Divination Ceremony and Dance, Brazil, 1630s


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Image Reference
NW0321

Source
C. Ferrao and J. P. Soares, eds., Dutch Brazil, The "Thierbuch" and "Autobiography" of Zacharias Wagener; D.H. Treece and R. Trewinnard, English translators (Rio de Janeiro, Editora Index, 1997), vol. 2, p. 193, plate 105.

Comments
Men, women, and children dancing; group with various musical instruments, including drums, sitting on tree trunk (left). Of this illustration, Wagener/Wagner writes "When the slaves have carried out their arduous duties for weeks on end, they are allowed to celebrate one Sunday as they please; in large numbers in certain places and with all manner of leaps, drums, and flutes, they dance from morning to night, all in a disorganized way, with men and women, young and old; meanwhile, the others drink a strong spirit made with sugar, which they call 'garapa'; they spend all day like that in a continuous dance . . . " (vol. 2, p. 194). Wagener was a German mercenary for the Dutch West India Company; in 1634, at the age of about 20, he went to northeastern Brazil and stayed there for 7 years. James Sweet identifies this scene as depicting a "calundu," a divination ceremony that involved spirit possession, and notes that "several of the Africans appear to have already been possessed by ancestral spirits. In particular . . . the man with the crest of feathers on his head and the woman at the center of the painting. The feathers indicated possession by a powerful ancestral figure, perhaps a former chief or king. Also . . . the man on the far left, imbibing what may be the ceremonial drink alua from a clay jar" ( Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African Portuguese World, 1441-1770 [University of North Carolina Press, 2003], pp. 144, 150).