The Secret of Vodou

Frater Vameri



I was reading the book “O Segredo da Macumba” by Marco Aurélio Luz and Georges Lapassade (Editora Paz e Terra, 1972) and I came across the authors stating that Brazilian Macumba is very similar to Haitian Vodou . I was surprised to see that already in 1972, someone pointed out this similarity, since even today, the most common comparison is with Candomblé. Although, the notion of the strong Congolese heritage in Vodou is solidifying and with this one is pointing to Umbanda and Quimbanda as the closest relatives of this religion.


The authors' argument goes through the magic x religion dichotomy. This dichotomy was extensively explored by Hubert and Mauss and also by Lydia Cabrera. The idea is that the practices of Macumba carioca were taken as witchcraft, due to Candomblé's position as a more “African” religion by pioneering researchers like Nina Rodrigues. When a religion is placed as "more", there will be a "less", a distorted one, and, in this case, it was left to Macumba.


In Haiti, of course, the dichotomy was between Catholicism and Vodou. Or to be more exact between the West and Africa. For a long time in its attempts to be legitimized as a recognized and free country, Haiti has denied its African heritage and embraced the West - however, the strength of Vodou has not diminished, however much its detractors insisted on treating it as mere witchcraft. or as a “primitive fetishist animism”.


In Brazil, Umbanda, claim Luz and Lapassade , gave in to the west and sacrificed the black sorcerer in a white electric chair - to paraphrase Renato Ortiz quite freely. In the view of these authors Quimbanda would be the legitimate heir to Quilombo dos Palmares, a bastion of black and African resistance in Vera Cruz lands.


Not that I fully agree with this thesis. Although Umbanda chose the caboclo - the romantic native (the Peri of “O Guarani”, almost) as perhaps one of its maximum symbols and with that run for a neutral Brazilianity - neither African nor Western, it is possible to perceive for example that the division between Umbanda and Quimbanda is much more fragile than is generally admitted.


In Vodou, on the other hand, westernization - some contemporary thinkers claim - would have been left to syncretism. So it is not surprising that today we see very strong movements in Haiti that are advocating - and in fact executing - the removal of all syncretic traits. Most obviously, Lwas's syncretism with Catholic Saints. However, not only that. In addition to this purging movement, to fill certain gaps that some feel are missing, they are going to Africa to seek notions and practices that had not found fertile ground in Haiti. In Brazil, we see something similar happening in Candomblé and also in the increase of interest in the African Ifá .


I do not mean to say what is right and what is wrong. Religions are alive and dynamic and Vodou today is not the Vodou 1791 and will not be the Vodou of 2091. Just try to highlight that religious transformations are too shot for our understanding of how these religions are placed and how they should be placed . If in 1972, Luz and Lapassade stated that Vodou was Macumba's brother, in 2021 we still cannot look at these brothers and understand clearly where they come from and where they are going. And will we ever succeed?

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