Musicalidades religiosas no Maranhão – Brasil

As festas natalinas do Pastor acontecem em quase todo o Maranhão, mas nos Quilombos da Baixada possuem uma musicalidade distinta. Durante o anod e 2006, quando morei no Quilombod e Damásio, Maranhão, tive a oportunidade de participar intensamente dos preparativos desta festividade. Os ensaios dos diálogos, a escolha da Rainha da Primavera, das Pastorinhas, dos Reis Magos, tudo adquire significado mágico nesta época do ano...

João da Mata family: Pajé dreams, chants and social life

Ana Stela de Almeida Cunha – Post Doc in Anthropolgy CRIA/FCT Lisbon, Portugal

In: ESPIRITO SANTO; Diana and BLANES, Ruy – (2013) – The Social Life of the Spirits. Chicago University Press. ISBN-10: 022608177X ISBN-13: 978-0226081779


It was João Guará’s birthday party, there were drums, drinks and conversation. At a given moment, Princess Iracema entered followed shortly after by her three brothers Itaci, Espadinha and Pirinã. Their father, João da Mata, arrived at the terreiro slightly late, for he had come from the forest, and as soon as he arrived he proposed a presentation doctrine:Eu sou o caboclo da Bandeira

João da Mata falado

E no abrir da minha mesa, 

o caçador de São José!

I am the Flag caboclo

João da Mata when spoken

And by opening my table,

Saint Joseph’s hunter!

At that point, the drums viraram (turned) to the linha da mata (forest line) and other families appeared, such as the Tapindaré and Dona Mariana’s family. The assistência (audience) knew that the drum rhythm had changed and that other caboclos would begin to enter. Later, the rhythm would turn again and other families and encantados would appear.

The visit by João da Mata and his family occurred during one of the many festas (parties) and curas (healings) that take place in Pajé barracões. These are the encantados: the entities that appear in Pajé – an African-based religion that is extensively practised on the western border of Maranhão state, northeastern Brazil – who arrive singing, talking to people and providing remedies for those with spiritual or physical problems. This article looks at the encantados’ families and social networks; through the conversations, dreams and chants sung by and for them; it will attempt to present the diverse relations between os de cá and os de lá, as well as the cosmology involved in these exchanges and interactions. The analysis is especially concerned with relations between the encantados’ different lines and their social interaction with here people, which takes place primarily through the Pajé’s words and dreams.

João da Mata’s family will be the primary focus: he is an encantado who ordinarily belongs to the caboclo line (he is the King of Turkey’s son), however, as we shall see, these are malleable ascriptions that oscillate according to the casa (house) and experience of each practitioner/Pajé. Thus, João da Mata is also identified with the freshwater line (as he practises healings) and with his place of residence: as his name suggests he comes from the mata (forest), but he can also come from the sea as he is enchanted in the Pedra do Itacolomy – a rock situated in Maranhão, in the São Marcos Basin, between the state capital of São Luís and the Alcântara municipality.

In Afro-Brazilian religions, caboclos are almost always identified as Amerindians, but in Pajé and Tambor de Minathey have various origins – they can be cattle drovers, sailors or even Turkish royalty (Ferretti, 2001 Prandi, 1998, 121) – and have quite nationalistic characteristics: João da Mata is also known as the Flag caboclo and his main celebration takes place on the 19th of November, the same date as Brazil’s Dia da Bandeira (Flag Day), which commemorates the creation of Brazil’s republican flag. Other general caboclo traits include (Prandi et alii, XXX, 121):

(…) verbal communication and close public contact (…). (…) another marking characteristic is their healing power. The caboclos are believed to be profoundly knowledgeable about forest secrets, which allow them to efficiently suggest the correct leaves for medicinal remedies and baths.

In Pajé, caboclos are ontologically different to the Umbanda caboclos; while the latter are usually related in some way to the indigenous universe, in the former this is not always the case. In some terreiros, for example, João da Mata is seen as an Amerindian, in others however he is simply a gentio (savage), a hunter (who often appears as a black man), as in the following verse:

João da Mata tem a cor morena, ele é caçadorCaçador da JuremaEle jurou, e tornou a jurarA ouvir os conselhos que a Jurema vai lhe dar João da Mata has black skin, he is a hunterJurema’s HunterHe swore, and swore againTo listen to the advice that Jurema provides

Based on ethnographic research, carried out with Pajés/healers and mineiros over more than eight years in the Baixada Ocidental region of Maranhão, this chapter is an attempt to outline the ways in which paths are created between diverse dimensions, by demonstrating the importance of encantado sociability through interactions between there and here worlds. As mentioned above, interaction takes place in two ways: through the Pajés’ dreams (in which they enter the encantaria world) and through language – when the encantados come to Earth riding their horses, in trance rituals, to interact with the here people by singing and giving advice. These are symmetric and complementary, they form part of the same unit of interaction, through which reality can be redefined.

For a better understanding of this interaction, this text analytically considers narrativity or:

(…) the understanding of complex networks of ever-new deeds and changing attitudes by which humans perceive any given action not only as a response to the immediate circumstances or current imputed mental state of an interlocutor or of oneself but also as part of an unfolding story. (Carrithers, 1990: 269 in Vitebsky, 1992: 8)

Through dreams and verbal/sung language, social life constructs itself in a complex mosaic in which relations between Pajés/assistência and encantados become ever closer and complementary.

First, a short introduction about the caboclos and their families.

1.0 – The caboclos’ social life

The encantados are involved in a complex tangle of kinship relations and lines, which form broad social networks as part of their collective existence. The source of distinct encantado lines and their relationship to natural elements lies in the encantados’ characteristics, though it is not possible to say whether these entities possess specific characteristics due to their location in geographic contexts (the forest, freshwater, etc.) or whether these habitats form the encantados’ traits – so that, for example, a freshwater source promptly suggests the ability to cure (as with the mata line) whereas saltwater (the maré line) encantados are almost always considered to be more experienced with spells. Often the line refers to a mythical space: the mata line, for example, is related to Cambinda and Angola, although more to the ethnic groups of that region than to the geographic locations.

In contrast to the Candomblé eguns or the Kardecist spirits, the encantados are not mythical beings or deceased ancestors who communicate through mediums, as Prandi notes (2001: 218):

Encantados are spirits of people that one day lived but did not die, they became “enchanted” and went on to live in the invisible world, from which they return in their initiate’s body, in ritual trance. By manifesting thus, in their children’s or initiates’ heads (their “crown”, as it is commonly called in mina), the encantados come to Earth, descend into the guma [terreiro] to dance and cohabit with mortals, establishing ties of affection and patronage with all those who frequent these spaces.

They inhabit specific places in the local geography, such as streams, waterholes, tucum trees, rocks (such as Itacolomy) and also bays, inlets and ponds. They may also be present in certain animals, such as Dorinha (a princess that is a troirinha, or lizard), the Menino Lera (who becomes a butterfly) or even Guará (found at the beginning of this chapter, who can be a bird, the Guará-Mirim).

The encantados need the Pajés to carry their messages, cure or cast spells; known as aparelho (apparatus), cavalo (horse) or matéria (matter), the Pajés are the link between the two contiguous universes of humanity and encantaria. As claimed by Ferretti (2001: 20), however, this designation (Pajé) can also refer to a notion of “syncretism”, “degeneration” or even “rupture”:

In Maranhão the term “Pajé” (or healer) is used to designate both religious specialists from indigenous cultural traditions and the most syncretic of black cultures, that is, the most distant to the jeje or nagô models, such as those currently found in the peripheries of São Luis or beyond the capital.

The encantados are grouped into families in the invisible world, from which they return through their mediums in festas and curas, but also involuntarily when they appear to their horses.

There are numerous families in the encantaria and the most important belong to nations. As indicated by Ferreti (2001: 123): ‘the King of Turkey’s family is “tapa”, the Surrupira King’s is “fulupa”, Légua Boji Buá’s is “mata” (Angola or Cambinda)’. Other important families are: Lençóis, Gama and Juncal (the latter is of Austrian origin); the Boto family, who primarily practice cures; the Sailor and Mata families, to which many Umbanda caboclos also belong (such as Caboclo Pena Branca, Caboclo Zuri, Cabocla Jussara and Caboclo Guaraciara); and lastly the Bandeira (Flag) family, which is the ethnographic focus of this chapter.

These families are divided into lines: the enchanted forest or mata line and the freshwater and saltwater lines, which are the healing or witchcraft lines, respectively. But families and/or lines are not fixed categories. Dona Mariana, for example, is the King of Turkey’s daughter and she has other sisters from the Mata (Surrupira) line, Chica Baiana and Cabocla Ita, as shown by the following doctrine:

Somos três irmãs, de língua ferina

É a Mariana, é a Cabocla Ita

Inda tem a flor, que é Chica Baiana

We are three sisters, with sharp tongues

Mariana, Cabocla Ita

Inda has the flower, she is Chica Baiana

When she was young, Dona Mariana was adopted by the Codó family, so she is Légua Boji Buá da Trindade’s adoptive daughter and sister to many other encantados, such as Bernardino, Maria Teresa and others. There is one doctrine that shows Dona Mariana no longer as a cabocla but as a princess (and thus from the noble line):

Chegou a mamãe do povo

Por este povo sem fim

Princesa, Princesa do Mearim!

The people’s mother has arrived

For this never-ending people

Princess, Princess of Mearim!

The entities’ categorisation as Turkish, caboclas, nobles, etc. is therefore very malleable: each Pajé’s personal experience, the terreiro’s story, the situation in which the encantado appears, are all elements that lead to a broad variety of possible configurations. As Ferretti writes (1992:8):

Entities classified as peers in one terreiro can be seen by others as voduns Cambinda, Caxeu, Felupe, “Taipa” etc., such as Pedro Angaço, well-known in Codó (Maranhão) and in São Luis, in caboclo terreiros. Others can be classified as voduns by some and as caboclo by others. (…) For many adepts of Tambor de Mina (Légua) he is a caboclo, because he likes to drink and to party, something which does not suit vodum. It can be said that Légua, like Seu Turquia, tends to come as a caboclo (despite not being one) in a conciliatory manner, because he entered the forest and arrives on the caboclo current.

Thus, one entity can manifest in several lines and currents, according to the terreiro and the Pajé in which it is presiding.

The encantaria universe has a vast network of parental and social relations that is independent to the here world, however, its relation to this world is necessary because, as one of the Pajés affirms: “it is in these comings and goings that encantados pick up more of our manner and that we also come to understand the encantados better”. And, as in the words of another Pajé: “the closer we are to them, the more they understand us, until it reaches the point that spoken communication is no longer required, it is all in thought. And the same is true for them”. The concept of person seems to be intimately related, here, to the development of contact with one’s encantado; these are not separate beings, they are in continuity with the Pajé.

Luzia, a female Pajé (a Pajoa) from Guimarães, tells that “in each place visited by an encantado he modifies himself. In each crown, each terreiro, there is a change”, which confirms that entities are flexible and acquire traits from the spaces and adepts with whom they come into contact. And vice-versa.

Interactions become closer over consecutive encounters and are fundamental for the relation between Pajés and encantados, to the point that they take place without the need for speech. That is, communication between the religious practitioner and his/her entity becomes such that there is no need for articulated language, which is reserved for communication between the encantados and the assistência: the audience, made up of people that frequently attend the terreiro for vow payments, consultations or even simpatias (basic spells).

I will deal with these experiences in an attempt to demonstrate their importance in the learning process, for both sides – that is, for those from the here world and the there world – and how these relations are formed in the encantados’ social life.

1.1 – The Flag Family

João da Mata, the Caboclo da Bandeira (Flag Caboclo), at times presents himself as an old, wise, hunched Amerindian, at others as a proud and dynamic young man of thirty-five with a plume on his head and an arrow in his hand. As one of his doctrines states, he is a black hunter and the head of a family of hunters, fishermen and warriors. These are noble, mixed-race encantados. He has many children and siblings, such as Tombacê, Maroto, Caçará, Araúna, Guará, Araçagi, Longuinho, Pindorama, the princesses Luzia, Linda and Iracema, Jatiçara and Senhora Dantã, as well as cousins such as João da Cruz and Mariano. He also has twin daughters, who only appear every three to six months and who I only came across in a Vura terreiro in Guimarães.

Seu João da Mata tem a cor morena

Ele é caçador da Jurema de lá

Ele jurou, e tornou jurar

De ouvir os conselhos que a Jurema vai dar

João da Mata has a black skin

He is their Jurema’s hunter

He swore, and swore again

To listen to the advice that Jurema provides

Although at times identified as (the saint) São João Batista himself for other Pajés this does not make any sense, because “saint is in the sky, under God” and “encantos are in the astral, in the encantaria”. Nevertheless, Christianity has a marking presence in Pajé and Mina terreiros, be it in iconography, prayer beads, censers or even through the doctrines, such as in the following alternative presentation for João da Mata:

Eu sou o caboclo da Bandeira, 

João da Mata falado

Na presença de Cristo, 

por Jesus abençoado!

I am the Flag caboclo,

João da Mata, when spoken

In the presence of Christ,

Blessed by Jesus!

The presence of nobles and caboclos in the same family is also evident here, as in the doctrines below, one of which is presented by João da Mata himself and the other presented by one of his children:

Eu mandei içar bandeira, na folha do ariri

Caboclo é moço nobre, é filho do rei da Turquia

I commanded the flag be raised, on ariri leaf

Caboclo is a noble young man, son of the Turkish King Por cima daquele morro eu avistei um laço verde

Caboclo é moço nobre, filho do Rei da Bandeira

Over that hill I saw a green ribbon

Caboclo is a noble young man, son of the Flag King

According to one of João da Mata’s doctrines, he is the Turkish King’s son, but many Pajés have no knowledge of this or accept this version. Despite being from the Mata line, the Flag Caboclo (João da Mata) is enchanted in the Itacolomy rock and should thus also be from the saltwater line:

Sou caboclo da Bandeira, da folha do ariri 

Sou caboclo da Bandeira, pedra de Itacolomi 

Sou caboclo da Bandeira, João da Mata falado

I am a Flag caboclo, of ariri leaf

I am a Flag caboclo, Itacolomy rock

I am a Flag caboclo, João da Mata when spoken

The Flag Caboclo is known for having many children and numerous doctrines confirm this, such as those by Camarão, João Guará, Princess Iracema and others who announce their filiation in doctrines.

Eu sou Camarão Vermelho
da praia do Araçaji
Tem Camarão na trincheira
filho do Rei da Bandeira”

Eu sou João Guará
Filho do Rei da Bandeira (bis)
Toma cuidado meu pai
Ô tem caboclo na eira (bis)

Sou da mata quem me chamou? Sou da mata!
Eu nasci na mata virgem
Ah! Eu sou mulher guerreira
Eu me chamo Iracema
Filha do Caboclo da Bandeira

I am Red Prawn
from the Araçaji beach
Prawn is in the trench
son of the Flag King

I am João Guará
Son of the Flag King (repeat)
Be careful my father
Oh there is a caboclo on the edge (rep.)

I am from the forest, who called me? I am from the forest!
Born in the virgin forest
Ah! I am a warrior woman
My name is Iracema
Daughter of the Flag Caboclo

However, some of his children were adopted by other families, such as Princess Dora (Doralice) or Guajajara, who were adopted by the Turkish family.

As they are frequently identified as Indios, the caboclos of this family do not drink much, according to many Pajés they only drink water from a gourd, they are  serious entities and not very playful – in comparison to the Légua Boji Buá’s family, for example, who drink a lot and always play with the audience, telling stories and jokes and actively participating in the festivities.

Silva (1976: 232, cited in Ferretti 2000: 320) also indicates that in terreiros in Belém do Pará (the neighbouring state’s capital, west of Maranhão, with many migrants from Maranhão), João da Mata (the Flag Caboclo) is also known as Oliveira or João da Mata de Oliveira.

It is possible that in Maranhão, João da Mata, from the Turkish family, is the same João Oliveira or Prince Oliveira and he could also be Oliveiros, a character from the well-known “Story of the Emperor Charlemagne and the twelve French pairs”, a Christian who defeated Ferrabrás in battle and converted him to Christianity. According to the accounts heard in the terreiros of São Luis, Oliveiros became such a good friend of the Turkish King that he came to be thought of, by the latter, as his brother and, having become part of this group, was also considered to be his (adopted) child.

According to Ferretti (1992), one of the possible explanations for the Turkish imaginary (which is very present in Maranhão religious life, where one of the most famous nineteenth century terreiros was called the Terreiro da Turquia, or Turkish Terreiro) is the marking popularity of the medieval stories about Charlemagne, cited above.  

In the terreiros that appear in the present ethnography, however, there were no references to the connection between the Flag Caboclo (the same as the Flag King) and the encantado Oliveiros, who was neither mentioned nor heard from in any doctrines from the Baixada Ocidental terreiros. However, the Flag King (João da Mata) is considered to be the King of Turkey’s brother or even (more frequently) his son, as suggested by the following doctrine (already mentioned):

Eu mandei içar bandeira, na folha do ariri

Caboclo é moço nobre, é filho do rei da Turquia

I commanded the flag be raised, on ariri leaf

Caboclo is a noble young man, son of the Turkish King”

The same occurs with Dantã, an encantada that in some of São Luis’ terreiros (especially those from the Egyptian terreiros) is thought of as João da Mata’s sister; in the present ethnography’s terreiros she is always mentioned and presents herself as his daughter.

2.0 – Entering the spirits’ life: the dreams

With limited iconography, the encantados are materialised in specific ways: through sung or verbalised language (in conversations and consultations) and through dreams. The dual manifestation of these entities’ social life is complementary and becomes necessary for a jointly constructed sociability.

Language is a common form of materialisation in many religions (especially in those from the African matrix). For this to take place, the adept is thought to lend his body (as a device or horse) so that the entity’s materialisation can be experienced and shared with many other people, religious or otherwise. Dreams, however, indicate a distinct form of materialisation, requiring the Pajé’s entrance into the encantaria world: more than the encantados’ materialisation, the focus is the adept’s experience with these entities – it is not just the experience but also the distribution of materiality, while also being a solitary exercise, felt only by the adept.

Both of these forms of sociality with the encantados will be discussed here: they are complementary and symmetric ways in which here and there people experience friendship and kinship relations. We begin with the dreams.

Among the accounts given by Pajés, stories are often told about how they first made contact with their head encantados, invariably this takes place through dreams, experienced in moments of great anguish and suffering (physical or spiritual). Sometimes this happens in a more diffuse and gradual manner, other times not so, and the Pajés say that they lucidly experienced the dream, through complete immersion in the encantaria universe.

Fernando, a twenty-eight year old Pajé from Guimaraes, tells that he had his first visões (visions) when he was about nine years old, but his family did not want him to follow this path, which led his maternal grandmother to amarrar (tie-up) his vision, that is, she made it so that he no longer had these visions, at least until he became a teenager. Thus, when he turned sixteen he began to dream frequently with his guide, an encantado called Beira Mar.

He says that at first he only saw a shadow and heard things that made no sense, but little by little he began to discern his contra-guia (counter-guide): the encantado that accompanies him most frequently. These visions took place only during his dreams, which were becoming more frequent and clearer. Today, Fernando tells that he knows the encantaria very well: he has already had three failed (earthly) marriages, because of encantaria women and the guidance he receives for the preparation of remedies and cures are provided through dreams, when he travels to the fundo (deep) and receives the necessary instructions and preparation.

It is common to hear the Pajés say that they were born prepared or became prepared in the fundo through dreams. Thus, more than experiences, the dreams are actions, constructions of meaning and reality.

Senhor Carmo, a (deceased) Pajé from the Vura community (Guimaråes), with whom I had a lot of contact, told of his marriage to a woman from the fundo (an encantada) and that after the first time they slept together, he woke up to find a spot of blood in his hammock: evidence that the encantada had been a virgin. In a similar account, another Pajé from Guimarães told me that, from time to time, a knotted yellow ribbon appears in his hammock, indicating that his there wife had spent the night with him, events which seriously affected his earthly marriage. However, some Pajés indicate that their “here” wives are understanding and tolerant, which facilitates this dual matrimony. Evidently, relations with each wife are distinct, as in the following statement:

I don’t even like to be with the wife from the deep, because she is always provoking the wife (the “here” wife) but I’m lucky that my wife has an understanding, you know how it is, and often she attends to my deep wife’s requests, she gives her some perfume, earrings, to the one from there, so that she doesn’t become angry or capricious. (Fernando, Guimarães)

But this understanding relation and even appeasement of the encantados is not common and the rupture of marriages due to jealousy or intolerance is more frequent among the Pajés.

Accounts by female Pajés indicate the possibility of assault by encantados rather than marriages; these tend to refer to entities that become enamoured with them, but a union never takes place, suggesting the need for a more careful consideration of gender difference among Pajés.

Unlike many studies written about dreams, in which symbols are treated as ways to interpret hidden meaning, here, dreams are about individual experience (Stewart, 1992; Csordas, 1994) and require no collective guarantee or reconstruction. However, that does not mean that these dreams are purely psychological experiences, as Edgard (2002: 80) states: ‘…dreams are a cultural, rather than a solely psychological activity, is something few people other than interested anthropologists (…) usually emphasise.’

Attention is drawn here only to those experiences that can be categorized as cultural, but not collective, since they lack the social reconstruction and reinterpretation necessary for their legitimation. Here, the dream is an experience of the “I” that transforms and reshapes the “person” (self). As Ewing (1990: 57) indicates:

Through this reflective process, self representations became signs, like the units of language and other cultural representations such as myths and images. The dreams, which we experience through language and imagery, are also made up of signs.

Anthropology has constantly been confronted by problems associated with the analysis of dreams: from the tendency to approach dreams as repressed desires, as proposed in psychoanalytic theories, to the search for meaning in experienced signs. Tedlock (1987) inaugurates a new direction for social anthropology by redefining the boundaries between both practices.

The present work argues that among the Pajés dreams are experienced actions, not subjective interpretations or subject to collective interpretation. For a Pajé, dreaming is neither a premonition, nor the experience of something that will happen or a space for decoding a specific action/situation. Dreaming is simply the experience of everyday life: a visit to the there wife, a conversation with friends from the encantaria, exploring the trade that exists there, receiving instructions for cures. In the end, dreaming is socialisation and even instruction, because many of the Pajés are preparados (prepared or initiated for religious life) during dreams, in the encantaria; an encantado prepares and is responsible for a future Pajé, which grants him/her greater credibility before the community in which he/she lives.

The Pajés’ dreams operate as the possibility of entering into a restricted universe,  the encantaria, where he/she dives into another world and already existing social networks; there are kingdoms, cities and families, with their own commerce and administration, as shown in an account given by Mr Carmo, a Pajé from Vura (a village in Guimaraes):

Doc – Are you familiar with their world? Have you ever been there?

Inf – I am…I’ve already been there, in the dream. They [the encantados] say that their city is called the Eastern City, their kingdom, right? It is beautiful.

Doc – And do other encantados live there?

Inf – Yes, yes, many. There, all commerce belongs to them, is owned by them. Others cannot open a business like here, right – here one opens a store here, another on over there; not there, it all belongs to them.


By entering into that universe, the Pajés are introduced into the entities’ networks and social life; as mentioned above, many marry encantados, provoking jealousy and marital break-ups on this side, because women from here don’t always understand this double life and they don’t accept the wife from the deep. Jealousy is felt by both sides, because both the here and the there wives can be jealous of this double relation. As one Pajé explains:

Ah, most of the Pajés are separated or live alone. They can’t stand it… A woman can’t stand this encantaria life, and many times the wife from the deep (the encantada) becomes jealous and does things, some malicious things, to frighten off the here woman. That is what separates us from a family, right?

Relations between encantados and humans are sometimes ambiguous, because by socialising with those from the deep (from the encantaria) the Pajé breaks with certain relations from here (such as marriages) or become socially marginalised, due to their acquisition of certain encantado characteristics (such as femininity) and vices (such as drinking), through their close relationship with encantados and especially with their guides.

These relationships occur invariably through dreams and language: the Pajés have the sole privilege of being able to enter the encantaria, because (as many have said) if the despreparados (unprepared) look at an encantado or go to their land, they would never return – the possibility of transiting between these two universes is reserved for the initiated and those with the dom (the gift or vision). Thus, it’s not enough to dream with the encantaria to have such experiences, one must first have the capacity to experience it or there is the risk of becoming trapped in that land. And, having that capacity is almost always connected to a gift, which may require initiation or not; the experience of encantaria dreams is a gift (Boyer, 1996).

Unlike with language (songs, consultations), which is the vehicle for negotiating with those that come here — the encantados —, in dreams the Pajés are those who travel the inverse path. This journey is symmetric and complementary, because (as the accounts show) this relationship is essential for the strengthening of affinities: it’s necessary for the encantados to come here, but it is equally important for the Pajés to enter into these kingdoms. This complementarity is necessary for the learning process on both sides: for Pajés and encantados.

2.1 – Spirits entering our lives: language

Verbal language remains one of the most obvious forms in which the dead and spirits are materialised and in African based religions – where music and language are given the same definition – songs are the most evident form. It is thus to be expected that materialisations take place through doctrines and songs. As one of the Pajés commented during an interview: the doctrine is a trademark of an encantado. It materialises the spirit, it makes him appear, disappear, become angry or take our side. I don’t even like singing that much for no reason, because then they just come”

Words are existence itself; this is not a novel assumption and even though linguistic distinction between “things” and “concepts” (Saussure, 1969) has faced more resistance in anthropology, given its ontological assumptions, it is evident that words are in themselves a form of so-called “agency”. Following Ahearn’s (2001) proposition ‘that agency refers to the socioculturally mediated capacity to act’, while being aware of the temporary and open character of this definition, multiple concepts of agency are used here to observe how the ability to act is synchronised with the Pajés’ and encantados’ linguistic expression.

Productive dialogues between linguistics and anthropology have begun to appear in recent years centred on the notion of agency in each discipline. Specific ethnographic studies have re-directed understandings of this concept, opening new perspectives for broader description and discussion.

In this section I will try to discuss the language uttered by the encantados through their horses (mediums), especially in its sung form, and how it articulates social networks among the encantados and between them and the here people. I thus intend to take language as a form of  “social action” (Duranti, 2004) that is constructed through mutual social negotiations and interactions. (Gumperz & Levinson, 1996). As Ahearn states (2001: 111)

Within these contexts, as meanings are constructed, social reality is also constructed. In the approach advocated here, then, language does not merely reflect an already existing social reality; it also helps to create that reality. 

On the 23rd of June 2010 there was a party (toque de tambor, or drumming) at Dona Luzia’s house, the same Pajé mentioned above. It was her birthday and her farrista (reveller), Manezinho Boji Buá (from Codó’s line) requested the beating of drums on this date, every year. It was a small party, with only her and two further dancers, but others came to watch. Dona Luzia danced all night in the barracão, talking with the audience and providing consultations to those who needed them. I was one of the many people there who received indications for baths and defumações (fumigations), to open pathways and heal certain ailments.

The next day I asked Dona Luzia what Manezinho had prescribed me exactly, because no-one was familiar with the ingredients he had suggested for my bath, immediately she replied: “We, those who are with the invisible, we hardly know what they say to you. I understand everything, but my understanding is one and yours is another”

This explanation provided me with the real dimensions of the relationship between the Pajés, the encantados and language, the latter as mediator and creator of social networks. The assertion of linguistic autonomy, which is not subjectively fixed and can exist without the subject, shows that words have an existential level that lies beyond both listener and speaker – my understanding is one and yours another, that is, the same signifier has different meanings according to the interlocutor, something which Du Bois (2007) calls a “dialogic syntax”.

This statement also implies that the speech made by Manezinho, the encantado who possessed her at the time, was understood by his horse in one way and by the audience in another: not that the meanings were different (in the Saussurean sense), but that the constructions of meaning attributed to his statement were. Insofar as the ‘horse’ (Dona Luzia) has a different degree of affinity and relation with this encantado, constructions of meaning are distinct, which is to say that social relations involving Pajés and encantados determine the language used by them. By being acted on, that is, giving consultations and singing, Dona Luzia was not there to mediate the encantados’ statements, but one perceived the close relationship between them, for ‘languages, like cultures, change over time through drift and contact despite their supposedly self-reproducing structure’ (De Graff, 1999).

Certain areas of linguistics (such as discourse analysis and sociolinguistics) have worked with the idea of language as a social construct for some time, even prior to current debates taking shape in anthropology (influenced mainly by Giddens). Thus, the attempt to reconcile concepts of agency, from both an anthropological and linguistic point of view, has led to considerations of grammatical structure; its functions and categories in discourse and semantic constructions (Dixon, 1994). In this way, grammatical markers are seen as ballasts for how we think about our own actions, as Comrie (1981) states (cited in Ahearn, 2001:125): ‘Although each language has its own set of linguistic resources that can be used to exercise, attribute or deny agency, some features can also be found in every language’.

Thus, the universal grammatical principles that underlie all languages indicate the first person’s (ego) discursive salience and significance, though in evident interaction with the second person (with whom he speaks) and the third person (of whom he speaks): these subjects are most marked by agency exactly because they are present and active in the dialogue (in the above order).

The use of these concepts, here, seeks an understanding of how the Pajés’ songs and doctrines differ grammatically (observing only the use of grammatical persons) at the different moments in which they are sung: when there is a chamamento, or call, when the encantado is already trabalhando (working) and during the despedida, when the encantado leaves. The intention is to observe how and when Pajés and encantados are synchronised, while considering that ‘(…) ritual speech also enables its users to lay claim to a social identity that transcends the spatial and temporal limits of the individual, mortal body.’ (Keane, 1997:697).

As I affirm that the encantados socialise with the here people through language – that by baixando (entering or, literally, lowering) into their horses they interact with the audience by singing, giving consultations and participating in the social life of certain communities – the aim here will be to try to observe how this form of agency is expressed linguistically: at what moment the Pajés stop appearing so as to allow the encantados to enter.

Although it seems obvious, the relationship between language and agency is linked to broader issues, such as whether it is a purely human category (in this case, whether spirits have agency, how they interact with human agency, how they cohabit), whether it is intentional agency (if the encantados enter alone or if other elements stimulate the apparition, such as the doctrines themselves) and we could also ask whether agency is only applicable to the individual or if it could be categorised as a collective element. The introduction of this discussion on agency and linguistic production thus raises a debate that does not end here, but it encourages us to think about relations of “power” and “interaction” between there and here people, implying their sociability.

The inauguration of a party in a Pajé barracão almost always takes place with a chamado called the Imbarabô, then songs for the voduns  — usually songs to Averequete —, and then to the house dono (owner, or the Pajé’s guide) the counter-guides, the families or nações (nations) and finally the Pajé’s revellers.

There is no singular way to organise the drumming; each house uses its own order and preferences, according to the hierarchy of the house’s and Pajé’s lines and families. The only general rule is to begin with one line’s doctrines and then call the encantados that belong to the same line, and that enter the house or its dancers.

Thus, at Senhor Hildo’s house, a toque de tambor (drumming session) on the 24th of September 2007 for a despacho, or funerary ceremony (for one of the house dancers, who had died three days previously) began with a song to one of the house voduns, with following doctrines:

Mamãe, eu sou doce como o mel e amargo como o fel

Baixou em guma

Ela é feliz

Oh Deus salve a estrela do Oriente

Oh canta, canta canário, eô, oh Badé, foi pro mar…

Oh, Badé me chama, Orum, Boborema

Imbalaô, eh, meu pai… 

Oh Badé chorou, chorou, na mina de ouro…

Badé se tu me dá eu dou, oh, Badé, se tu me dá eu dou.

Ê mamãe, ê mamãe, ê mamãe

Ê mamãe cadê Badé, que eu não vejo aqui?

Mother, I am as sweet as honey and as bitter as the gall bladder

Entered Guma

She is happy

Oh Lord hail to the Eastern star

Oh sing, sing mockingbird, eoh, oh Badé, went to the sea…

Oh, Badé calls me, Orum, Boborema

Imbalaô, eh, my father…

Oh Badé cried, cried, in the gold mine…

Badé if you give me I will give, oh, Badé, if you give me I will give.

Eh mother, eh mother, eh mother

Eh mother, where is Badé, I don’t see her here?

They are singing to Badé, a vodum that, like the encantados, also has siblings, a father and a mother; he is Sobo’s son and brother of Averequete and Loco. In the encantados’ hierarchy they are a level above the caboclos and nobles, because the voduns are more African, according to many informants.

The doctrines always use the third person, when calling the vodum or talking about him/her: the vodum hasn’t arrived yet and their absence is thus marked. They will only begin to speak directly to the vodum after the last doctrine, although this does not mean that he/she has necessarily arrived; the doctrine is a provocação (provocation), an indirect call rather than a proper conversation, even though the dialogue is with the second person.

At this point, the Pajé is still puro (pure, i.e. has not gone into a trance) and begins to feel the first calafrios (chills), one of the indications that he/she will go into a trance. He moves restlessly and puts perfume on the back of his head, to delay the encantado/vodum. In this exchange, between calls and attempts to delay the trance, the relationship between linguistic practice and social structure becomes more evident. The Pajés then begin to chant doctrines – messages from the vodum, such as the following:

Oia Verequete mandou avisar

Ele é Imperador na terra,

Governador no mar.

Oia Verequete said to inform

He is Emperor on Earth,

Governor in the sea.

They proceed with the third person and here agency is assigned at times to the Pajé and at others to the encantado: there is still no dialogue between the encantado and the audience, hence, introduction into that social network has not occurred. In another doctrine the Pajé calls the vodum, as shown below: addressing the drums he asks them to call Averequete. It is important to note here that the Pajé does not say this in the first person – by transferring action to the drums he is no longer the agent, which reminds us of earlier discussions on agency, its manifestations and definitions:

Chama Averequete, Averê

Chama Averequete, Averê…

Call Averequete, Averê

Call Averequete, Averê…

A ritual follows and the doctrines are sung for Cearencinho (head of the house), then for Zé Raimundo (the counter-guide) and then, having carried out all the ceremonies required for the despacho, they begin to chant:

Virou, virou, virou o tambor

Virou, virou, virou o tambor

Turned, turned, the drum has turned

Turned, turned, the drum has turned

Thus, by warning the audience that the drum-rhythm had turned (or changed) to mina, they begin to chant doctrines for different families; I shall focus here on the Flag family, as mentioned above. At this point they sing the most well-known doctrine for the head of the family:

Eu sou o Caboclo da Bandeira

João da Mata falado

Nas promessas de Cristo

Por Jesus abençoado

I am the Flag caboclo

João da Mata when spoken

For Christ’s vows

Blessed by Jesus

The first person is used and it is (the encantado) João da Mata who speaks; the Pajé is already in a trance and the song brings the Flag King to the house. Although the speaker is both the Pajé and the encantado, all those present know who is speaking at all times. The deictics are pragmatically conditioned and the audience have insight into the actions performed by Pajés and encantados.

The songs follow almost entirely in the first person, with presentations, accounts and descriptions about personal preferences. When not in the first person, these doctrines are avisos (warnings), spoken in the third person (about what or who is being discussed), as below:

A mina não é pra quem quer

É só pra quem sabe baiar

Quem está dentro não queira sair

Quem está fora não queira entrar 

Mina is not for whom wants it

It is for whom knows how to fall

He who is in does not want to get out

He who is out does not want to get in

The encanatado continues speaking and linguistic agency is semantically marked. The same situation is evident in imperative phrases, as in the following doctrine (already presented above):

Chama Averequete, Averê

Chama Averequete, Averê

Call Averequete, Averê

Call Averquete, Averê

Here, the encantado retains agency; although the first person is not linguistically expressed, his presence is evident through a syntactical (though not semantic) absence. The relationship between agency and linguistic markers is obviously permeated by semantics, through the meanings given to and constructed out of language: these aren’t always synchronised, which invites us to critically reflect on what we define as agency and its mobility/plasticity. The doctrines seem to emphasise the process of “role/agency shifts” so well because they provide the real dimensions of constructions formed during the encantados’ visits to Earth.


This article sought to portray the social life of spirits (encantados) through extensive ethnographic description, involving material from over eight different Pajé houses (Tambor de Mina, Healings) in three different municipalities from the Baixada Ocidental region of Maranhão state – the western frontier of a northeastern Brazilian state. This region’s demographic history is strongly marked by the presence of Portuguese colonists and West African slaves, especially from Bantu-speaking groups (Gomes, 2005), as well as local indigenous groups (many of the encantados are Amerindians).

The text attempted to indicate the importance of dreams and doctrines (songs) in a process of mutual learning between Pajés and encantados, who move back and forth between the fundo and the Earth.

The social networks between religious adepts and spirits are shaped and strengthened primarily through the Pajés’ dreams, who enter the encantaria universe, and words (mostly sung) when the encantados enter into their medium’s crown to provide consultations, to sing and refine their relations with humans. It is thus proposed  that these are complementary and necessary forms of materialisation. Through dreams, the Pajés experience a different type of relationship than that experienced through language; since dreams are personal and solitary, in them the encantados’ materialisation takes places without the presence of other humans and from the external visible world inwards.

Through language, however, the spirits’ materialisation and social life takes place from inside the encantarias outwards, and requires Pajé and audience for the development of social relations. It is thus proposed that language is autonomous, being neither simply a vehicle of transmission (Reddy, 1979), nor just a conductive vehicle of referential meaning (Goodwin, 1990). Such affirmations are evinced in the conjunction of approaches to notions of agency, through existing (and absent) linguistic markers in the doctrines and songs proffered during the encantados’ visits to the Pajé houses.

What we can observe is that the doctrines’ linguistic markers are not always sufficient for the creation of a direct relationship to the agent, in other words, the notion of agency involves semantic and pragmatic relations that are not always visible in the doctrinal texts, but are constructed according to shared collective criteria. Language has a central role in the encantados’ materialisation, and both dreams and language are modes of socialisation and relational construction among the encantados and the here people. This interaction is crucial for a reciprocal learning process.

HYPERLINK “|pt”Ver dicionário detalhado


AHEARN Laura M.(2001) – Language and Agency. Annual Review Of Anthropology, nº 30, pp 109-137.

BOYER, V. (1996) – “Le don et l´initiation”. L´Homme (138), pp 7-24.

DU BOIS, John (2007). The stance triangle. In Stancetaking in discourse: Subjectivity, evaluation, interaction, ed. Robert Englebretson. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

DURANTI, Alessandro (2004) – Agency in language, in A. Duranti (ed.), A companion to linguistic anthropology (New York, Blackwell): 451-473

EDGAR, Ian (2002) – Invisible elites? Authority and the Dream. Dreaming, Vol.12, nº 2, June.

FERRETTI, Mundicarmo (1992) – Repensando o turco no Tambor de Mina. Centro de Estudos Afro-Orientais, UFBA, Ed. 15, Publicado em :http//

GOODWIN, MH.(1990) – He-Said-She-Said: Talk as Social Organization Among Black Children Bloominton: Indiana Univ. Press

GUMPERZ JJ, LEVINSON SC, eds. (1996) –  Rethinking Linguistic Relativity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press

JEDREJ, M. and SHAW, R.(Eds) (1992) – Dreaming, Religion and Society in Africa, Brill, Leiden.

KEANE, Webb (2003) – Self-interpretation, agency, and the objects of anthropology: Reflections on a genealogy, Comparative studies in Society and History, 45 (2): 222-248.

____________ (1997) –

KOCKELMAN, Paul (2007) – Agency: The relation between meaning, power, and knowledge, Current Anthropology, 48 (3): 375-401.

PRANDI; Reginaldo et alii (2004) – Encantaria brasiliera: o livro dos mestres, caboclos e encantados.Rio de Janeiro/RJ, Editora Pallas.

REDDY M. (1979) – The conduit metaphor—a case of frame conflict in our language about language. In Metaphor and Thought, ed. A Ortony, pp. 284–324. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press

RODRIGUES, Aryon D´Alligna (1986) – Línguas brasileiras – para o conhecimento das línguas indígenas (São Paulo, Edições Loyola.

SAUSSURE, Ferdinand de (1969) -.Curso de lingüística geral. Trad de A. Chelini , José P. Paes e I. Blikstein. São Paulo: Cultrix; USP.

This is the term used in Brazil to designate the space used by various Afro-Brazilian religions and cults, which is normally organised into a complex of rooms with a central space (a barracão) for congregation.

In the remainder of the text all italicised terms are native terms: the original Portuguese terms are used in many cases, but in others they have been translated for reasons of textual fluency, in which case the original is given in brackets or in the footnotes where appropriate [Translator’s note].

In Portuguese, uma doutrina de apresentação: doctrines are songs that are pronounced during religious cerimonies for calling encantados, healing, etc. As stated by one Pajé (shaman): “the doctrine is the trademark of an encantado [spirit]. It is what makes him appear, disappear, become angry or take our side. I do not really like just to sing for no reason, because they will surely come”.

The native term linha refers to specific encantado lineages.

In Brazil, caboclo is the term used to identify people of mixed white and Amerindian ascendance, in many different Afro-Brazilian religions it refers to a specific genre of entities that participate to varying degrees in each of these.

Encantados are Tambor de Mina (see footnote 12) and Pajé entities. This is quite an open and malleable term: depending on the house their defining categories can include very different entities. They don’t possess the same status as eguns in Candomblé or that of Kardecist spirits. They are people who had a carnal life but who disappeared and became enchanted.

It is important to stress the difference between festas (parties) and curas (healings), in the former the encantados only enter to play, dance and talk, but in the latter, as the name suggests, they provide cures and trabalhos (works) for spiritual, amorous, emotional and financial problems, but principally for physical disorders.

The noun, Pajé, denotes both the practitioners and the religion and provides these with an ontological dimension that transits between two different universes. The barracões are most often (though not always) wooden structures, commonly found in rural Brazil especially, where community parties and other collective events normally take place.

These terms can be simply translated as the here () and there () people, terms also used by the encantados when referring to humans and themselves; for the purpose of textual fluency, in the remainder of the article the English equivalents will be used.

The encantados’ linhas (or correntes, currents) are essentially related to their origin as well as their abilities.

Casa (house) is the name given to the physical space where the religion is practised and to the kinship relations (consanguineous and above all affective) involved in that space. Each house has specific characteristics, such as particular parties and encantados, as well as a certain flexibility in relation to healing practices (which could also be called creativity, according to Ingold & Hallan, 2007).

As suggested by Gomes (2005) and confirmed in local oral history, it is worth noting that part of Maranhão state is geographically located in the Brazilian Amazon; this ethnography was conducted in an area historically known for alliances between the Maroons (descendants of slaves who generally live in a rural zone and who are subjects of this ethnography) and different indigenous peoples.

I use the terms Pajé, healer and mineiro (Tambor de Mina practitioner) indiscriminately, as my native interlocutors defined themselves using all three terms. There is a certain sense in which mina (Tambor de Mina) is considered as the practice of spell-casting, as opposed to healing and pajelança, though more in ontological terms; pragmatically all the houses practice and recognise healing as mina.

Translator’s version.

Afro-Brazilians are commonly referred to as morenos, primarily in northern states.

This region is located in the western border of Maranhão State in the (officially entitled) Amazônia Legal territory. Geographically it is an interesting area, consisting of transitory fresh water and salt water vegetation, as well as numerous islands and bays, which are identified as “lugares de encantaria” (encantaria places), the encantados’ dwelling place.

The “encantaria” is where the encantados live, a special place where entire encantado families dwell, with kings, queens and princesses. As one of my informants, Sr Carmo, said about the Vura settlement: “It is beautiful there! There is a king, a queen and the commerce belongs to them. There isn’t one stall here or there, like here, no, there it all belongs to them!”. This and other statements seem to demonstrate that there are well organised places, from a social point of view. The access between “this” world and the encantaria is given in specific spaces, such as water holes, certain tree trunks and bays, that is, these places act as “portals” between two worlds.

In Portuguese, montando em seus cavalos, the mediums as called “horses”, as the encantados generally “enter” through his/her “croa” (head), which leads to the expression “montar sem eu cavalo”, meaning to “be in a trance”.

Very different to candomblé and Brazilian spiritism (see Goldman, 2009 and Sansi, 2009),  encantado iconography is rare. There are no encantado images, a few are materialised in painting or sculpture, because they are the place where they live, the animal they incarnate or the saint who shelters them, such as João da Mata who is São João Batista. On the other hand, the caboclos are represented with images from the Hollywood imaginary, much like in Cuba, where Amerindian spirits are also represented by what we know to be North American Apache Indians.

Translator’s version.

It is not in the scope of this chapter to enter into a discussion of rupture and continuity in Afro-Brazilian religious tradition, for such a discussion see Capone (2008), Ferretti (2001), Sansi (2009).

Translator’s version.

Translator’s version.

Translator’s version. Voduns are…

The Pajés refer to the head as the crown (the coroa in Portuguese): the encantados’ entrance into the body.

Vura is a rural community in the Guimarães prefecture, where Sr. Carmo (deceased) had a terreiro for many years. Currently, his son, Preguinho, is the Pajé who is responsible for the house and his sister, Beatriz, a Pajoa, helps him during healings and festivities in the house. Her guide is João da Mata, and she also claims to receive two of his daughters, the twins Rosilda and Rosenilce.

Although in Umbanda the Índios are often synonymous with Caboclos, in the Maranhão Pajés there is a clear difference between the two “lines”. The Índios are coarser, less “developed” entities, while the Caboclos are almost always (physically) Afro-descendants, even though they may have some indigenous characteristics.

Translator’s version.

The encantados de cabeça (head encantados) are guides who accompany the neophyte throughout his earthly voyage, helping him on several different levels: whether by preparing them to become Pajés, protecting them from natural or supernatural harm (such as sickness or relationship troubles). Depending on their line they may also suggest medicinal recipes for the sick, etc.

The Pajés have an encantado guide, a counter-guide, a boss and one or two revellers, each has its role in religious life, whether for healing, socialising (revellers) or for doing and undoing spells. If the Pajé has great affinity with their (female) reveller, for example, he will acquire the encantado’s characteritics and can even become effeminate, or if the encantado drinks too much, he can become an alcoholic, such is the degree of integration between them.

The fundo is the same as the “encantaria”. The place where the encantados live.

See for example, Kockelman, 2007; Duranti, 2004; Keane, 2003, among others.

The fumigations seem to have Catholic origins, wherein incense is placed in censers and used for (spiritual and ambient) cleansing, during various ceremonial occasions.

It is worth observing, however, that these definitions of  “agency” are more linguistic than social, and the extent to which they converge and intersect would be part of a much broader piece of work.

In healing rituals and Tambor de Mina (at least in this ethnography’s region), the voduns do not appear except on occasion, but here we are dealing with a three-day despacho (funerary ritual) following one of the death of one of the house dancers. There is a strong hierarchy among voduns, nobles and caboclos. This region is known for its healing rituals (pajelança), which are seen as the most “syncretic” or least “africanised” houses by those from the capital.

Here agency is ascribed to objects, apparently lifeless “things”. A more rigorous discussion about this topic can be found in Henare, Holbraad & Wastel (2007).

One of my interlocutors, the Pajé Hildo from Guimarães, attests to receiving the Amerindian encantados Urubu and Gamela, in a clear reference to the Urubu Kaapor and Kanela indigenous groups: the first speakers of the Urubu Kaapor language, from the Tupi-Guarani linguistic family (Tupi branch), and subsequently speakers of Suya and Timbira, from the Jê linguistic family (Magrco-Jê branch) – Gavião do Maranhão, Canela Ramcokamekra, inhabitants of Maranhão state’s southern (Kanela) and Alto Turiaçu regions (in the West). (Cf RODRIGUES, 1986).

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