Kutch Desert Lab. A Speculative Script
Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay, Charmy Sadhana Jayesh, and Goutam Ghosh
Body-crossroads in the world is me, of Pindoramic1 nationality. At the crossing with Lúcia Maria de Oliveira, I am Luiza (Warrior), at the crossing with Elvira de Oliveira, I am da Iola (violet blossom). On the route of Goiás, I was born in the country of Cataguases.2 I am a seed of King Ambrósio, remaining daughter of the Quilombo Campo Grande. On these Bantu Minas, I am the continuum of the dreams of my grandmothers, great-grandmothers, great-great-grandmothers and their memories. I am the outcome of blessings from many ancient Black women who knitted my feet,3 who healed me from aguamento4 and espinhela caída.5 I am this meeting point, dispersing point, and crossing from Tupanuara to Curral del Rei6 and vice versa. I am this questioning of who I really am or think I am, where I come from, where I am going to. To what I came. I am this unfinished version, retouched daily, on the forge of good character. On it I firm my foundation, commandment, and sacrament. I am a 41-moons spirit in this body-present-matter, dancing with everything and everyone around the Mystery. (Luiza da Iola)
Alice Zanon in conversation with Luiza Da Iola — Mrz 17, 2021
Reinado of Our Lady of the Rosary – although it could be translated as Kingdom of Our Lady of the Rosary, since the words have direct equivalents in English, I have opted not to translate the term Reinado in the text since it is a proper name of an African-Brazilian tradition, which will be one subject of the following conversation.
Pedir licença – Pedir is the verb »to ask« in its infinitive form, licença is a noun that can be translated as »license.« I tried to translate this expression into English as »excuse me« or »pardon,« but none of them fits the actual meaning. Even in Portuguese the expression is delicate, because it is a translation of the Yoruba word àgò, expressing a request for passage, asking for space to pass someone or something. Pedir licença to one’s elders and young ones denotes respect.
Benzedeira (n.) – »medicine woman,« »healer,« »priestess.« Benzer, the verb which originates the noun, cannot be simply translated into »bless.« We have a different word that is closer to »bless,« it’s abençoar. Benzer, however, seems to be a more concrete way of blessing. It involves praying and practices that can be related to natural medicine or rituals of healing.
For those who read this text in English, it might seem that we are talking about Brazil, but we aren’t. Brasil has had at least ten names since its colonization. Pindorama is said to have been the name of the land before the arrival of the Portuguese, and it was given by Tupi-Guarani peoples. After Brasil became independent (while the emperor was the son of the Portuguese king), the country received the name of Império do Brazil. Now it’s República Federativa do Brasil. And that’s where we are. Translation is an imperfect door.
Foreigner comes from fores, door of the house, and foras, outside. We have this word in Portuguese as well, fora, meaning the same as it does in Latin, outside. To understand a tradition that exists in Brasil it’s necessary to find some sort of door from Brazil to Brasil. Then, perhaps, one might find a door to Pindorama.
To open the door and understand what is being said behind it, there are three keys. The first one is the crowning, the second is the myth, and the third is the time: Luiza da Iola was crowned the Perpetual Queen of the Reinado de Nossa Senhora do Rosário in 2018.
Job’s tears, called Lágrimas de Nossa Senhora (Tears of Our Lady) in Minas Gerais © Mayara Laila, 2019
Luiza and the celebration of Reinado in Carmópolis de Minas. © Mayara Laila, 2019
Reinado is a tradition of the establishment of an empire. According to writer and academic Leda Maria Martins, its conception includes varied elements, liturgical and ceremonial acts and narratives that reinterpret the crossings of the Black people from Africa to the Americas.8 She also writes about the role of the tradition of crowning a Black Queen and King in »gathering Black people from different nations and ethnicities that in their singing, gestures, dances and speeches inscribed Africa in Brazilian soil.« Citing Stuckey Sterling’s analysis of the crowning of black Kings during the Pinksters festival in the United States in the eighteenth century, the author draws some relations between the processes in Brasil and Cuba. The procession, the music, the drums, the dances, the unity, the recreation of memory by establishing an Empire in the Americas are all points in common between these traditions of the diaspora.
»She would tell a legend from the time of the slaves that really happened.«9 (D. Alzira Germana Martins10)
Although the worship of Our Lady of the Rosary started in Europe,11 there are differences between the African-Brazilian and the European views of the saint. The Virgin from the stories that founded the Reinado, unlike the European one, comes close to the men and women who rescued her from the water. She is brought to shore and sits on their drums. She chooses to make her kingdom on Earth amongst them.
When the people who were transplanted from Africa arrived in Brasil, they received Christian names like José and Maria. The slave trade started around 1539.
There are records of crowning kings of Congo in Brazil in different regions since 1674. In the nineteenth century, the tradition was banned by the Catholic church, even though before that the crowning used to be encouraged by the »owners« of the enslaved people and the church itself as a means of maintaining the catholic order.
The tradition has never ceased to exist.
In 1888, slavery was abolished through a bill (one that contained only two articles) signed by the daughter of the emperor.
This is not a story of the past. As an oral narrative, the tradition of the Reinado is rewritten, resung, redanced, added to. The dates will flow and circle. The events are happening in all times.
Alice Zanon: Luiza, you were recently crowned the Perpetual Queen of Our Lady of the Rosary. Beatriz Nascimento says that the structure of King and Queen in the Reinado is a recreation of African societies within the possible conditions found in this adverse environment, Brasil.12 What is the role of the tradition of the Reinado and its symbolic systems in establishing transatlantic and beyond-time connections?
Luiza da Iola: The legacy I assumed from my mom after fourteen years of her passage from this plane made me understand that this Ancestral crown, before being above my head, had been on the head of all the others who preceded me, and I hope by the graces of N’zambi that will be on the heads of those who succeed me. We know that the people transplanted from Africa were not only blacksmiths, masters of agriculture, and spiritual leaders, but also they belonged to nations and empires. Through their strategies of resistance, they recreated by manifestations their civilizations and their kingdoms on Brazilian territory, proving that who they were hadn’t been forgotten, even with the circles around the tree of forgetfulness. I believe that the biggest role of the Reinado has been to preserve our real identity and place of belonging even in the condition of exile. The Reinado is therefore a recreation of the Bantu civilization in Carmópolis de Minas.
Luiza and the celebration of Reinado in Carmópolis de Minas. © Mariana Botelho, 2019
For Gomes e Pereira, »to go through paths trailed by ancestors is to relive the strength of communication with the invisible world, it is to participate in the mysteries of those who have already gone.«13 Could you tell me more about your ancestors’ paths in Carmópolis de Minas?
I grew up listening to my mother Iôla revere her elders anytime she spoke about herself. She would say, »I am Maria Francisca’s daughter, Norberta’s granddaughter, and Maria Cirilo’s great-granddaughter.« I didn’t get to meet any of them, but in time, especially this time where I am at, I started listening to people from Candomblé who, before saying something, pedem licença14 »with the blessings of my elders, with the blessings of my younger ones.« And I immediately associated that to what my mother was naturally doing when she said the names of our ancestors. It was through this feeling that I understood that these women represented great strength and power in the Carmopolitan society. My great-grandmother Maria Cirilo was a benzedeira,15 a healer, and exerted a strong influence in the community. She was a midwife, and many heads have been received in this world from her hands and her daughter’s hands, her granddaughter’s and great-granddaughter’s, until this day. From this clan of ladies of the heads comes the immaterial patrimony and spiritual heritage that I have the responsibility to safeguard.
The reinadeiros honor Our Lady of the Rosary, which is said to have been found, usually by a Black child, in the water. What is the relation between the story of Our Lady of the Rosary and the sea?
There are many versions for this mythical foundation of the image of Our Lady being removed from the sea, with the sacred African drums being played by the ancient Black men who, after numerous attempts that other groups had made to take her out of the water, succeeded in bringing her to shore. On Afrografias da Memória,16 Leda Maria Martins points to three common elements in these narratives: »the description of a situation of repression lived by the enslaved Black people; the symbolic reversion of this situation with the removal of the saint from the water or the rock, captained by the drums, and the institution of a hierarchy and another power, both founded by the mythical framework.« The origin of Our Lady that came from the sea reinforces the maternal archetype and ethnic unconscious related to the Earth-Mother-Africa, first soil of mankind. The chants of banzo,17 a reminder of the Mother Land, always go through the sea, just like the route of the ships that carried the enslaved, but in the opposite direction.
Do you see a connection between Catholicism and the practices of the Reinado?
Although the devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary holds similarity, to the point where many define the Reinado as an African-Catholic manifestation, the manner in which white people and black people have celebrated it since the beginning is very different. This is explicit in the way the reinadeiro people manifest their worship through their corporeality and ritualistic by means of chanting, dancing, prayer and their daily routine which is always a worship to the Great Mother.
Interioranas’ concert, © Mayara Laila, 2019
You are a singer and released an EP with Nívea Sabino called Interioranas last November. Thinking about what Beatriz Nascimento18 said about body and dance being documents, do you see artistic manifestations as a manner of »presentifying« history?
This quote reminds me of her saying that the dance for the Black person is like an act of liberation. Music, dance, and rhythm have always been a way of communicating with Ancestrality, with the extraphysical. I experience this whenever I sing, because in my tradition we pray by singing. And that is also a form of emancipation for me.
In the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, a practice known as the »technique of catechism« was very common in the schools of Brasil. It consisted of the uncritical memorization of dates and names in history classes. What does the choice of May 13, 1888, to sign the Golden Law have to do with the erasure of Ventura Mina19 from official historiography?
I’ve been learning more and more to see time as something cyclical and spiral instead of a linear continuum. The false abolition still celebrated annually on the thirteenth is strategically taught and evaluated in school curriculum. But the same attention is not given to the Black protagonism and resistance in Minas Gerais, for example. Ventura Mina led the Revolt of the Carrancas on the May 13, 1833, the largest revolt led by the enslaved in Minas Gerais, even before the Revolt of the Malês. But these insurgencies didn’t have notoriety, I believe, due to the fallacy of the submission of the enslaved people to slavery. The truth is that the protagonists of the abolitionist movement had the color Black, as people still try to omit.
As Antônio Bispo wrote, »even if they burn the writing, they won’t burn orality. Even if they burn the symbols, they won’t burn the meanings. Even burning our people, they won’t burn ancestrality.«20 To you, what is the importance of the words in Bantu when it comes to preserving history?
For many traditions, words are a lot more than symbols. They carry strength, energy, a vibration. I started feeling them a while back. In my town there is a place called Cacimba. This word caught my attention and I started to think about the presence and influence of the Indigenous and African peoples in Carmópolis. Researching its etymology, I found that the word Kixima comes from Kimbundu, from the Bantu language family, and one of its meanings is »the well.« There, in the olden days, people washed their clothes and filled up buckets of water for the houses’ reservoirs. The cacimba/kiximba is a sign that these people from Congo or Angola were here. They are also arrows of these passages in the villages through the names Congo, Catucá, Mumbaça.
»Let the erê grow up to be a doctor and sign a new law / Let the erê know that his great-grandfather wasn’t a slave, but a true king.«21 These are the verses of the song-manifesto Let the erê live.22 Gathering 22 artists from Minas Gerais, the song was recorded in 2016 by the movement #NOSTEMOSUMSONHO.23 What was the context of this action?
I proposed this action from the repercussions of the Costa Barros24 slaughter in 2015: 111 shots were fired at five Black teenagers; 83 of them hit the bodies of these boys who had gone out to celebrate one of them getting his first job. That week I found out that two other teenagers had been executed here, near Belo Horizonte. It was with this feeling of powerlessness and outrage that I thought I would use the weapon that I had, my voice, my chant, and I summoned as many voices as I could to amplify this message in sensibilization, conscientization, and confrontation against this sad reality: every 23 minutes a young Black man is murdered due to racism. Racism that operates in the same way here and beyond here. I imagine that being Black in Germany must be as hard as being Black in Brasil, since historical violence continues to be normalized. And because it is normalized, it doesn’t cause any social commotion. Maybe through feeling and commotion we shall move forward in the combat against racism in its deepest root: structural and institutional racism. Art is our way to fight and educate.
Alice Zanon writes, teaches, creates lesson plans, and draws. It is said that predicates of action (»person does«) existed in oral languages before predicates of essence (»person is«), which were created by literate culture. She graduated in visual arts from UFMG in Brazil, she has been researching writing through its visuality and the word in space (its morphemes, lookalikes, translanguaging). She is currently studying education under an ecological perspective, oral and literate cultures, and sentence structures in Latin and Japanese.
Luiza da Iola, Afromineira, countrysider, natural from Carmópolis de Minas, Perpetual Queen of Our Lady of the Rosary, guardian of ancestral memory, normalist, singer and songwriter, artivist, art educator, researcher, history teller, producer, and cultural mobilizer. Idealizer of the artistic and sociocultural movement #NOSTEMOSUMSONHO that in 2016 released the song-manifesto #deixaoereviver, in sensibilization and conscientization of the extermination of Black youth. Through her art, she wishes to promote the culture of affection and the rescue of individual and collective ancestral memories.
Pindorama is believed to have been a mythical place for the Tupi-Guarani peoples, a land free of evil on the shore of Brasil. Pindo means palm trees, while rama could mean spectacle or place.
The Cataguases were an indigenous tribe known to be extremely brave and who prevailed in the territory of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. »Country of Cataguás« is how Minas Gerais was once called, which could be translated into General Mines. The name relates to the gold and ore mines that were found and have been explored since the colonizers’ arrival.
The expression coser os pés is a prayer that is used to heal a part of someone’s body. A ball of wool is put on top of the wound and, with a needle, the wool is knitted on the ball while the prayer is spoken.
The word aguamento comes from water, probably mouth-watering. There are many different ways to cure a child (under seven years old) from aguamento, which is when someone craves something to eat, but the person eating will not share food with the one who desires it (it can happen with any food). This generates a feeling of depression and lack of appetite.
The expression could be translated into »fallen spine.« When a child was held badly or someone threw the baby while playing with them, the baby could dislocate the middle bone in the thorax, which caused them to have uneven limbs. It was common for Mineiros to take their babies to see healers when they started crying for no reason, to check if they had espinhela caída. Going to a doctor was expensive, so benzedeiras also worked to cure the physical body.
Curral del Rei is the original name of Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais. Curral is the place where you trap cattle, and del Rei is translated as »of the King.«
Here the verb pedir is conjugated in the first person singular of the present indicative. See Lexicon.
Afrografias da Memória – o Reinado do Rosário no Jatobá was written in 1995 by Leda Maria Martins. The title could be roughly translated into »Afrographies of Memory – the Reinado of Rosary in Jatobá.«
D. Alzira was the Queen of Our Lady of Mercy from the Sisterhood of Our Lady of the Rosary of Jatobá. This sentence was collected by Leda Maria Martins (1995:53) during two interviews with the Queen in 1992 and 1996.
According to Leda Maria Martins (1997), the cult of Our Lady of the Rosary was diffused throughout Europe and Africa by the Dominican order. Christian use of rosary of Mary dates to 1090, and the devotion to it has always been connected to the victory on the battles the Christians fought against heretics, such as their victory over the Turks near Lepanto (now Nafpaktos, Greece).
Orí is a documentary released in 1989, written by Beatriz Nascimento and directed by Raquel Gerber.
Gomes e Pereira: Negras Raízes Mineiras: Os Arturos. Belo Horizonte 2000. This title could be roughly translated to »Black Roots of Minas: The Arturos.«
Leda Maria Martins: Afrografias da Memória – o Reinado do Rosário no Jatobá. Belo Horizonte 1995.
According to Nei Lopes, in the Novo Dicionário Banto no Brasil (New Dictionary of Bantu in Brasil), the word mbanzo has its origin in Kimbundu and it means longing, passion, hurt. In Kikongo, mbanzu means thought, remembrance. The author says that banzo is a mortal nostalgia that attacked enslaved African Black people in Brasil.
See note 12.
Ventura Mina was the leader of an uprising known as Revolta das Carrancas (Revolt of Carrancas; Carranca is the name of a wooden sculpture of a frowned face that protects boats and houses from evil spirits), an uprising that took place in Minas Gerais, in the farms of Campo Alegre (Joyful field) and Boa Cruz (Good Cross). The farm of Campo Alegre belonged to the general congressman of the province of Minas, Gabriel Junqueira. Together with Julião and Domingos, Ventura Mina killed the son of Gabriel Junqueira. A small group of enslaved men (or women, we only have the official records of the state) gathered with the three of them, and they set off to Boa Cruz, killing two other families who held enslaved people. This happened on the 13th of May of 1833, 55 years before the signing of the Golden Law. At the end of that day, Ventura Mina and four fellow insurgents were killed. The other 16 men who rebelled were convicted to death penalty, with the exception of one, who was made into their executioner. This was one of the most severe convictions of collective death penalties in the history of Brazil Empire.
In Colonização, quilombos: modos e significados (2015). The title could be roughly translated into »Colonization, quilombos: manners and meanings.«
Erê is a word that comes from Yoruba, and it means »to play.« The erê are child divinities.
The song was written by Sérgio Pererê, featuring Tamara Franklin and Douglas Din.
We have a dream.
Costa Barros is a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro.
© 2023 Akademie Schloss Solitude and the author
Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay, Charmy Sadhana Jayesh, and Goutam Ghosh
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