Spanish standards of civil security, and of fulfilling economic needs at the same time, produced harsh legal measures meant to control the increasing black population and forestall slave revolts. This only made slavery more unpalatable, at times leading to new rebellions, which, in turn, confirmed the need for vigorous suppression. In this circular process of fear and repression, colonial authorities tended to tolerate the brutality of the masters. Indeed, the lash, the stock, the pillory, the use of gags and leg irons, and the practices of branding, burning, and even mutilating slaves evidenced the de facto power held by the slaveholders in New Spain.”[22]

Many of the sentences administered by the Inquisitor in Mexico were considered excessively harsh by the Supreme Holy Tribunal in Spain. Villa-Flores argued that blasphemy was a mechanism used by the slave who suffered under an abusive master to call the attention of the Inquisition to his or her plight. As such, the Spanish tribunal often agreed that slave owners were too harsh and “showing greater tolerance than its counterpart in New Spain, the Suprema instructed the Mexican Inquisitors to warn masters who exhibited cruelty against their slaves not to give them [the slaves] occasion to blaspheme against God our Lord, but to treat them well.”[23]

There is no doubt that Africans quickly assimilated the religious ideology of their masters. Clearly, they had no other choice, especially if survival was their priority, though some would eventually question this ideology and rebel against it. The case of María Blanca, a Kongolese slave residing in Mexico, illustrates this.[24] Given the Inquisition’s focus on extirpating “idolatry,” “heresy,” and “Devil-worship,” among other superstitions, the probability is that their trial records will contain innumerable descriptions of practices that deviated from the Catholic religion, which to the Inquisitor were clear examples of sacrilege. In addition, the lives, ideologies, and experiences of Africans—the people without a history—no doubt, come to the fore through these Inquisitional accounts. If there is one thing that is explicitly clear in the above examples, it is the revelatory richness of Inquisition sources.

The Peruvian and Mexican examples clearly highlight the coexistence of African religious ideologies alongside European Catholicism, and often native beliefs. The very open, all-inclusive nature of African religiosity—and indigenous religions as well—no doubt facilitated the acculturative processes to these new societies. Unlike the exclusivistic European religion, African religions were able to co-exist because of the many commonalities they found between the two beliefs. The role of popular Iberian Catholicism no doubt played a considerable role in this transculturative process.[25]

One interesting case from Brazil unmistakably illuminates the unrelenting nature of African culture and religion in spite of the obstacles presented by the dominant society and the looming threat of the Inquisition’s pyres. This is explicitly clear in the eighteenth-century Inquisition trial of Luzia Pinta, a freed woman, native of Angola. Luzia was accused of various misdeeds, but chiefly of being a calanduzeira—sorceress—that healed and divined under the Devil’s influence.[26] Indisputably, Luzia Pinta was not witch: she was an nganga—a Kongo religious specialist or priestess who as part of her ritual functions serves as “a medium to the Other world.”[27] Nevertheless, in Brazil, as is true throughout the Americas, African religiosity was equated with pagan superstition, witchcraft and Devil worship.

Despite what appears to be strong Kongo components, the origin of the term calundu is unclear. Since at least the eighteenth century, it was used to denote African practices. Calunduzeiras were very common in Brazil, and this was a known fact to many people, including members of the clergy. Friar Luís de Nazaré, a Carmelite from Bahía, was tried by the Inquisition in the 1740s, accused of having occultist Satanic practices and performing magical cures. The friar was a celebrated exorcist, and his skills were in great demand. When Luís came across a case that he could not resolve with a Catholic exorcism, Luís recommended that his clients visit a calunduzeiro. After exorcising Tomásia, a black slave, on various occasions, the friar determined that he could not eliminate her problem because “exorcism does not remove that kind of spells, for they are a diabolical thing.” There were many more Europeans like Luís and Africans like Luzia whose common and popular practices were unconventional and thereby heretical by the Inquisiton’s standards, and they too were brought before the Holy Tribunal.[28]

Luzia Pinta was accused by two men, both of whom had apparently sought Luzia’s “gifts.” Though it is not clear why, Gonçalo Luis da Rocha, from Río de Janeiro, was the first to denounce her. His statement alleged that some gold coins had been missing from the home of Antonio Pereira de Freitas, resident in the hamlet of Santa Luzia, parish of Rossa Grande in the district of Sabara. Pereira de Freitas went to Luzia’s house in the company of Domingos Pinto, who lived in the former’s house. They sought an answer to the whereabouts of the missing gold.

When they arrived, Luzia was “dressed in various clothes not used in this land and came out dancing to the sound of drums or little drums which some African blacks were playing.” De Freitas offered her eight gold coins if she would help him find the thieves. Apparently, Luzia went into a trance, and in the midst of this mystical state, she revealed that the coins had been taken by two slave women, one of whom de Freitas had slept with, who felt entitled to the coins that she took from him as compensation for her sexual favors. The scribe summarized that “it is public throughout the district that this negress divines when something is missing and she believes completely in the divinations and cures which she makes.”[29]

The second denunciation came from Andre Moreira de Carvalho who also identified Luzia as a “public sorceress” or feiticeira. It seems that Luis Coelho Ferreira, suffering from hypropsy [sic], visited Luzia for help with his condition, and in the process, de Carvalho declared that “they made several diabolical operations invoking the Devil through some dances which they popularly refer to as calunduz which were repeated frequently.”[30] On 10 February 1741, an investigation was ordered. Luzia had come under the scrutiny of the Inquisition. At least eight other witnesses were found. All of them stated that Luzia was a calanduzeira, that when the atabaques—drums—played, she was influenced by “the winds of divination . . . that on that occasion she became horrible looking and furious.”

On 18 March 1743, Luzia was brought to testify before the Holy Tribunal in Lisbon. Even though the Holy Office was established in Portugal in 1536, the Tribunal did not have a branch in Brazil. People arrested by the Inquisition in Brazil had to be taken to Portugal for their proceedings. Luzia stated that she administered a type of gruel made with flour in which she mixed autuca roots (unidentified) and holy bread. She claimed that she prescribed this concoction, which acted as a purge and induced vomiting. She insisted that after her clients vomited, they felt relief from their ailments.

On 28 April, she was asked if she worshiped the Devil, something that she vehemently denied, emphasizing that she had never “abandoned God.” She also denied that she had any mystical or prophetic abilities: the gruel was her secret. After the patient finished vomiting, she would provide them with some pieces of “holy wood” that she would tie on their arms to protect them from evil spells. Luzia claimed that she had learned these “remedies” from a deceased black man who had successfully used this remedy in his home land.

Luzia was brought before Lord Inquisitor Manoel Varejão e Tavora on the 7th of June of that same year, before whom she was administered “the oath of the Holy Evangelicals,” whereby she swore to speak the truth. The Inquisitor insisted that she confess “the truth of her intentions,” so that she would save her soul, but Luzia stood firmly by her earlier declaration. The Inquisitor asked a series of questions about her practice; about her erection of a canopy to act as an altar; about the use of specific clothing and paraphernalia. Luzia’s testimony was unyielding, though she began to offer a series of new details that throw further light on her African rituals.

No longer was Luzia denying that she possessed some sort of oracular gift. Possibly trying to gain clemency, she now claimed that the calanduz “illness” would afflict her when she came in close proximity of anyone who had mandinga—a term that was apparently synonymous with evil or black magic—or “anything devilish.” Apparently, Luzia was referring to anyone affected by evil magic. At that moment, wrote the scribe,

“the illness above described as calanduz comes over her through which she gets out of her mind and she immediately divines that the said African has the said mandinga and for this reason the said can not pass by her unless she acts to remove it; which she does and she divines with power that comes from God and it is so certain what she divines that asking the same Africans if it was true that they had the said mandingas they would confess that it was as she said.”[31]

Clearly, Luzia was claiming that her authority and “gift” were derived from God, and most definitely no the Devil, as by using her abilities, she was evidently working against the latter. What is also interesting, though, is what appears as an attempt by Luzia to infer that she was ill, with a chronic malady that she brought from her homeland—the illness above described as calanduz.” The scribe recorded that Luzia was afflicted by

“a sickness of her land which they call calanduz with which she became as if out of herself and she entered saying the Cures which should be applied and the means of applying them which are the same which she declared in her confession: all of which she does through Destiny that gave to her and for that reason she say and asserted on the said occasions that the winds of divination come to her; and God Our Lord tells her what to do. . .”

In fact, in Africa, as a young girl, barely twelve years old, Luzia had had some sort of near-death experience, provoked by a fall. In her revelation, she claimed that she had seen

“an ancient man with long beard seated in a chair surrounded by various children with lit candles and upon seeing them she (the declarer) prayed at the foot of the said man who accepted the blessing. . .”

For Luzia this man was, in all probability, God. Manoel João, a priest resident in the City of Angola to whom she had told her story had told her that the old man was “God Our Lord.” God, and not the Devil, she stressed, was the source of her gift. Luzia believed it and possibly attempted to use this experience with “God” to gain the Tribunal’s leniency. The man in her vision spared her, sending her back home, and soon after, she regained her consciousness and awoke.[32] No doubt, she wanted the Tribunal to spare her as well.

Luzia’s trial continued. She was brought before the Inquisitor on various occasions and always, her testimony was the same. Subsequently, on 13 August, Luzia was sentenced to a public auto de fe and four years of exile in Castro Marim, Portugal. She was also ordered never to return to Sabara. Though Luzia apparently complied with the Inquisition’s sentence, it is highly doubtful that she abandoned her African religious traditions. Surely, the most that the Inquisition probably accomplished was forcing Luzia to take her practice underground and away from the public eye.

What makes Luzia’s case so unique are the details contained within the trial proceedings that clearly identify elements of African religion that are still practiced today in Brazil and other areas of the Americas. De Mello e Souza stressed that one description of Luzia’s ritual bears a striking resemblance to aspects of modern Candomblé, the Yoruba-derived Afro-Brazilian religion.[33] These proceedings are valuable in this respect as they tend to emphasize the “continuities and discontinuities” of African rituals and the mechanisms, including magic and witchcraft, used by slaves and free people of color to subvert the impositions of the dominant society.[34] Clearly, based on the testimony Luzia gave, she had been ordained, probably in Brazil, into Angolan-Kongo religiosity.

After arriving to Brazil, Luzia seems to have had another bout with the loss of consciousness that she had experienced in Angola. She stated in her testimony that when she came to Brazil, while hearing mass in the town of Sabara, she was quickly overcome by the said illness. It is possible that this affliction was epilepsy, which is often mistaken for the contortions associated with the initial stages of spirit possession, though this cannot be confirmed.[35] Apparently, she had others, as Luzia stated that nothing could remedy her condition. As such, an “unconventional” alternative was in order. Either she or her owners sought help, as Luzia’s condition was eventually identified by an African slave named Miguel. The African said that Luzia was suffering from calanduz and that “the only cure and remedy involved ordering instruments and doing what she has said in her confession [i.e. help others through her gift] since that was the means and method that customarily was used to cure the said illness . . .”

What Luzia does not tell the Inquisition is that this “ordering instruments” in all probability referred to an ordination ceremony. In most African religions in the Americas, the paraphernalia used by the priests and priestesses for rituals are usually called instruments or tools. Many of these must be purchased in advance of the ordination, often requiring ritual or aesthetic preparations beforehand.[36] In possession, Luzia apparently brandished an alfango—scimitar—or a cutlass, probably an ngola associated with her tutelary deity or spirit. Joseph Miller has referred to the importance of ngolas—symbolic iron objects—among the Mbundu people of the area today known as Angola:

“When an Mbundu lineage received an ngola, it appointed a guardian for it in the belief that it, like their other symbols of authority, gave him access to special spiritual forces useful for regulating the affairs of men. . . . It mediated between the living and dead members of the descent group.”[37]

In addition to the paraphernalia, ordination into most African religions requires the use of specific garments for ritual purposes.[38] When possessed by a spirit or deity, the person will be dressed in specific attire symbolic of that entity. In addition, he or she will be provided with the ritual paraphernalia of the deity, which the possessed person will carry. Various witnesses insisted that Luzia wore specific attire during her rituals. The first was Gonçalo Luis da Rocha who said that during her divinatory session with Antonio Pereira de Freitas and Domingos Pinto, Luzia came out “dressed in various clothes not used in this land and came out dancing to the sound of drums or little drums which some African blacks were playing” and used “a crown or grinalha [italics mine] of feathers.”[39] Sousa de Carvalho claimed that he saw her cure the wife of João do Valle while she brandished an “alfango in her hand and a large ribbon tied on her head with the ends thrown backward in the style of an angel.”[40] Francisco Morao Rego saw her “dressed in various inventions with ribbons on her legs and arms and with a small ax in her hand.”[41]

Luzia’s practice also involved the erection of an altar. Although, Laura de Mello e Souza has argued for the relatively flexible religious tolerance of colonial Brazil, highly syncretic in nature, Luzia’s practice may indicate one of two possibilities. Either the society was not as tolerant as De Mello e Souza stressed, or, as in the Cuban traditions, the lack of temples or sacred groves or shrines in Brazil led to the creation of the casa-templo—the home-as-temporary-temple, which acted both as residence and a house of worship, determined by need. The altar she erected, under a canopy, was a temporary altar.

In Cuba, the Bantú (Kongos) also erected temporary boumbas that were erected for a ceremony and upon its conclusion, dismounted, made into a bundle which was wrapped in burlap, and hung in a loft or attic.[42] The Cuban Lukumí tronos are temporary altars used for ordinations and celebrations. Once the function ends, the altar is dismantled and the area is devoid of its temporary sacred context.[43] After her rituals concluded, Luzia’s altar was dismantled and her residency returned to its “normalcy.” The testimonies of de Sousa de Carvalho and João do Valle Peixoto confirm the temporary nature of Luzia’s altar.

There is no question that Luzia was possessed. Cases of possession of Kongo women by spirits in Africa and the Americas have been documented in the literature often.[44] Possession is an important aspect of most traditional African religions, highly cherished for its ability to place the divine and the secular in direct contact and thereby find solutions to life’s many tribulations. Generally, when possessed, the horses or mediums speak in the African language of the ethnic group that gave origin to the practice.[45] A Portuguese or white Brazilian would probably not understand and require a translator. One witness described a scene in which Luzia was definitely having an “out of body” experience:

“she became as if out of her mind speaking things that no one understood and the people who were to be cured lay down on the floor [and] she passed over them various times; on these occasions it was said that she had the winds of divination [and] … she said that God told her on these occasions what she was to do. . .”[46]

Still, possession in colonial Brazil was not generally associated with God. Antonio Leite Guimaraes went to see Luzia for help with a condition for which the doctors could find no solution. In his testimony, he twisted the scene that he claimed he saw, possibly to gain favor with the Inquisitor. As de Carvalho had done earlier, he too associated Luzia’s trance with demonic possession. He declared that while he was in her house, he

“heard the playing of instruments which are called Tabaques and at the same time [he heard] singing of things that he did not understand seated on the bed where he was laying he saw her pass by dressed in inventions with a sword in her hand and speaking with her black women she went out wildly as if taken possession by the devil [italics mine].”[47]

There are other telling elements in Luzia’s testimony. The atabaques or drums, indispensable in African religions for they carry the rhythms and beat that invite the spirits or gods to descend to earth and assist their devotees (although possession does not always require the presence of drums). The cleansing with herbs that Luzia claimed she rubbed over her client’s bodies, a ritual commonly referred to as a despojo—to remove negative energy from a person’s body.[48] Magical powders are also very common to African, and especially Kongo religion. Luzia claimed that in addition to the gruel and despojo, she also administered “powders that she had made from the same grasses, which she placed in her mouth and that of the said people that she cured because they had power to cure them of the said complaints of spells which they suffered.”[49] Another African from the Mina Coast enslaved in Brazil, Domingos Álvares, used magical powders in his divinatory rituals.[50] In Mexico, Tata Nicolas, also Kongolese prepared a magical powder for Isabel de Tovar to ensure the return of her lover.[51] In Cuba, both the Kongos and the Lukumís are renowned for their magical powders.[52]

In addition, the inadequacy of medical treatment on many Brazilian and New World plantations often forced slave owners to seek alternative means to attend to their slaves’ health. Many Africans were renowned healers in their native lands and as such, were greatly familiar with the tropical flora and their application for curing specific ails. In nineteenth-century Cuba, the Oyo native Ño Remigio Herrera, Adeshiná, is said to have saved his master’s son from death with an herbal remedy. Adeshiná was a babalawo—a priest of Orúnmilá, orisha (deity) of divination. He is credited with the introduction of the Ifá oracle to Cuba. Adeshiná was enslaved some time in the 1830s and brought to work on a sugar plantation in Matanzas. As fate had it, however, he was a slave for a very short period. In appreciation for having saved the master’s son, Adeshiná was manumitted.[53]

Undoubtedly, African religious rituals accompanied the administration of the remedies, which no doubt was not that much different from the parallel traditions that existed in the Iberian Peninsula. In popular Iberian religiosity, saints were believed to provide protection against numerous diseases. Prayers to these saints typically accompanied the administration of herbal concoctions to cure the sick.[54]

While it is probably true that we will never be able to recuperate a good deal of the history and experiences that were lost in this horrific past, it is encouraging to know that at least the accounts of some African peoples are recoverable. As the case of Luzia Pinta seems to indicate, the information is definitely there. All that is required now is for the “winds of divination” to steer historians in that direction and rescue the many Luzia’s from among the forgotten.


  1. Bartolomé de Las Casas. An Account, Much Abbreviated, of the Destruction of the Indies with Related Texts. Franklin w, Knight, ed. & Andrew Hurley, trans. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2003), xxx.
  2. Fernando Ortiz. Cuban Counterpoint—Tobacco and Sugar. Harriet de Onís, trans. (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 98.
  3. Herman L. Bennett. Africans in Colonial Mexico—Absolutism, Christianity, and Afro-Creole Consciousness, 1570-1640 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003), 54.
  4. Laura De Mello e Souza. The Devil and the Land of the Holy Cross—Witchcraft, Slavery, and Popular Religion in Colonial Brazil. Diane Grosklaus Whitty, trans. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003; 90; 219.
  5. Kathryn Joy McKnight. “Confronted Rituals: Spanish Colonial and Angolan ‘Maroon’ Executions in Cartagena de Indias (1634).” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, Special Edition, Vol. 5, no. 3 (2004): paragraph 36.
  6. Ibid, paragraph 4.
  7. See Fernando Ortiz. Hampa Afrocubana. Los Negros Brujos: Apuntes para un estudio de Etnología Criminal (Miami: Ediciones Universal, 1973).
  8. Heather Rachelle White. “Between the Devil and the Inquisition: African Slaves and the Witchcraft Trials in Cartagena de Indies [sic].” The North Star: A Journal of African American Religious History, Vol. 8, no. 2 (Spring 2005): 1-15; 1.
  9. Ortiz, Hampa Afrocubana. . ..
  10. Bennett, Africans in Colonial Mexico . . . : 53.
  11. Hampe-Martínez, Teodoro. “Recent Works on the Inquisition and Peruvian Colonial Society, 1570-1820.” Latin American Research Review, Vol. 31, no. 2 (1996): 43-65; 45; 53.
  12. See Robert F. Thompson. Flash of the Spirit—African and Afro-American Art & Philosophy (New York: Vintage Books, 1984); Simon Rockie. Death and the Invisible Powers—The World of KongoBelief (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993).
  13. Ruth Behar. “Sex and Sin, Witchcraft and the Devil in Late-Colonial Mexico.” American Ethnologist, Vol. 14, no. 1 (Feb., 1987): 34-54; 34.
  14. E.g. De Mello e Souza, The Devil and the Land of the Holy Cross . . . : 99.
  15. Ibid., 36.
  16. De Mello e Souza, The Devil and the Land of the Holy Cross . . . : 46.
  17. Kathryn Joy McKnight. “Blasphemy as Resistance—An African Slave Woman before the Mexican Inquisition.” Women in the Inquisition—Spain and the New World. Mary E. Giles, ed. (Baltimore: The John Hopskins University Press, 1999): 229-253; 233.
  18. See Bernardo Barreiro. Brujos y Astrólogos de la Inquisición de Galicia y el Famoso Libro de San Cipriano (Madrid: Akal Editors, 1973).
  19. Villa-Flores, Javier. “‘To Lose One’s Soul’: Blasphemy and Slavery in New Spain, 1596-1669.” Hispanic American Historical Review. Vol. 82, no.3 (2002): 435-468; 441; McKnight, Blasphemy as Resistance . . .: 229-253.
  20. Ibid., 450.
  21. Mcknight, Blasphemy as Resistance . . . : 231.
  22. Villa-Flores, To Lose One’s Soul . . . : 439.
  23. Villa-Flores, To Lose One’s Soul . . . : 441; 462.
  24. Mcknight, Blasphemy as Resistance . . . : 242.
  25. See William A. Christian, Jr. Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981).
  26. Inquisition Process: Luzia Pinta, Angolan Freedwoman. 23 December, 1739. Arquivo Nacional Torre do Tombo Inquisição de Lisboa, No. 252. Rio de Janeiro. Website. “The Academic Server: Cleveland State University, Ohio.”
    I have my reserves about not working with the original document. The document I am working from is derived from Cleveland State University’s website. There seem to be some errors in the translation. Also puzzling are the dates of the denunciations. While the transcription does state that the first Letter of Denunciation was supposedly filed by Gonçalo Luis da Rocha on 23 December 1739, it is puzzling why the denunciation by Andre Moreira de Carvalho, dated 7 September 1739, is listed as the Second Letter of Denunciation. Luzia’s case was also discussed by De Mello e Souza, The Devil and the Land of the Holy Cross . . . : 170.
  27. John Thornton. The Kongolese Saint Anthony—Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 53.
  28. De Mello e Souza, The Devil and the Land of the Holy Cross . . . : 109; 167-172.
  29. Inquisition Process: Luzia Pinta . . . : First Letter of Denunciation, Gonçalo Luis da Rocha, 23 December 1739.
  30. Inquisition Process: Luzia Pinta . . . : Second Letter of Denunciation, Andre Moreira de Carvalho, 7 September 1739.
  31. Inquisition Process: Luzia Pinta . . . : 7 June 1743.
  32. Inquisition Process: Luzia Pinta . . . : 3 July 1743.
  33. De Mello e Souza, The Devil and the Land of the Holy Cross . . . : 170-1.
  34. Paul Lovejoy. “Identifying Enslaved Africans in the African Diaspora.” Identity in the Shadow of Slavery (London: Continuum, 2000): 1.
  35. See Lydia Cabrera. El Monte (Miami: Ediciones Universal, 1975), 28.
  36. At The Crossroads—Afro-Cuban Orisha Arts in Miami. Exhibition catalogue. Miami: Historical Museum of Southern Florida, 2001; 20-21.
  37. Joseph C. Miller, Kings and Kinsmen. Early Mbundu States in Angola (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), 63.
  38. At the Crossroads . . . : 14-17.
  39. Inquisition Process: Luzia Pinta . . . : First Letter of Denunciation, Gonçalo Luis da Rocha, 23 December 1739.
  40. Inquisition Process: Luzia Pinta . . . : 3 July 1743.
  41. Inquisition Process: Luzia Pinta . . . : Testimony of Francisco Morao Rego.
  42. Cabrera, El Monte . . . : 125-26.
  43. At the Crossroads . . . :18-19.
  44. See Thornton, The Kongolese Saint Anthony. . .; McKnight, Confronted Rituals . . .
  45. Cabrera, El Monte . . . : 28.
  46. Inquisition Process: Luzia Pinta . . . : Testimony of Souza do Carvalho.
  47. Inquisition Process: Luzia Pinta . . . : Testimony of Antonio Leite Guimaraes.
  48. See Cabrera, El Monte . . .; Robert A. Voeks. Sacred Leaves of Candomblé—African Magic, Medicine, and Religion in Brazil (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997).
  49. Inquisition Process: Luzia Pinta . . . : 7 June 1743.
  50. De Mello e Souza, The Devil and the Land of the Holy Cross . . . : 98.
  51. Behar, Sex and Sin . . . : 37.
  52. Cabrera, El Monte . . . : 55.
  53. See Miguel W. Ramos. “La División de la Habana—Territorial Conflict and Cultural Hegemony in the Followers of Oyo Lukumí Religión, 1850s-1920s.” Cuban Studies 34 (2003), 38-70; Ester Piedra. Interview by author. Matanzas, Cuba. 18 August, 2000. This is one of the various stories that are recounted by his religious descendants to explain how Adeshiná acquired his freedom.
  54. Emilia Viotti da Costa. The Brazilian Empire, Myths & Histories (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 132-33.

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