May 13th and the persecution of religions of African origin – 05/17/2023 – PerifaConnection

“Grandma doesn’t want coconut shells on the yard. So as not to remind her of her captivity”. With this point sung by umbandas and jongo circles, I healed the pretos and pretas-velhas, grannies and grandpaos in reference to the 13th of May. I love souls!

But this date is also officially known as Slavery Abolition Day in Brazil, the last country in the Americas to hold it, in 1888. However, we know (or should know) that this abolition remains a farce.

I remember that, on the centenary of abolition, the black movement organized the “march against false abolition”, taking thousands of black people to the streets in downtown Rio de Janeiro on May 11, 1988. I also remember the samba-enredo da Mangueira taken to the avenue that same year: “has freedom already dawned or was it all an illusion? […] Ask the creator, ask the creator who painted this watercolor. Free from the scourge of the slave quarters, trapped in the misery of the favela”.

In the rhythm of this tour of words, the 13th of May allows us to celebrate our ancestry through the cult of pretos and pretas-velhas, and at the same time denounce that, even 135 years after the end of slavery was decreed, the “terreiro-mundo ” is still full of “coconut shell”. 135 years have passed and the times of captivity insist on manifesting themselves, sometimes hidden, sometimes openly, in today, in the now.

In the low and serene singing of our pretas-velhas, under the chewing of tobacco and the puff of their whistle, pearls of wisdom are said, sung and felt. And this rocking of grandma and grandpa that talks about coconut shell and terreiro, a metaphor for a life of suffering and all kinds of colonial-slave violence, makes me report the violence directed at religions of African origin, our quilombo terreiros of yesterday is today.

Coconut shells still mark our Candomblé, Umbanda, Tambor de Minas, Batuque, Jurema, etc. That is, the multiple forms of violence directed at the terreiros and those who experience these cultural-religious traditions are the expression of the times of captivity in the present. A past made present.

In addition to intolerance

“Children of the Devil”; “Afro-Brazilian cults do not constitute a religion”; “Student is barred from school for using candomblé guides”; “Mother loses custody of daughter after starting her in candomblé”. These are some headlines of cases that materialize the historical scenario of aggression and persecution of the terreiros.

In addition to violence in supermarkets, buses, hospitals, workplaces and cases of depredation and fire in terreiros, the deaths of ialorixás as a result of aggressions for religious reasons give us a tone of the gravity of what I understand as religious racism, and not just as religious intolerance.

This statement is important for several reasons, among which is the need to racialize the debate on religious intolerance in Brazil. Understanding the aggressions against terreiro peoples and communities within the framework of religious racism connects us in a more intense and profound way to the debates raised around the 13th of May. It places us in front of the colonial-slavery world that we inherited and that still today has not stopped producing its tentacles in the various social spheres.

According to a survey on religious racism in Brazil carried out in 2022 by Renafro (Rede Nacional de Religiões Afro-Brasileiras), more than 90% of the 255 terreiro leaders consulted reported that they regularly hear their daughters and sons of saints report that they have suffered some form of violence for religious motivation.

135 years and the mentality of the times of captivity —which demonizes and dehumanizes, persecutes, imprisons and aims to kill black people and cultures— is still present and creating ways to update itself. Abolition for whom?

Just as our ancestors fought, resisted and created ways to stay alive during slavery and post-slavery, we follow this legacy. The terreiro-communities of yesterday and today continue to preserve and transmit to their people all the black African cultural, philosophical, spiritual and political heritage. As targets of violence, we continue to create our own analyses, interpretations and strategies to face religious racism. The terreiros reaffirm their ways of being, existing and feeling, inventing ways to re-enchant this world in complete disenchantment.

May the pretos and pretas-velhas, may the holy souls, may all our ancestors grant us strength, wisdom, guidance, lullaby and plumbing herbs so that effectively there are no more coconut shells on the terreiro, and thus true abolition takes place. concretize!

“Grandma doesn’t want coconut shells on the yard. So as not to remind her of her captivity.”


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